'Everything is riding on the outcome': Minneapolis braces for Chauvin trial

Prosecutors due to set out their case in heavily fortified building for trial of ex-officer charged with murdering George Floyd

The city of Minneapolis and millions across the US and around the world are bracing for Monday’s opening arguments in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, who was Black, in the city last May.

Floyd’s death regalvanized the Black Lives Matter movement and set in motion the biggest US civil rights protests since the 1960s.

After bystander video went viral showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest attempt, Americans coast to coast and thousands in cities overseas took to the streets.

Chauvin has denied the charges of murder and manslaughter against him and prosecutors are due to set out their case in the heavily fortified court building in downtown Minneapolis on Monday morning, in one of the most significant police brutality trials in US history.

Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defence attorney, has not said whether the former officer, who was fired shortly after Floyd’s killing, will testify.

The defence team will try to focus the jury on aspects such as the fact that the opioid fentanyl was found in Floyd’s system, as well as methamphetamine, and that he had underlying health conditions.

The official autopsy concluded that Floyd’s death was a homicide.

Keith Ellison, the prominent Minnesota attorney general, leads the prosecution team and will rely heavily on the damning video that shows Floyd pinned to the street with Chauvin kneeling on his neck, a hand in his pocket, seemingly impervious to Floyd’s waning cries that he can’t breathe.

Darnella Frazier, who was just 17 when she recorded the video that went viral, as two other police officers restrained Floyd’s torso and another fended off bystanders, will be called as a witness.

Members of Floyd’s family were expected to attend a vigil and protest on Sunday night at the spot where their 46-year-old relative died, a junction in southern Minneapolis now known as George Floyd Square.

Mileesha Smith, one of several community members who look after the square, which is marked with barricades, murals and tributes, said Floyd was part of a long history of police-involved deaths not just in the US, or Minnesota, but in that exact neighbourhood, with little justice forthcoming.

“George Floyd wasn’t the first person to be killed by police on this block, but [in the past] media wasn’t the way that it is and a lot of it got swept under the rug”

She was at work at an elderly care facility last May when the incident took place.

“I happened to look up at the TV and see that somebody is dying in the neighborhood I grew up in. Somebody died, flat out in front of the store that I grew up eating at,” she told the Guardian, adding: “How do we prevent this from happening? That could be my son. I have two sons.”

Public and media presence in the court room is severely restricted because of coronavirus.

For the first time in the state of Minnesota, TV cameras are able to film a full criminal trial, which Court TV is livestreaming.

But the public is watching for signs that police officers can be held accountable when someone dies in their custody.

Civil rights attorney and commentator Areva Martin said: “The family is seeking justice, the public is seeking accountability.”

“Historically, jurors have been reluctant to hold police officers accountable … What the US is showing is that it’s well past due to end systemic racism in policing, and that police officers are not above the law,” she told the Guardian.

Martin added: “The world is waiting to see if the US will be courageous enough to stand up to a system that has a history of violating the rights of African Americans and, rather than protecting those lives, has actually destroyed them.”

Keith Mayes, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s department of African American and African studies, said a conviction was necessary for policing to be reformed.

“Everything is riding on the outcome of the trial,” he said.

“Yes, Chauvin is on trial, and it’s about the Floyd murder. But an argument can be made it’s about all the other folks that didn’t receive justice, too,” he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The right to peaceful protest will be respected during the trial, the city has pledged.

The three other police officers, all since fired, too, will stand trial in August for aiding and abetting murder.

On 12 March, Minneapolis agreed to pay a record $27m settlement to Floyd’s family.

Smith said: “I’m not saying that that settlement shouldn’t have been given, but the authorities are so quick to give to the dead and don’t invest in the life of Black people while they are living … things that people are trying to keep in the dark, housing, jobs.”

The case is expected to last for most of April and the verdict l will be closely watched after a year in which people demanded and took bold action toward systemic change, said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and activist in Minneapolis.

The former Minneapolis NAACP branch president has watched her community rise up in response to unchecked police violence, only to have their spirits crushed by an acquittal and lack of grand jury indictments in previous police killings, such as the high-profile cases of Philando Castile, a Black man killed by police in a nearby suburb in 2016, and Jamar Clark, a Black man killed by city police in 2015.

“We have for too long lived inside of a culture of ignorance, not just in the US but worldwide,” she said.

“I don’t think that this country in particular, but the world itself, has ever had to reconcile the mistreatment, the abuse and the dehumanization of Black folks. But for some people, they’re now beginning to see we have a problem, and we need to begin to take steps to address these problems.”


Amudalat Ajasa in Minneapolis, Richard Luscombe and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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