Cities brace for verdict in Derek Chauvin trial

With closing arguments set to begin Monday, police departments in cities nationwide are preparing for possible unrest

By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press

Closing arguments — the final summations from both sides and the last words jurors will hear before deliberating — in the closely-watched case against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin are expected Monday.

In the meantime, major city police departments nationwide are bracing for the possibility of protests and unrest, particularly if the jury acquits Chauvin, who is facing murder charges in George Floyd's death.

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin address Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill during motions before the court Thursday, April 15, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis.
In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin address Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill during motions before the court Thursday, April 15, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

Last year, protesters nationwide organized to speak out against police brutality, and some activists have even said they feel violence may be justified as a means to pressure politicians and police departments.

Detroit Will Breathe, a group that has organized protests in metro Detroit and says it "formed on the streets of Detroit in the midst of an international movement against police brutality towards Black lives," said it is watching the trial.

"We'll see what the verdict is," group cofounder Tristan Taylor said Sunday, adding that he supports "whatever it takes" to get justice. "We're waiting like everyone else around the country to see what happens."

Taylor said some "cities across the country haven't acted like they wanted justice" and have even used "vicious police tactics" in the past year to silence protesters who were mostly nonviolent.

Violence, he suggested, is coming from police, noting the recent shooting death in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was shot by a police officer after a traffic stop and struggle.

The senior officer, the department said, thought she was firing a Taser, not a gun.

"I think what the trial makes clear, unfortunately, is the only way we get justice is if we show forcefully our outrage," Taylor said, justifying last year's burning of a Minneapolis police precinct. "It's the only way our voices can get heard — and we have to do all that just to have just one cop put on trial."

Detroit, which faced some tense clashes between protesters and police last year, will be on alert, as it generally is, when there is a potential for violence, law enforcement officials said.

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The department did not detail, however, what actions it planned to take.

Floyd's death last Mayprompted protests and police clashes in Minneapolis that spread to 140 U.S. cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In at least 21 states, the National Guard was called in.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said that while Detroit was one of the few major cities that didn’t have widespread violence in 2020, his department is ready for whatever may happen after the verdict.

“We don’t know what the outcome will be," Craig told WDIV-TV ( Channel 4) in early March, ahead of the trial. "But given what we know, we will be prepared to keep our city and our protesters safe."

A new round of protests and violence nationwide could add up to hundreds of millions — perhaps even billions — in property damage. The Insurance Information Institute estimated insured losses last year at more than $1 billion, making it the costliest civil disorder in U.S. history.

The second costliest civil disorder by the institute's count was in 1992 after a jury acquitted Los Angeles Police Department officers of using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King.

In that case, four L.A. policemen — three of them white — were found not guilty of beating King, who was Black and later died in 2012.

Like the Floyd case, the police action was caught on video.

Anger over the jury's verdict unleashed violence, and some fear an acquittal on the Minneapolis cases could do the same, especially with pent up frustration from the pandemic.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. A second-degree murder conviction is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.

In Grand Rapids, where demonstrations turned violent last year, activists said last month that police have tried to silence them, and vowed to continue to protesting police brutality. The activists have been calling for Chauvin to be found guilty, according to reports.

Police officers usually aren't convicted for on-duty deaths.

To reach a guilty verdict, all 12 jurors must agree the prosecution proved its case. The defense needs to convince only one of the jurors that there is reasonable doubt of Chauvin's guilt.

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Still, the prosecution presented emotional eyewitness testimony and compelling video that shows Floyd, who was Black, pleading for his life as Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly 10 minutes.

Defense witnesses included a use-of-force authority who said Chauvin's actions were justified and a forensic pathologist, who concluded that the cause of death was undetermined.

Chauvin did not testify.

In Minneapolis, plans are in place to clear government buildings in advance of the verdict's reading.

The New York Police Department said it is ready for possible citywide protests, according to WNBC-TV. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea added the department was "watching and speaking" daily with officials in Minneapolis and "expect the possibility of some protests" in New York.

There, he said, the department has done "a lot of work behind the scenes" with grassroots organizations, elected officials and clergy to minimize violence regardless of the trial's outcome.

In Washington, D.C., police are requiring all officers to work 12-hour shifts beginning Monday and canceling time off, including sick time, ahead of potential protests, WUSA-TV reported.

The Los Angeles Police Department, along with religious and community leaders, is planning a forum to call for nonviolence. The history of the King verdict makes the prospect of violence especially raw there.

And in Philadelphia, a few stores began boarding up windows.

WPVI-TV reported that "there is fear that more rioting and looting will result" if protests take place, and that businesses met with police to discuss the possibility of unrest and what to do to guard against it.

Protests over Floyd's death turned violent in parts of Philadelphia and — the TV station reported — some businesses were damaged.

And the October 2020 shooting death of Walter Wallace, a Black man armed with a knife who was killed by two Philadelphia police officers, sparked more protests in the city, leading to "looting causing extensive damage to big box and locally owned stores."

"Everyone needs to feel safer and things have to change if we are going to move forward," the report quoted Pennsylvania state Rep. Joe Hohenstein, a Democrat whose district includes Philadelphia, as saying. "Looting department stores does not heal; it only makes old wounds deeper."

(c)2021 the Detroit Free Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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