The Complexities of the Derek Chauvin Trial

Derek Chauvin is set to stand trial on March 8 for the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, last May in Minneapolis. Jury selection and oral arguments are set to begin next week, while closing arguments and a decision- key points of the trial- are expected to take place in late April.

Chauvin, a former police officer under the Minnesota Police Department, kneeled on George Floyd's neck for approximately nine-and-a-half minutes while he was handcuffed, suffocating him to death and sparking nationwide outrage after an eyewitness video of his death went viral online. Chauvin currently faces charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.

With the eyes of millions on Chauvin, the city of Minneapolis has spent nearly a year planning his trial. The Minnesota Court of Appeals held a virtual trial on Monday where a prosecutor argued in favor of reinstating a third-degree murder charge, which would make the killing a felony murder regardless of Chauvin's mindset or intent at the time.

Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County District Court, who originally dismissed the third-degree murder charge due to a lack of probable cause, again denied the state's motion to reinstate it in early Feburary. The trial could be delayed if the Appellate Court rules to reinstate the charges and the subsequent appeal goes to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The city itself has faced criticism for its pre-trial preparations, including the enlistment of several thousand soldiers and police officers, as well as the erection of barbed wire fences and concrete barricades. After the intense protests and criticism of Minneapolis police that took place following George Floyd's death, state leaders found themselves clashing over who to blame and how to avoid destruction. Now they must balance local communities' desires to prevent riots without resurfacing the trauma caused by a heavy police presence.

"I don't think that we can police our way out of police violence," said Council President Lisa Bender during the two-and-a-half hour briefing on Monday.

This time, the state plans on incorporating community voices as much as possible to help deescelate the situation and avoid looting and a repeat of the police violence that erupted during the protests in May 2020. Deemed "Operation Safety Net (OSN)," local and federal agencies have crafted a plan to create safe environments to protest while still policing the area.

The plan, which has a budget of $1,181,500 in city funding, includes connecting with activists and formulating contracts with community organizations. According to the Minneapolis City Council, the state hopes to gather information and insight into local communities who are not often represented in the mainstream media, and who may plan on having some type of presence during the trial. The city also plans to have frequent cultural radio programming and is offering $175,000 to community organizations who they can contact if tensions increase.

One major criticism of the plan is its social media initiatives, which originally involved hiring six social media influencers. These influencers would have been paid $2,000 each to combat misinformation regarding the trial, targeting racial minority communities in particular. The city's Neighborhood and Community Relations Department argued that the influencers' jobs would have been to communicate about security alerts rather than change public opinion.

Local communiity organizer Toussaint Morrison criticized the move, telling the Huffington Post, "Their gesture to hire social media influencers to speak to the community shows you how bad the trust has gotten...you don’t hire people to rebuild the trust." The city ultimately apologized and cancelled its plan.

Minneapolis will face the challenge of balancing safety, protecting First Amendment rights and taking action on police corruption and brutality over the next two months. With the spotlight on the city shining brighter than ever, every action that the state of Minnesota makes will reflect what has changed, and what hasn't, since Chauvin killed George Floyd.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Photo Credit: Her Campus Media