Jury selection in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was set to begin today, but a last-minute delay has added to the palpable tensions surrounding the case.
The Hennepin County Courthouse will soon be teeming with satellite-equipped news media trucks and throngs of reporters from around the country as the trial of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd is only weeks away. Charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree unintentional murder, Chauvin could soon face an additional charge of third-degree murder.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he agreed with the decision in an official statement last Friday and stated that “adding this charge is an important step forward in the path toward justice.” Whether or not Ellison’s hope will translate to local public opinion as the trial unfolds remains an open question. But, preparations by law enforcement on the ground show that Minneapolis authorities are gearing up for the worst.
Community activists are concerned about the “aggressive police posture” assumed by municipal and state law enforcement agencies as the trial date approaches. Operation Safety Net is a “multi-pronged” plan recently unveiled by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other city and state government leaders, that seeks to “avoid a repeat of the widespread destruction” of last spring.
Operation Safety Net
According to Minneapolis police commander Scott Gerlicher of the Minneapolis Police Department’s special operation and intelligence division, Operation Safety Net is divided into four operational phases that will follow the trial’s various stages, beginning with the jury selection process, which could last weeks, followed by the opening arguments, closing arguments and the verdict.
The verdict phase will comprise the most comprehensive deployment and will even include members of the National Guard, who will provide backup to firefighters and EMS crews in addition to the regular law enforcement officials protecting “property, government buildings, infrastructure, police precincts, pedestrians and officers.”
Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Binder has criticized her colleagues for failing to adequately address the “pain and suffering” of the people and condemned efforts to use force to “police ourselves out of police violence.” While not directly referencing Operation Safety Net, Binder expressed her disagreement over the fact that “too many city leaders think that the most grownup response to a problem is always with force”.
The operation is, nonetheless, moving forward despite opposition and according to Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, state and federal investigatory agencies are “absolutely in lockstep working to make sure that information-sharing and intelligence-gathering is going forward.”
A jury for the last 20 years
In September 2020, the New York Times reported that the jury pool in Hennepin County was 80% white and 8% black, representing a considerable gap compared to the state as a whole, which draws a pool of 64% white to 19% black. This is just one of the many complications confronting the jury selection process for Chauvin’s trial, with the case’s notoriety being among the most problematic.
Given the intense nationwide coverage of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police and the subsequent civil unrest, the prospect of finding a group of jurors with no knowledge of the case is practically zero. In order to mitigate that, the usual pre-trial questionnaire given to juries has been expanded to include potential juror’s “deepest attitudes on some of the most important political and social topics of the day”, according to Cornell Law School Professor Valerie Hans, interviewed by the BBC.
Other factors that could not only influence the jury selection process but the trial’s outcome itself, are the shifting views on George Floyd’s death. A USA Today/Ipsos poll released last Friday revealed a significant change in attitudes nationwide, with a 24-point drop in the number of Americans who believe Chauvin committed murder since June 2020 and other statistics that could point to a backlash against the Black Lives Matter movements and last spring’s civil unrest.
A typical jury selection process can take days and, in many cases, weeks as a result of both the defense and prosecution staking out any possible advantage for their side before the opening statements even begin. Pre-trial motions, jury selection vetting, and objections can drag the process out considerably. In a case as high-profile as this one, these tactics are likely to push the trial’s start date beyond current projections.
Protestors and activists are prepared for the long haul, however, and on Sunday hundreds gathered for a march that began at the Hennepin County Government Center and continued through downtown Minneapolis carrying a casket with George Floyd’s picture on it and a list of the names of every Minnesotan who has been killed by police in the last 20 years.
The marchers stopped at Hennepin Avenue and Fourth Street to read the names of each victim aloud, in what was the only verbalization during the “chant-free, silent protest” calling for justice to be served in the case of George Floyd, who has now become a symbol for all the others taken by the scourge of police brutality in the past, and who protestor Kaia Hirt pointedly observed had been “loved by a family, by a brother or a sister or a child or friends.”
Feature photo | Cortez Rice, left, of Minneapolis, sits with others in the middle of Hennepin Avenue on Sunday, March 7, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minn., to mourn the death of George Floyd a day before jury selection was set to begin in the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing Floyd. Jerry Holt | Star Tribune via AP
Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.