MINNEAPOLIS — The sacred intersection where George Floyd died beneath the knee of a police officer has seen such an increase in violence that food delivery drivers are afraid to venture there. There have been gun battles, with bloodied shooting victims dragged to ambulances because of barricades keeping the police and emergency vehicles away.
“Having no police: This is the experiment right here,” said P.J. Hill, a leader of Worldwide Outreach for Christ, a church that has been on that corner in Minneapolis for almost 40 years. “This is their one-block experiment.”
Residents all over town still complain of officers using excessive force, like during a recent confrontation in which a white officer appeared to wind up and punch a Black teenager. And officers accuse some community members of antagonizing them, like in a recent dispute over a homeless encampment that erupted into a melee with punches and pepper spray.
A pledge by most City Council members in June to defund and dismantle the Police Department and create a new system of public safety met fierce resistance. It has since given way to a grab bag of efforts that have yet to prove their effectiveness and have left the city fractured.
Looming over everything is a palpable unease over what the 12 jurors will decide in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who is facing second- and third-degree murder charges, as well as manslaughter, after being captured on video kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes in May.
Many worry that an acquittal could set back the work that has been done to reform public safety and to attempt healing, and put the city right back where it was last summer with buildings ablaze and the streets roiling with anger.
One of the most closely watched court cases in decades got underway on Monday as the murder trial began for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is being charged with murder in the death of George Floyd.
A long day in court began with the prosecution’s opening remarks, focusing the jury’s attention on the bystander video of Mr. Floyd’s death — all nine minutes and 29 seconds of it — and ended with the testimony of a mixed martial arts fighter who was on the scene and said he believed Mr. Chauvin was killing Mr. Floyd. In between, the defense laid out its theory of the case, vowing to prove over the course of the trial that Mr. Floyd died of a drug overdose and heart condition.
Here’s what happened.
The trial began with opening statements from both sides, laying the groundwork for both teams as they make their case to the jury pool. Prosecuting attorney Jerry W. Blackwell aimed to focus the jurors’ attention on the famous video of Mr. Floyd’s arrest, which sparked a wave of protests across the country this summer. The video, taken by a bystander, showed Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, where he remained for about 9 minutes and 30 seconds. “You can believe your eyes, that it’s homicide — it’s murder,” Mr. Blackwell said, adding that the trial was “about Derek Chauvin,” not the police in general.
Defense attorneys for Mr. Chauvin laid out their strategy as well — one that will ask jurors to consider heaps of evidence outside of the video itself. Eric Nelson, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, said there are more than 50,000 items in evidence and told jurors that the case “is clearly more than about 9 minutes and 29 seconds.”
The state also made clear another point: that Mr. Floyd’s exact cause of death will prove to be one of the most crucial points of this trial. In its opening statement, the prosecution (not the defense, as previously reported) said it would call seven medical experts, in addition to the Hennepin County medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, who performed the only autopsy on Mr. Floyd and classified it as a homicide.
Witnesses, including a cashier at a gas station across the street who filmed the encounter and a 911 dispatcher, also described their actions during the time that Mr. Floyd was arrested. “My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong,” said Jena Scurry, the 911 dispatcher, who alerted a supervising sergeant about what was happening. But she was circumspect about what exactly she thought was wrong; she said she thought officers may have needed reinforcements.
Outside the courthouse, the amount of public interest in the trial was laid bare, as protesters gathered and a helicopter whirled overhead. Temporary concrete and metal barricades encircled some of the government buildings downtown, while national guard members and state police officers stood by. Ben Crump, a lawyer for Mr. Floyd’s family, told supporters on Monday that “the whole world is watching.”
The trial of Derek Chauvin is the latest in a string of high-profile police misconduct cases in which the events were recorded on video, dating back to the beating of Rodney King in 1991. The graphic video of George Floyd’s death last year was seen by millions of people and was at the center of the prosecution’s case on Monday.
But similar evidence has not always guaranteed a conviction of police officers, said Dave Rudovsky, a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school with 50 years of experience in civil rights, including cases tied to police misconduct. Prosecutors are usually hesitant to take on these cases, and jurors tend to be sympathetic toward officers who they believe made split-second decisions when facing danger, he said.
Mr. Rudovsky called the video in the Chauvin case “very powerful.” But he cautioned that a conviction was not guaranteed, “even if these videos seem to show a high level of misconduct and no justification. None of these are sure things with jurors.”
Here are some of the most famous cases involving police officers caught on video and the outcomes:
Rodney King: The grainy, black-and-white video of police beating Rodney King in 1991 is the first memory people have of police misconduct on tape. Three of the officers involved were acquitted and a jury was unable to reach a verdict on the fourth, sparking violent clashes in Los Angeles that left dozens dead in 1992.
Eric Garner: In 2014, a white officer in New York held Eric Garner in a chokehold, which was filmed by a bystander. Mr. Garner died and some of his final words, “I can’t breathe,” helped galvanize a movement against police brutality. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who choked him, was eventually fired, but both state and federal investigators declined to charge him.
Laquan McDonald: A police dashboard camera recorded Chicago police shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. That video, which wasn’t released for 13 months after his death, prompted a series of state and federal cases against the officers involved. Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot Laquan, was convicted of second-degree murder.
Walter Scott: A former police officer, Michael T. Slager, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the death of Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C. Mr. Slager shot Mr. Scott, who was unarmed, in the back in 2015. A video of the shooting, which was taken by a bystander, was crucial in the trial.