Black Lives Matter activists return to the streets as George Floyd murder trial begins

Minneapolis residents are bracing for the opening of what is sure to be one of the nation's most closely watched trials in years - that of the white policeman charged with killing George Floyd, a black man whose dying struggles were captured on a video seen around the world.

Demonstrators march on Saturday ahead of former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial.

Demonstrators march on Saturday ahead of former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial. Source: AFP

The family of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter activists rallied this weekend ahead of the trial for the police officer accused of murdering him, which is set to begin on Monday local time.

Jury selection is beginning in Minneapolis on Monday in the case against Derek Chauvin, who was filmed with his knee on the 46-year-old black man's neck for nearly nine minutes as he struggled to breathe.

Jury selection in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin starts on Monday.
Source: Getty Images North America

On Sunday, demonstrators gathered outside Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s home to call for justice, many saying nothing has changed in the nine months since Mr Floyd's death.

“We want a fair shot without having our hands tied behind our backs, a boot on our neck or a gun to our children’s head or our own head," Jonathan McClellan of hte Minnesota Justice Coalition said. "That’s all we want.”

Toshira Garraway from Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence organised the rally; she said the importance of Mr Chauvin's trial cannot be understated for families like hers who had previously lost loved ones to alleged police brutality.

"We're watching this trial hoping and praying and wishing for justice to be served because we didn't receive it," she said. "Maybe we can get it for somebody, even if we couldn't get it for our loved ones."

Former police officer Derek Chauvin.
Source: AAP

The shocking footage of Mr Floyd's 25 May death sparked a wave of "Black Lives Matter" protests against police brutality and racial injustice across the United States and in capitals around the world.

Mr Chauvin's case promises to be extraordinary in many respects: it will feature star attorneys, be held under tight security and broadcast live.

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office brought in Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general who has argued cases before the Supreme Court, to help with the prosecution.

Mr Katyal described Mr Chauvin's trial as a "landmark criminal case, one of the most important in our nation's history."

Ashley Heiberger, a former police officer who now works as an advisor on police practices, said "the fact that a police officer has been charged criminally for an abusive use of force, that in and of itself is an outlier."

"It's even rarer for them to be convicted," Mr Heiberger said. "There is a tendency for jurors to want to give the police officer the benefit of every doubt."

The circumstances surrounding 44-year-old Mr Chauvin's case, however, are so troubling that "to the best of my knowledge, no police officers or police organisations came out and defended his action," he said.

Three other police officers involved in Mr Floyd's arrest - Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao - face lesser charges and will be tried separately.

Visitors are seen at a memorial featuring a mural of George Floyd.
Source: AP

All four officers were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.

Mr Floyd's arrest was prompted by accusations that he had tried to pass off a $20 bill in a nearby store.

'Exactly as he was trained to do'

Mr Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, was released from prison on bail in the fall and is expected to plead not guilty to murder and manslaughter charges.

"Mr Chauvin acted according to MPD policy, his training and within his duties as a licensed peace officer of the State of Minnesota," according to his lawyer, Eric Nelson. "He did exactly as he was trained to do."

According to Mr Nelson, Mr Floyd died of an overdose of fentanyl. 

An autopsy did find traces of the drug in Mr Floyd's system but said the cause of death was "neck compression."

Ben Crump, a lawyer representing the Floyd family, said Saturday he was expecting the defense team to attack Mr Floyd's character.

"They're going to call George everything but a child of God, and try to make you forget what you see on that video," he said.

It will take a unanimous verdict by the 12 members of the jury to put Mr Chauvin behind bars for what could potentially be a long prison sentence.

Just a single juror not voting for conviction could result in a hung jury and give rise to another wave of anti-racism demonstrations.

The authorities have mobilised thousands of police officers and members of the National Guard to provide security during the trial.

Law enforcement officers lock the barricades in front of the Hennepin County Government Center on Sunday.
Source: AFP

The Hennepin County courthouse where it is taking place currently resembles an armed camp surrounded by concrete barriers and barbed wire fencing.

The trial is set to begin on Monday with jury selection - a delicate process considering the widespread publicity surrounding the case.

Prospective jurors have been presented with a 15-page questionnaire.

"How favorable or unfavorable are you about Black Lives Matter?" is one of the questions.

"Have you ever watched video of George Floyd's death?" is another. "If yes, how many times?"

Hundreds rally ahead of trial for police officer accused of killing George Floyd

Potential jurors are also being asked: "Did you, or someone close to you, participate in any of the demonstrations or marches against police brutality?"

Prosecutors are expected to present testimony by a black woman who claims that Mr Chauvin used excessive force against her in 2017 and the teenager who filmed Mr Floyd's death is also expected to be called to the witness stand.

Opening arguments are scheduled to begin on 29 March and a verdict is not expected until the end of April.

Published 8 March 2021 at 9:24am
Source: AFP - SBS