Jury selection is complete in the high-profile murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. It took about two weeks to pick the jury in a slow and deliberate process to seat an impartial jury in a case that’s been publicized around the world.
Opening statements are scheduled to begin on Monday. The court chose fifteen jurors. Twelve will sit on the jury and two will be alternates. The final person chosen on Tuesday, an accountant, will be dismissed next week if the other fourteen show up.
Video of Floyd’s death reignited a movement against racial injustice and police brutality that spread around the world as protests and civil unrest erupted in the Twin Cities. Chauvin was filmed with his knee pinning Floyd’s neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes as Floyd called for his mother and said he couldn’t breathe. It became a rallying cry over the killing of Black people by police. Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The judge, Peter Cahill, recently rejected motions by the defense to move the venue and delay the process because of the publicity. In the midst of jury selection, the city of Minneapolis settled with the Floyd family over a wrongful death lawsuit for a historic $27 million dollars. The defense argued the timing would prejudice a jury. But Judge Cahill said there was nowhere else Chauvin could get a fairer trial.
“I don’t think there is any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case,” he said.
The criminal trial is the first in the city’s history to be streamed and broadcast live in its entirety. The judge made the decision because the pandemic has limited the ability of the public to watch the proceedings. Chauvin is being tried in a specially outfitted courtroom with plexiglass separating the judge, the attorneys, the witnesses and the defendant. Only one member of Floyd’s family and Chauvin’s family can appear in court each day. So far no one from Chauvin’s family has attended.
During jury selection, prospective jurors’ views on race and policing were central to questions by the attorneys. The questions included potential jurors’ views on Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Jurors also filled out pages of questions prior to being interviewed in court. Those questions included whether the potential juror agreed or disagreed with the statement “Minneapolis police officers are more likely to respond with force when confronting Black suspects than with dealing with white suspects.”
The city’s own data shows that Minneapolis police use force against Black people at seven times the rate of white people, according to analysis by The New York Times.
The final jury that was chosen is more diverse than the county in which Chauvin is being tried and where Floyd died.
The trial gets underway Monday in downtown Minneapolis under continued intense security. Fences, razor wire, national guard and military style vehicles surround the Hennepin County government center where the courtroom is housed.
Central to the defense’s case is Floyd’s cause of death. Was it Chauvin’s knee or something else that ended Floyd’s life? The three other officers filmed in that video, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao will be tried separately on charges of aiding and abetting.
Many view the case as a litmus test of who gets punished and who does not when it comes to people who lose their lives at the hands of police. In the history of Minnesota only one former police officer has been convicted for the killing of an unarmed person. In that case it was a Black former police officer who shot an unarmed white woman who’d called the police because she thought she heard a sexual assault in the alley behind her house.
Meanwhile the trial is forcing many in the Twin Cities to relive a painful summer. The scars are still here. At the site of Floyd’s death, a memorial remains. On Lake street in Minneapolis where businesses burned last summer, most are still boarded up and closed.
Arlene Escandey was walking her dog on a recent afternoon off Lake Street. She said she is hoping for a diverse jury and a fair trial. But living through it, she said, is not easy. She lost her own son to gun violence, and so Floyd’s death hit close to home.
“I’ll be glad when it’s over. Anything that you have to relive over and over prolongs the agony, the pain, the pressure,” she said. “It’s so intense right now, but I’ll be glad when it’s over with so we can move forward and keep it moving. That’s what life is about. You can’t keep living in the past. You live in the past, then you never have a future.”