In distant downtowns, windows are being boarded up. Police officers are being ordered to cancel holidays. And the world awaits a jury’s verdict.
All over a trial in Minneapolis.
What happens in Minnesota doesn’t necessarily stay there, as the world discovered last year following the killing of George Floyd.
In a case that became the global epicentre of a conversation extending far beyond one city, one victim and one police officer, a jury has now retired to consider its verdict in the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin.
Hence the palpable nervousness.
“Pray for us,” said Bishop Richard Howell, a pastor at Shiloh Temple International Ministries, in the north end of Minneapolis.
“We’re undergoing so much distress. We have tanks out there. We have soldiers out there. We have the National Guard. I was out Thursday night [at protests]…. I heard the language. I felt the anger, the rage.”
As Howell prepared his sermons, the pastor wrestled with whether to refer to Floyd’s death as a murder before the verdict was rendered.
He decided to go ahead and use the word.
Should the jury decide otherwise, he’s now worried about what will happen in the event of a not-guilty verdict and said he hopes people accept the outcome.
Residents describe the city as a powder keg.
City faces security challenges on two fronts
“A simmering fire” is how Andrew Wilson, a Minneapolis defence lawyer and former colleague of Chauvin’s lawyer, describes the city, expressing his fear of what might happen if there’s an acquittal.
That’s because it’s not just the verdict in the Chauvin case pending this week; a funeral will also be held in Minneapolis for 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was killed on April 11 by an officer who has since resigned and been charged with manslaughter.
The state has assembled what it calls the largest security presence in Minnesota’s history, comprising police and National Guard troops.
And the tensions of this impending verdict are reverberating elsewhere.
Bracing for reaction in Chicago, D.C., Pittsburgh and beyond
That includes digital platforms: Facebook says it’s invoking its emergency measures and will limit the spread of content likely to promote violence or hate.
Back in the world of bricks and mortar, some buildings have been boarded up in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Chicago is experiencing other protests related to yet another police shooting, this one of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.
Bodycam footage has just been released from the March shooting showing the teen had just dropped a handgun before he was shot by an officer.
Some cities have ordered their entire police forces to be on standby.
In Washington, the mayor has requested several hundred National Guard troops to be ready; officers are being moved to 12-hour shifts; their days off are cancelled. Four people were just arrested at an anti-police protest.
Pittsburgh police moved to 12-hour shifts for last year’s protests after Floyd’s death and are once again taking what they describe as an all-hands-on-deck approach.
“We know for sure there are going to be protests,” said Cara Cruz, a spokesperson for Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Safety.
“We’re preparing for that.”
Cruz said officers she’s talked to have called Floyd’s killing a murder. The local police chief even took a knee with protesters last year.
Of the more than 100 protests in Pittsburgh last year, a handful became violent; a police car was burned at one demonstration in May.
Cruz said that came as a shock to officers in a city that doesn’t tend to experience many unruly protests.
But old norms were obliterated last year.
Historic protests, historic damage
Thousands of Black Lives Matter protests swept across the United States and the world last year — from Milwaukee to Montreal to the fashion runways of Milan.
Polls estimated that somewhere between six and 10 per cent of Americans personally joined such a protest, meaning tens of millions of people participated in what the New York Times called potentially “the largest movement in U.S. history.”
A small minority of those protests produced historic damage, triggering the activation of National Guard troops in about two-dozen states.
An insurance industry analyst called it easily the most expensive civil-unrest-related event on record, with well over $1 billion in reported claims in the U.S.
That’s far lower than the claims from many natural disasters, but for civil unrest, said Tom Johansmeyer of New Jersey-based Verisk Analytics, “this was an unprecedented insurance-industry ‘catastrophe event.'”
The numbers on police killings
Those protests drew attention to human devastation.
Year after year, about 1,000 people are shot and killed by police in the U.S., and, according to a Washington Post tracker, that pattern has proceeded unabated since Floyd’s death.
One in 1,000 Black men in the country are killed by a police officer, according to a 2019 study published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
Black people represent just under one-third of the victims of police shootings — a rate more than double their 13 per cent share of the U.S. population.
Change in policing has proven uneven.
But one Minnesota legal observer said he was struck by something that happened at Chauvin’s trial: The new chief of the Minneapolis police, a Black man, a previous critic of police abuses, testified against an officer.
“That’s never happened in American history,” said David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota.
“We’ve never seen a police chief testify against one of their own.”
‘We’re doing a lot of praying’
A poll this month suggested that Americans still see this as a moment for change — albeit not quite in numbers as high as during last year’s protests.
The Monmouth University survey said a clear majority of Americans view racial discrimination as a problem.
Most were hopeful things can get better. Most supported greater efforts to achieve racial equity. Most viewed Black Lives Matter protests as fully or partially justified.
And almost everyone in the country is aware of this trial, which started on March 29.
Just six per cent of Americans responding to Monmouth’s survey said they hadn’t heard about it. Back at the church in north Minneapolis, Tahiti Robinson said she’s been watching.
“It’s been kind of hard,” she said. “I do a lot of crying.”
The 81-year-old is hoping for a guilty verdict. But what she really longs for is a less confrontational relationship between police and her community, and she shared memories from her youth of officers who helped people cross the street.
Robinson fears a different verdict — and a violent reaction in the street.
“We’re doing a lot of praying,” she said.
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