Mon | Oct 18, 2021

Growing tension in Minneapolis, as trial looms in George Floyd death

Published:Saturday | February 27, 2021 | 3:45 PMThe Associated Press
Concertina wire sits between fenced barriers outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Wednesday in Minneapolis, as part of security in preparation for the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The trial is slated to begin with jury selection on March 8. Chauvin is charged with murder in the death of George Floyd during an arrest last May in Minneapolis (AP photo).

Barbed wire and concrete barriers surround the courthouse where the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd will soon go on trial. It's a sign of the deep uneasiness hanging over a city literally set ablaze almost a year ago in the anger over his death.

Mayor Jacob Frey and Governor Tim Walz, both Democrats, were sharply criticised for failing to move faster to stop last summer’s looting and destruction, which included the torching of a police station. Anything less than a murder conviction for Derek Chauvin is likely to test them — and the city — once again.

Jury selection begins March 8 with opening statements March 29. 

Floyd, who was Black, died May 25 after Chauvin, who was white, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Three other fired officers go on trial in August.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Minneapolis after Floyd’s death. Many demonstrated peacefully. But for several nights, the unrest spiralled into violence, with stores looted and set ablaze along the Lake Street commercial artery that included the 3rd Precinct police station, which was home to the officers who arrested Floyd. The station itself was eventually abandoned by police and burned by rioters. Some nervous neighbourhoods formed watch groups, setting up checkpoints and sometimes armed patrols. The violence finally subsided after National Guard troops arrived in sufficient numbers.

Concerns if Chauvin is acquitted

As the city moves to make the courthouse virtually impenetrable, some people worry about what might happen elsewhere if Chauvin is acquitted.

Damage to the city was estimated at more than $350 million in Minneapolis alone last year.

Frey said more than 3,000 law enforcement officers from across the state and Minnesota National Guard soldiers will be at the ready when the case goes to the jury, expected in late April or early May.

Frey last week declared that Minneapolis remains “open for business,” and said people should go about their lives as usual.

But the security going up around the Hennepin County courthouse, City Hall and the jail — all in the heart of downtown — is extraordinary. It includes three rings of concrete barriers, two topped by chain-link fencing with a trough in between filled with coils of razor wire. The innermost fence is topped with barbed wire, and ground-floor windows at all three buildings are boarded up.

Protest leaders are also on edge. They accuse authorities of creating a police state downtown that could trample their freedoms of speech and assembly.

“It’s not going to dissuade us from protesting. We’re determined to let our voices be heard,” said Linden Gawboy, an activist with the Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice 4 Jamar, which formed after the police killing of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis in 2015.

It’s not just the courthouse that’s barricaded. The state Capitol in St. Paul has been ringed with temporary fencing ever since last summer’s unrest. Inside, lawmakers have squabbled for weeks over providing extra state money for security during the trials, though Walz and other officials say they’ll manage one way or another.

“There’s going to be very high emotion on all sides of this, and we’ll be prepared,” Walz said.

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