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Minneapolis On Edge As Chauvin Trial Is Set To Open


Tomorrow, barring any last-minute delays, jury selection is set to get underway in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin. He is the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd for almost nine minutes last May. Floyd's death under Chauvin's knee caught on a cell phone video that went viral set off months of protests. And now that the former officer's trial on murder charges is set to start, many see it as a test of whether police who kill can be brought to justice. NPR's Adrian Florido reports from Minneapolis.


ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: On Saturday, activist Toshira Garraway led a group of families who've lost someone to police violence on a march around the Minnesota governor's mansion. The impending trial of Derek Chauvin, she said, is triggering a wave of emotions.

TOSHIRA GARRAWAY: We're feeling hurt. We're feeling scared. We're feeling traumatized, anxious.

FLORIDO: Anxious, she said, because the start of jury selection means Chauvin's judgment day is getting close. And the question on everyone's mind is, how will it go?

GARRAWAY: You know, we have to hope and pray that they will just do the right thing.

FLORIDO: When he died, George Floyd became a global symbol of police brutality against Black Americans. Now, for many people, the trial of the officer under whose knee Floyd took his final breath is the ultimate test of whether police who kill can be held accountable.

JAYLANI HUSSEIN: The entire world is looking at us right now.

FLORIDO: Jaylani Hussein, a local Muslim leader, told the crowd outside the governor's mansion Saturday the stakes couldn't be higher.

HUSSEIN: This trial isn't just about Chauvin. This is an international trial. And when we say justice for George Floyd, we mean justice for all families.

FLORIDO: Apprehension about the trial is evident across Minneapolis. Many businesses have boarded up, afraid of the kind of rioting that exploded after George Floyd's killing last year. The downtown courthouse where Chauvin will be tried has been walled off with barricades, fences and razor wire. More than a thousand National Guard members have been called in to patrol the city.

RICHARD FRASE: I wish this wasn't happening in my hometown. I wish a lot of the stuff hadn't happened in my hometown.

FLORIDO: Richard Frase is a University of Minnesota law professor. He says the extraordinary security measures speak to the immense pressure facing Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the case against Chauvin.

FRASE: There's a lot on the line. There's a lot of upset people. And Ellison's office certainly knows that they got to get this right.

FLORIDO: Frase says this trial will present many challenges. One of the first beginning this week will be seating an impartial jury. Jury selection is expected to last up to three weeks. Frase said Attorney General Ellison is also keenly aware of how hard it is to convict police officers. It's something Ellison himself said last year when he announced he'd be charging Chauvin with second-degree murder. Chauvin also faces a second-degree manslaughter charge.


KEITH ELLISON: Winning a conviction will be hard. I say this not because we doubt our resources or our ability. In fact, we're confident in what we're doing. But history does show there are clear challenges here.

FLORIDO: Nekima Levy Armstrong is a longtime activist and former president of the Minneapolis NAACP. She's planning marches throughout the trial.

NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: There are some folks who feel that it is a no-brainer that Chauvin will be convicted. But realistically, in the state of Minnesota, we have not ever had a white officer convicted of killing a Black person. That is an important aspect to all of this, that this is really - literally never been done before.

FLORIDO: She says she's been tempering the expectations of some of the people in her circles.

LEVY ARMSTRONG: And just reminding people that this could happen. It's not a slam dunk, and this is how it has always been.

FLORIDO: Armstrong says people are worried that if Chauvin is acquitted, the three other officers charged in Floyd's death may not stand trial.

Nine months since George Floyd's killing, the South Minneapolis intersection where it happened still serves as a memorial to Floyd, renamed George Floyd Square, blocked off to traffic and guarded by community members day and night. Brian Warfield has a pistol strapped to his leg. His permit to carry hangs around his neck. This area has been a regular target for racist agitators, Warfield said. He expects more of them as Derek Chauvin's trial gets going.

BRIAN WARFIELD: If you stand here and you get associated with this corner, you're going to get death threats from every which direction. And that's why - that's why we got to wear flak vests and everything else. It's not that we're looking for trouble, but people are looking to start trouble.

FLORIDO: His patrol partner is Corey Moore.

COREY MOORE: I'm tell you right now, if you have any motive - racial motives in your heart and you come out here, you're going to get handled.

FLORIDO: The potential for a repeat of last year's unrest is on everyone's mind, they said.

WARFIELD: But right now, honestly, everybody's just trying to keep the peace, try to get through the trial without anything happening. We don't want anything else to happen to our city.

FLORIDO: He said their city has been through enough. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.