In a week filled with trauma-laced testimony in Derek Chauvin's murder trial, witness after witness testified to feeling completely helpless in the face of watching a man die under Chauvin's knee. The absolute cruelest after-effects on these completely faultless community members is the sense of responsibility. The "If Only I'd (fill-in-the-blank)" thoughts that they're carrying, the weight of which must be unbearable.
Tiffany Cross asked Gyasi Ross about being such a layperson witnessing a murder. She wondered, legally, what are her options in those circumstances? She wants to save this man's life, but that involves knocking a police officer off the man he's murdering. "But legally, I'm not allowed to do that. So, what is the recourse?" she asked. "If you're standing there as a civilian, watching a police officer murder someone, you outnumber him, what's the recourse? What are we supposed to do? Stand back and watch this man die?"
"You know, I'm glad you asked me that, and also, I was terrified of that question," Ross admitted. He referenced an interview with Prof. Cornel West, wherein West talked about a "willingness to intervene." Ross was clearly conflicted and pained, but unequivocal in his direction to bystanders at the scene of such atrocities.
"As a defense attorney, I can't advise anybody to do something that's against the law. And that is something that's patently against the law. Moreover, it's dangerous," he emphasized. "They have the power of guns."
Continuing, he said, "I hate to paint this as a 'Us vs. Them' thing, but melanated people understand that that's largely what it's been historically. So, I would advise anybody, record. Try to intervene verbally. Call 911. Please don't physically intervene. PLEASE don't physically intervene," he insisted.
"I say this with all due respect to Professor West, I understand where he's coming from. But I would say that that's a very, very dangerous position, and we might be looking at two dead people, and not one," Ross warned. Again expressing recognition of the very human impulse to act, and wanting to be able to rally around Prof. West's call, Ross had to come down on the side of preserving as many lives in that situation as possible. "It's a dangerous position," he repeated.
Moving to validate the bystanders in the Floyd murder, he said, "I think that those bystanders, as traumatizing as it was, did the right thing. It was just unfortunately something that happened, and happens way too often to Black and brown folks."
Cross thanked him for the guidance, and brought it back to the system that is on trial along with Derek Chauvin. The one that puts police in the position of killing Black and brown people with impunity, and citizens in the position of having to watch and do nothing but record with their phones, plead with their voices, and work out their trauma with their therapists after testifying on TV to the nation that they feel responsible for George Floyd's death.