Jury selection began on Tuesday in the trial of a police officer accused of killing Minneapolis resident George Floyd, whose death set off sweeping protests against racial injustice in the US and around the world.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for his role in Floyd’s death. He has been released on $1m bond pending trial, and has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Jury selection is expected to take several weeks as numerous prospective jurors are vetted. Opening statements in the case are scheduled for March 29.
Protesters in Minneapolis took to the streets on Monday. Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told MSNBC he was encouraged by them “because I have people feeling the same way I feel. We all want justice. We’re all looking for a conviction.”
“My brother was tortured to death while [Chauvin] had a smirk on his face,” Floyd said. “If you can’t get justice in America for that, what can you get justice for?”
On May 25, Chauvin knelt on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, despite Floyd’s pleas that he could not breathe, while arresting him for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. Three other police officers who responded to the call did not intervene. They have been criminally charged with aiding and abetting murder.
A bystander filmed Floyd’s death, which came after years of growing attention from activists and news outlets over the deaths of black men and women at the hands of police officers. The video of Floyd’s death sparked protests in the Midwestern city, then riots that burnt down a police precinct and damaged hundreds of buildings.
The demonstrations — mostly peaceful, but at times accompanied by fires and looting — spread to other US cities and lasted throughout the summer. Public support grew for the Black Lives Matter movement, which started in 2013 when Florida man George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Minnesota attorney-general Keith Ellison said in June when he announced the second-degree murder charge against Chauvin that achieving a conviction would be difficult.
“Trying this case will not be an easy thing,” he said. “Winning a conviction will be hard. I say this not because we doubt our resources or our ability . . . but history does show there are clear challenges here.”
The Hennepin County courthouse in downtown Minneapolis has been surrounded with fencing topped with concertina wire as authorities anticipate protests, according to the Minnesota newspaper Star Tribune.
Jury selection for Chauvin’s trial originally was scheduled to begin on Monday but was delayed as lawyers for the prosecution sought to reinstate an additional charge of third-degree murder — which has a lower legal standard for conviction — against Chauvin. It also carries a less severe maximum sentence of 25 years in prison in Minnesota, compared with a 40-year maximum term for second-degree murder.