A City Prepares for a Trial

Derek Chauvin goes on trial for murder in the death of George Floyd on March 8. His trial has been separated from that of the other three officers who have been charged; theirs will begin in August. Chauvin is the principal defendant. Of the four policemen involved, two were on something like their fourth day on the job. The third was a tiny guy, also not very experienced. Chauvin was the only officer on the scene who had the experience and the strength to deal with an oversized career criminal who was hopped up on drugs, and he took the lead.

The city of Minneapolis awaits Chauvin’s trial anxiously. A local left-wing outlet reports:

The area around the downtown Minneapolis courthouse where Derek Chauvin will soon go on trial for the murder of George Floyd is gradually taking on the look of military occupation. Concrete barriers, boarded-up windows and barbed wire clad the buildings. A security force of 2,000 National Guard troops and 1,100 outstate police officers will soon be on patrol.

Governor Tim Walz wanted a $35 million appropriation for emergency security for the trial, but I don’t think the legislature gave it to him. Why are the authorities so concerned? In part, because professional leftist agitators and rioters are preparing for battle. Activist groups have already announced plans for “protests,” beginning on the first day of the trial. And in part because they have painted themselves into a corner.

I believe it was the day after Floyd’s death when Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey publicly questioned the fact that the four police officers were still free men. Why weren’t they already in jail? And Governor Walz has publicly pronounced the officers guilty of “murder.” Meanwhile, though, it has come out that Floyd’s blood contained two or three times a lethal dose of fentanyl. He also showed the classic symptoms of a fentanyl overdose, complaining repeatedly of an inability to breathe and foaming at the mouth. His autopsy revealed that his lungs were heavier than normal, reflecting the accumulation of fluid that occurs with a fentanyl overdose. So it is far from clear that Derek Chauvin murdered anyone, or indeed that the four police officers had anything to do with Floyd’s death, which apparently, based on the evidence now available, was caused by a drug overdose.

But it is much too late for the authorities to acknowledge that their case against Chauvin et al. is far from airtight. They are committed. What we don’t know is whether an impartial jury can be empaneled, and whether any jury will have the courage to return a verdict of not guilty. Everyone in Minneapolis knows that the authorities were not able to defend even the Third Precinct Station House, which was taken over and burned by rioters. Nor were they able to defend a two-mile stretch of Lake Street, or other areas in Minneapolis and St. Paul that were destroyed by mobs. What juror will be willing to count on the authorities to protect his own house from being burned down, if he fails to return the verdict that is demanded by the mob?

Still, the authorities evidently are worried that a jury might be bold enough not to return the expected verdict. Thus, they are beginning an effort to mollify citizens who–based in part on the Mayor’s and Governor’s prejudicial statements–are expecting a murder conviction.

[T]he city is also turning to what political scientists would call “soft power,” enlisting the aid of grassroots organizations and even social media influencers to disseminate factual information and diffuse what some fear will be a combustible event in the life of the city.

The city is paying “social media influencers” to spread the party line among those who might be tempted to riot. It is also advertising on radio stations whose audiences are minority communities, and undertaking an effort to educate Minneapolitans on how the legal system works:

The city plans to share information on the ground and online and get input from the public through community members who meet regularly; create safety toolkits for residents and community groups and form a “community information network,” including partnerships with media that reach under-represented communities that don’t rely on mainstream media for news.
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The city is also using “trusted community messengers” to translate trial-related information.
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One of those is the nonprofit community law firm, the Legal Rights Center, which is working with the NAACP and law schools to provide accurate information about the legal system before and during the trials.

Executive Director Sarah Davis said with the trial being livestreamed, a lot of people will be watching who don’t typically have that kind of front-row seat, and it’s not going to be like trials you see on TV.

I didn’t know that the trial will be live-streamed. This could be a local version of the O.J. Simpson trial.

Their lawyers will help the public understand the criminal justice system, teaching things like the difference between “probable cause” to charge somebody versus “proof beyond reasonable doubt,” which is needed for a conviction; the elements of the alleged offenses; what a jury is.

It seems a little late for that. This part, I don’t really understand:

City officials plan regular briefings to keep the public abreast of trial-related preparations and responses and combat misinformation.

What “misinformation” will they try to combat? Chauvin’s defense?

I have tried many jury cases in a number of states, and I have high regard for the integrity and common sense with which the vast majority of Americans approach jury duty. But rarely have we seen a trial where the atmosphere has been so polluted with pretrial publicity, where a defendant’s guilt has been confidently pronounced not only by nearly every commentator and journalist in sight, but by senior government officials, and where jurors will have every reason to fear that if they return the “wrong” verdict, a mob awaits them. I think the likelihood that Derek Chauvin can get a fair trial is remote.

Still, an uneasiness has settled over the City of Minneapolis. The authorities dealt incompetently with the rioting that occurred last May and June. They may have a chance to try to do better in the Spring.

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