George Floyd murder trial: an exceptional safety device in Minneapolis

Derek Chauvin, the police officer who pressed his knee against George Floyd’s throat for nearly nine minutes in May 2020, is on trial in Minnesota.

UNITED STATES – A whole country has its eyes on Minnesota and more specifically on the city of Minneapolis. From this Monday, March 8 begins the trial of Derek Chauvin , who will be tried for the murder, in May 2020, of George Floyd , an African-American he had suffocated by pressing for more than eight minutes  on his neck with his knee .

An exceptional trial, due to the gigantic mobilization against the police violence caused by this death, which will begin, for three weeks first, with the selection of the jury entrusted with the mission of deciding on the fate of the now. ex-policeman .

The other members of the police force intervened during the arrest of George Floyd (also dismissed following the tragedy) will be judged during a disjointed trial organized in August, mainly for reasons linked to the covid-19 pandemic and the need to respect safe distances in court.

“A lot of emotion in all camps”

In the meantime, Derek Chauvin’s passage to court is already out of the ordinary in all respects, as the problem of systemic violence committed by the police against minorities has been imposed in the public debate across the Atlantic for a year . Indeed, in the United States, the trials and a fortiori the convictions of police officers accused of violence, even as in this specific case of homicide, are extremely rare .

This is the reason why the local authorities expect special attention on the event, and they fear overflows. Thus, several weeks before the start of the discussions, a Dantesque security device was installed near the court. “There will be a lot of emotion on all sides, and we will be prepared,” then said Democratic Governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz.

From the beginning of March, it was a “ fortress ” or a “ Cold War Berlin ”, to use the words of the American press, which thus began to be built on the outskirts of the County District Court. by Hennepin. Concrete blocks were notably installed, before metal fences topped with barbed wire were added. And this on two occasions, with a space between the two lines of fortification, so as to make the whole even more impassable. At the same time, many shop windows in the city center were protected with large wooden plaques, as the city offered to help traders.

Large-scale riots last May

Large-scale human resources have also been mobilized, in particular with the deployment of the National Guard (reserve soldiers of the US Army, normally used in an emergency situation such as a natural disaster or a riot), but also the police. city, county and state. In total, some 3,000 members of the police could take part in the device.

It must be said that the question of the security of the debates is particularly burning in Minneapolis, where criticism had been directed against the authorities in the days following the death of George Floyd. Riots had indeed broken out without the police or politicians appearing to be able to control the crowd. Significant looting and fires were caused at the end of May by the demonstrators, the city taking on the appearance of a theater of war.

In this city in the northwest of the United States, the police station had even been set on fire by the rioters , who had managed to thwart without great difficulty the systems of protection, then made up of a few barriers. Faced with the angry crowd, the police had even had to abandon their premises, arousing the ire of then President Donald Trump. These violent gatherings are estimated to have caused more than half a billion dollars in damage.

This is why local officials want to avoid further excesses at all costs during the trial of Derek Chauvin, and they have also decided to deploy a major anti-riot system around the municipal prison and the city. town hall, again using metal fences, barbed wire and concrete blocks to hinder the progress of any demonstrators. 

A desire to intimidate activists?

The fact remains that the anti-police violence activists who take part in this new movement to fight for equality and civil rights view this show of force with a dim view. Many of them see it as an attempt to intimidate them. “They are more afraid of the people than of the violence of the police”, for example lamented in the local press Michelle Gross, member of an association denouncing the violence committed by the police. “They want to make it look like the protesters are the problem, not the violence that sparked our protests.” 

A point of view shared in part by some members of the city council, who fear that the scale of the device sends a confused message. “How to have an organization sufficiently secure, but not to the point of making the population feel in danger?”, Asked for example Phillipe Cunningham, young African-American elected representative from the north of the city and member of the majority. . 

To which the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, replied that he was not seeking to provoke the demonstrators, but more to “protect people and property” among his constituents. “Above all, we do not want to interfere with freedom of expression,” added Marion Greene , elected at the County level. 

The fact remains that with such a high profile trial which will last for long weeks (the selection of jurors should end at the end of March, before a trial which will last between two and four weeks according to forecasts), the situation should remain flammable for a long time in Minneapolis. Given the historical importance of what is happening there for American society, activists opposed to systemic violence are planning to appear at the event. “These barricades, barriers and barbed wire will not prevent us from taking to the streets and proclaiming the truth,” civil rights activists have already assured . And the trial hasn’t even started yet.

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