Chauvin trial stressful for minority journalists

This image released by MSNBC shows Correspondent Shaquille Brewster, right, on location covering the the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday April 7, 2021. Chauvin is charged with murder in the deat
This image released by MSNBC shows Correspondent Shaquille Brewster, right, on location covering the the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday April 7, 2021. Chauvin is charged with murder in the deat

'I know it's always a possibility that I could be one of those men winding up in a video at the hands of an officer...'

Posted: Apr 10, 2021 9:13 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — At the end of a stressful day, Sara Sidner seeks the friendly wag of a dog's tail. Shaquille Brewster turns to sports on TV, and Julia Jenae talks things out with colleagues.

Each is covering one of the nation's biggest stories, the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin. Each is also a Black journalist, reporting on an issue of great racial significance and forced — as part of their jobs — to watch video of George Floyd's life ending again and again.

“You really feel the consequences of it,” said Brewster, who at age 28 is delivering repeated reports on NBC News and MSNBC programs.

The National Association of Black Journalists has taken note of the assignment's potential difficulties, calling on news organizations to make resources available to help employees cope. Reporters covering the trial may be susceptible to trauma tied to their own experiences or previous stories about encounters between police and Black people, said Dorothy Tucker, NABJ president.

For some of the Black journalists covering the trial, it is important to bear witness.

“I had zero trepidation,” said CNN's Sidner. “In fact, I felt it was my absolute duty to do this.”

The Los Angeles-based Sidner covered the story soon after it broke last May and wants to see it through — even though it will never really end for the people involved or touched by it.

Whenever Court TV’s Janae travels to Minneapolis from her network’s Atlanta headquarters to cover the case, she purposely visits the street corner where Floyd, a Black man, declared dead after the white police officer’s knee was pressed to his neck for more than 9 minutes.

She’s covered many trials but said the magnitude is different this time.

“I think people want to see a diversity of people covering this story because racial equality is at the heart of it — the heart of the unrest and the heart of what pained people so much,” Janae said.

The journalists not only watch videos of Floyd's death during the trial, they've had to study them. Before the trial, Brewster watched to count how many times Floyd said “I can't breathe,” how many times he called "Mama'' and how long Chauvin's knee was on Floyd's neck.

For the most part, they go into reporter mode, concentrating on observing and figuring out what the day's story is going to be. Mel Reeves, a reporter for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, dismissed as “superfluous” a question about his feelings while covering the trial.

“I guess I have sort of compartmentalized what is happening,” said Brandt Williams, reporter for Minneapolis Public Radio. “It's like when a first responder comes across a scene that is bloody. You can set aside your feelings and do your job.”

Still, Sidner confessed on Twitter that “I'm a wreck y'all” on the day witness Charles McMillian cried on the stand when recalling Floyd's death.

Not everyone can watch. CNN commentator Nia-Malika Henderson, who is not covering the trial, wrote that she avoids it in part because it reminds her of when her mother cried about the Rodney King verdict. Henderson confessed she's never seen the Floyd video.

The Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, noted recently that mental health experts say repeated exposure to such disturbing scenes can be devastating. Journalists need to be reminded this also applies to them, “maybe especially to you,” and be able to recognize signs of trouble, Poynter said.

“Regardless of the arguments about how he died, you're still watching someone die,” Jenae said. “As humans, that's hard on anyone.”

MPR's Williams noted another sort of compartmentalizing that most white journalists on the story can't relate to.

“I know it's always a possibility that I could be one of those men winding up in a video at the hands of an officer, but it's not at the forefront of my mind,” he said.

A few months ago, Jenae said a viewer complimented her on conducting a fair interview with the brother of Thomas Lane, another former Minneapolis police officer who was fired after being on the scene the day of Floyd's death.

The remark would have insulted her when she was younger, she said. Why wouldn't she conduct a fair interview? Because she's Black and Lane and his brother were white? Skin color was going to determine whether or not she could do her job?

Instead, she accepted it as an expression of empathy.

“What I hear most from viewers is they appreciate that it must be difficult to cover it as an unbiased journalist,” Jenae said.

If he has any bias, it's to make sure that Black people are portrayed as the complex, multi-faceted people they are, much more than the tropes that often show up in popular media, Williams said.

“I've always focused on letting my work speak for itself,” he said.

Reeves, whose newspaper is aimed at a Black audience, describes himself as an activist and doesn't pretend to be unbiased. His dispatch the day of McMillian's testimony read, “If the trial of Derek Chauvin ... was a sporting contest with the score kept at the day's end, the score would be witnesses and Black progressive humanity, one. Chauvin and the system of policing, zero.”

He said his audience simply wants to see an end to police abuse.

“I'm writing from that perspective,” he said, “the people who are getting brutalized, who are catching hell and who have no confidence that this trial — despite how it looks like now and despite all the points the prosecution is making — they have no confidence that Chauvin will go to jail. That's our reality.”

Sidner said her Twitter feed has become a forum for viewers to debate the case. It hasn’t been abusive, except for one person who called her an “enemy of the people” because he disagreed with her analysis, she said.

At the end of the day, the journalists want to turn off the news. Brewster wants to laugh with friends, “because I realize I haven't had anything to laugh about that day.”

And those dogs that Sidner looks for to pet? It's to remind her that there is such a thing as unconditional love, she said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 604509

Reported Deaths: 7638
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1249671779
Ramsey52513897
Dakota46840471
Anoka42774458
Washington27428291
Stearns22557225
St. Louis18138313
Scott17551136
Wright16379149
Olmsted13399102
Sherburne1202095
Carver1067448
Clay826192
Rice8202110
Blue Earth762644
Crow Wing681795
Kandiyohi667985
Chisago619952
Otter Tail585884
Benton582998
Goodhue483874
Douglas475581
Mower470533
Winona461351
Itasca459763
Isanti440064
McLeod430661
Morrison424762
Beltrami407861
Nobles407650
Steele397816
Polk389072
Becker386755
Lyon363853
Carlton353056
Freeborn347033
Pine334923
Nicollet331245
Mille Lacs311854
Brown307840
Le Sueur297326
Cass286232
Todd285633
Meeker263443
Waseca238023
Martin235332
Roseau211221
Wabasha20793
Hubbard196641
Dodge18783
Renville182446
Redwood176539
Houston174616
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Wadena163323
Fillmore157610
Faribault154719
Chippewa154038
Pennington153820
Kanabec146828
Sibley146810
Aitkin138937
Watonwan13579
Rock128719
Jackson122712
Pipestone116726
Yellow Medicine114920
Pope11306
Murray107110
Swift106918
Koochiching95418
Stevens92411
Clearwater89016
Marshall88817
Lake83220
Wilkin83213
Lac qui Parle75622
Big Stone6044
Grant5948
Lincoln5853
Mahnomen5669
Norman5479
Kittson49022
Unassigned48193
Red Lake4017
Traverse3775
Lake of the Woods3453
Cook1720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 371101

Reported Deaths: 6053
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58263640
Linn21221339
Scott20308248
Black Hawk16157312
Woodbury15240230
Johnson1462385
Dubuque13510211
Dallas1129199
Pottawattamie11228174
Story1071648
Warren583791
Clinton561593
Cerro Gordo554095
Sioux517574
Webster515894
Muscatine4882106
Marshall486976
Des Moines467672
Wapello4338122
Buena Vista426940
Jasper421172
Plymouth403181
Lee382356
Marion366076
Jones300957
Henry294637
Bremer288461
Carroll287152
Boone268634
Crawford268240
Benton259855
Washington257351
Dickinson249344
Mahaska232651
Jackson225242
Clay216727
Kossuth216166
Tama212071
Delaware211143
Winneshiek198735
Page194522
Buchanan194033
Cedar192423
Hardin187544
Fayette186643
Wright186040
Hamilton181951
Harrison180073
Clayton171057
Butler166335
Madison164619
Mills163824
Floyd163442
Cherokee159338
Lyon158841
Poweshiek157036
Allamakee152952
Hancock150334
Iowa149824
Winnebago144531
Cass139255
Calhoun138913
Grundy137233
Emmet135841
Jefferson133535
Shelby131837
Sac130920
Union130035
Louisa129649
Appanoose129049
Mitchell126643
Chickasaw124917
Franklin123523
Guthrie123332
Humboldt119626
Palo Alto113623
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Clarke100924
Keokuk96732
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Unassigned9540
Ida91535
Adair87332
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Osceola78916
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