‘We’re paying attention’: Vigils, rallies planned in George Floyd’s honor ahead of Derek Chauvin trial

Fencing and concrete barriers encircle the county government center. Nearby businesses are boarded up. And the intersection at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where George Floyd died, remains closed to traffic.

But the Rev. Billy G. Russell is preparing to welcome Minneapolis residents into his church.

“We’re trying to get on the front end of all of this to prepare peoples’ minds and hearts for what’s about to happen,” said Russell, pastor at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. “Everybody’s on edge right now.” 

Ten months since the death of George Floyd in police custody, opening statements are set to begin Monday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Local activists planned rallies and vigils Sunday to honor Floyd’s life and draw attention to the case.

What is justice? In Derek Chauvin case, a weary city that wears George Floyd’s face waits for an answer

Who’s on the jury?: Jury selected in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin

A man changes the number of a sign board at a makeshift memorial of George Floyd before the third day of jury selection begins in the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin who is accused of killing Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 10, 2021. (Photo: CHANDAN KHANNA, AFP via Getty Images)

More than a dozen local organizations were sponsoring a rally at the Minneapolis Government Center early Sunday afternoon.

“We want to give folks a space to come together and talk about what we’ve been experiencing through the jury selection process,” said Chauntyll Allen of Black Lives Matter Twin Cities. “And to let the system know we’re paying attention. We’re paying attention to details, and we will continue to show up.”

Russell was planning to hold an evening vigil at his church with members of Floyd’s family, the Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump. Russell said he watched most of jury selection over the last three weeks and planned to continue following the trial.

“We need to make sure we watch as everything unfolds. Whatever we need to do, we’re going to do it in a peaceful spirit,” he said. “Even with convictions, no amount of justice can bring back the life of Mr. Floyd, but it can restore hope in a system that should be inclusive of all citizens.”

George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police set the nation ablaze. Floyd’s global impact is undeniable, and many are looking to carry the movement well beyond the outcome of the trial of the ex-cop who killed him. (March 26)

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Protesters – some chanting, drumming and holding portraits of Floyd – demonstrated outside the courthouse throughout the 11-day jury selection process, which concluded last week. Some said they planned to protest throughout the rest of the trial.

Members of A Mother’s Love, a community group that works to de-escalate gun violence and domestic violence situations, were downtown each day of jury selection dressed in bright pink t-shirts and black jeans, handing out fliers offering emotional support and encouraging residents to demonstrate peacefully.

“It’s about making sure people have a safe place to grieve,” said DonEsther Morris, director of the initiative and a Twin Cities native. “The community is still grieving the loss of businesses that were there last summer. We’re still rebuilding.”

Morris said “there is a little bit of a sense of increased tension” as opening statements approach. “It’s more increased apprehension about how the trial is going to go,” she said.

Morris said she planned to attend the vigil at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. The day “is for prayer and peace across the city, no matter what,” she said.

Members of the Minnesota National Guard have been stationed outside the courthouse in anticipation of potential unrest during the trial, but officials said last week there have been no arrests related to the trial or reports of property damage. Police officials said they planned to increase their presence as opening statements begin.

“It will not be a dramatic increase,” Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said at a news conference last Monday. “At this time, there is no information or intelligence that would justify a major increase in our posture.”

Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020, after Derek Chauvin, who is white, pinned his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Lying on a Minneapolis street under Chauvin, Floyd cried out “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times.

The incident sparked hundreds of protests worldwide against police brutality. While the majority of protests were peaceful, hundreds of Minneapolis businesses were looted in the wake of Floyd’s death, and a police station was set on fire.

Jury selection in the trial began in early March. The court faced some early setbacks after the city announced a historic $27 million settlement with the Floyd family. Two jurors who were already seated on the jury told the judge they could no longer be impartial after seeing the news and were cut from the jury.

Attorneys for the defense and prosecution worked through more than a hundred potential jurors, asking them each about their prior knowledge of the case and opinions on a range of issues, including discrimination, policing of communities of color and Black Lives Matter.

The court ultimately selected 15 jurors. Twelve of the jurors will deliberate, two will serve as alternates and one will be dismissed if all the others show up for opening statements Monday. The panel includes nine white jurors and six jurors of color, including three Black men, one Black woman and two mixed-race women.

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