Minneapolis and other cities across the US are bracing for possible protests after a jury delivers a verdict in the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murdering George Floyd, an unarmed black man.
Floyd’s death last may in the Minnesota city helped sparked racial justice protests across the US that at times turn violent. In some cases, the unrest was met with violent crackdowns from police.
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Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared a preemptive state of emergency in Minneapolis on Monday as the jury began deliberating Chauvin’s fate. A verdict could come as early as Tuesday.
“We cannot allow civil unrest to descend into chaos. We must protect life and property,” Walz said at a news briefing, adding that “systemic changes” were necessary to protect Black Americans going forward.
Minneapolis and state officials have heightened security precautions, girding the courthouse tower with barbed wire and armed soldiers from the National Guard.
A few miles from the courtroom, nightly protests have flared in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, over the police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, after a routine traffic stop on April 11. Officer Kimberly Potter turned in her badge on Tuesday, and has been charged with manslaughter.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration is privately weighing how to handle the upcoming verdict, including considering whether President Joe Biden should address the nation in its wake, according to the Associated Press.
Biden told reporters Tuesday that he called Floyd’s family after the jury began its deliberations and said, “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict. Which is – I think it’s overwhelming in my view.”
Responding to questions about whether Biden was weighing in on a verdict while the jury deliberates, White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out that since the jury is sequestered they will not hear his remarks while they render their verdict. She added that what “he was conveying is what many people are feeling across the country, which is compassion for the family.”
In the meantime, the Justice Department has already dispatched specially trained community facilitators to Minnesota, an anonymous official told the news agency.
Major cities lift security
The preparations were not reserved for Minnesota.
In Washington, DC, the National Guard said it was activating about 250 personnel to help police with street closures in the city ahead of the verdict.
In New York City, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told local media last week that his department, which critics said cracked down brutally on protests last spring, had been preparing for the Chauvin trial verdict and doing “a lot of work” engaging with local leaders, clergy and community organisations.
“We’re just asking anyone that may come out to voice their concern over this trial … do it peacefully, no property damage and we’ll get through it together,” Shea said.
In Chicago, the third largest US city, the police department said it deployed additional resources throughout the city including downtown, and cancelled days off for police officers in several units and teams.
With a verdict expected in the Derek Chauvin trial, I'm putting @IL_Natl_Guard on standby at the request of @chicagosmayor. It's critical that those who wish to peacefully protest against the systemic racism and injustice in our communities continue to be able to do so. https://t.co/gb9BOCTZXK
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) April 19, 2021
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said he was activating 125 personnel from the state’s National Guard to support the city’s police starting from Tuesday.
Chicago businesses have boarded up windows in anticipation of possible unrest, particularly after graphic body-camera video was released last week showing a Chicago police officer fatally shooting a 13-year-old Black boy. Chicago saw widespread looting following Floyd’s death last May.
“It is critical that those who wish to peacefully protest against the systemic racism and injustice that holds back too many of our communities continue to be able to do so,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Members of the Guard and the Illinois State Police will support the City of Chicago’s efforts to protect the rights of peaceful protestors and keep our families safe.”
In Oakland, California, another site of protests and some instances of vandalism over the summer, workers placed plywood barriers along a downtown building on Monday afternoon. A barricade had also been placed along the outside perimeter in front of the Oakland police station.
In Florida, Governor Rick DeSantis, a Republican, on Monday signed an “anti-riot” bill into law, with tougher penalties for people who engage in violent protests, noting his expectation of potential fallout from the Chauvin verdict.
The law enhances penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest, allowing authorities to detain protesters until their first court appearance, and establishes new felonies for organising a violent protest.
“In Florida, we are taking an unapologetic stand for the rule of law and public safety,” he said in a statement.