How defunding the police backfired in Minneapolis, the city which sparked George Floyd protests across the world

How defunding the police backfired in Minneapolis the city which sparked George Floyd protests across the world
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Residents in George Floyd Square in Minneapolis want the zone reopened to the outside world – Chandan Khanna/AFP

Visitors to the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis must walk past concrete barricades and makeshift checkpoints to reach the site where the 46-year-old took his last breath with his face pressed to the asphalt.

Signs marking the entrance to the birthplace of a global racial justice movement read: “You are now entering the free state of George Floyd” and “cops not welcome”.

The world is set to revisit the death of Mr Floyd this week when the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who kneeled on his neck during his final moments, begins.

His death not only triggered a hot summer of protests but also calls to “defund” the police that have reverberated across the US and as far as the UK.

The four-block intersection where Mr Floyd died – renamed George Floyd Square – is now a test case, with concrete barricades and a regular swarm of activists manning an “autonomous zone”, effectively barring police from the area.

And it is not going well.

A volunteer mans the perimeter of George Floyd Square - Rozina Sabur
A volunteer mans the perimeter of George Floyd Square – Rozina Sabur

Earlier this month a 30-year-old volunteer was shot dead, and cars with broken windows line the streets. Business owners say customers have fled and emergency services refuse to come in.

“I call that the United States,” says Sam Willis, the owner of Just Turkey restaurant, as he gestures beyond the barrier. “Over here, this is an area where there’s lawlessness.”

The so-called autonomous zone was initially supported by Minneapolis’ progressive city council. Last June a majority of councillors vowed to dismantle the city’s police department and later cut $8 million from its budget, in a knee-jerk reaction to protests over Mr Floyd’s death.

The area became the birthplace of a global racial justice movement - Rozina Sabur
The area became the birthplace of a global racial justice movement – Rozina Sabur

More than 100 police officers left the force last year – double the usual number – and dozens more are on leave with post-traumatic stress from the violent unrest that rocked the city after Mr Floyd’s death.

The police department says the drop in resources has forced it to prioritise responding to only the most serious crimes.

At the barriers to George Floyd square activists sit in the graffitied checkpoint stalls with small heaters and kettles, peering out from plastic windows to ensure no police officers gain entry.

The flowers and messages of hope and peace that first adorned the streets have been overshadowed by boarded up businesses and graffiti.

A sign on one entrance urges visitors to approach the area in the same way they would “visiting Auschwitz”; at another a large whiteboard lists a set of demands for the city’s leaders.

Sam Wallis Jr, owner of Just Turkey - Rozina Sabur
Sam Wallis Jr, owner of Just Turkey – Rozina Sabur

Mr Willis, 46, says his restaurant, like many other black-owned businesses within the area, has been hit hard by the road closures and the growing crime rate.

“A guy got killed down here three weeks ago. They had to drive them to the hospital because the ambulance won’t come. You can’t have that,” he says.

Next door, the owners of a BBQ joint have made their feelings known with a mural across their shop front. “The wise build bridges. The foolish build barriers,” it reads.

Ivy Alexander, 58, the restaurant’s co-owner, says she is sympathetic with activists’ social justice demands, but has felt unsafe at more than one point over the last year. “I had one employee quit because he feared for his life,” she said.

Mrs Alexander and other black-owned businesses on the street have resorted to crowd sourcing to help them stay afloat.

Activists in the area argue that the crime levels in George Floyd Square are no higher than in other parts of the city, but claim the incidents here get more media attention because it is a police-free zone.

“There’s always been crime here, that’s just the neighbourhood,” one activist in his 30s, who did not want to be named, tells The Telegraph from inside a makeshift checkpoint. “Outsiders give more focus to it because they don’t like what’s happening here.”

The activist claimed that volunteers like him stop troublemakers at the entrance to the area.

George Floyd Square has become a makeshift memorial to the racial justice movement - Chandan Khanna/AFP
George Floyd Square has become a makeshift memorial to the racial justice movement – Chandan Khanna/AFP

But the signs of criminal activity are clear to see. Criminal gangs operate openly, and residents say it is not unusual to see people carrying firearms.

Don Samuels, 72, the CEO of a non-profit and a black former city councillor, said there was a bitter irony to the area’s plight. “Even though George Floyd Square is the epicentre of global focus and certainly the place where this all started, it’s truly the case that the residents there have experienced more violence,” he told The Telegraph.

“We’ve historically been underserved, but now we’re being underserved by the ‘woke’ people [in the council] who say ‘we’ll tell you, the community most vulnerable to the absence of police, what should happen’,” he said.

Mr Samuels is among a group of residents who are suing the city for failing to protect the community, arguing the city leaders’ support of the “defund the police movement” emboldened criminals and demoralised officers.

The city’s police chief, Medaria Arradondo, has admitted the level of violence in the area is “staggering and unacceptable”, but said a shortage of police resources has presented an “operational challenge”.

More than 100 Minneapolis officers last year, when the city was rocked by violent protests - Julio Cortez/AP
More than 100 Minneapolis officers last year, when the city was rocked by violent protests – Julio Cortez/AP

Some city councillors have now recanted on their earlier pledge to dismantle the police department and recently approved a $6.4 million recruitment drive to hire dozens more officers.

Minneapolis is not unique. Attempts to create an autonomous zone in Portland and Seattle were unmitigated failures, and while more than 20 US cities have moved to reduce their policing budgets, early pledges to drastically cut policing departments are no closer to becoming reality.

Support for the movement is also at an all-time low among the general public, with a recent Ipsos poll showing just 18 per cent of Americans supported the movement, while 58 per cent said they opposed it.

But tensions between law enforcement and the Minneapolis community are set to be tested again in the coming weeks, with the trial of Mr Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing Mr Floyd.

Derek Chauvin is charged with second degree murder and two other counts - Ramsey County Detention Center
Derek Chauvin is charged with second degree murder and two other counts – Ramsey County Detention Center

With opening arguments due to begin on Monday, Minneapolis is once again in the spotlight.

In anticipation of potential unrest, much of the city centre – including the courthouse where the trial is taking place – have been boarded up and surrounded by layers of fencing. Thousands of National Guard troops and other law enforcement officers have been drafted into the city for the duration of the trial.

City officials have delayed reopening George Floyd Square, fearing any sudden moves may lead to a fresh wave of violence, but the city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, has promised the barriers will come down after Mr Chauvin’s trial concludes.

 A man removes dead flowers from the makeshift memorial of George Floyd - Chandan Khanna/AFP
A man removes dead flowers from the makeshift memorial of George Floyd – Chandan Khanna/AFP

But not everyone in the area welcomes an end to the autonomous zone. “There’s violence that’s happening over there but I think the police are just going to make it worse,” said Louis Hunter, a 42-year-old local business owner who served food to demonstrators during last year’s protests.

Mr Hunter is the cousin of Philando Castile, another black man who was killed by Minneapolis police in 2016. He argued “lives have been saved” by the decision to cut the city’s police resources.

“We tried the police body cameras, we’ve engaged them every which way, so now let’s defund the police,” he said.

“Our city is emotional right now because we’re looking for a victory. No justice, no peace. That’s not going to be that way just here in Minneapolis – it’s going to be throughout the world,” he added.

Derek Chauvin Trial: What To Know About The Charges, Jurors And More

  • George Floyd
(Photo: Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost; Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost; Photo: Getty Images)

Opening statements in the high-profile trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck as he lay dying in May 2020, are set to begin at 9 a.m. local time Monday.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He has pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Video recorded on a bystander’s cellphone and viewed millions of times across the world showed Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, crying out for help as Chauvin, who is white, and two other police officers pinned him to the ground.

Floyd’s killing sparked months of nationwide protests against police brutality and racism and led to a worldwide reckoning against racial injustice.

Here’s what else you need to know as Chauvin’s trial unfolds:

How Floyd Died

On May 25, 2020, the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, two Minneapolis police officers ― Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane ― responded to a call shortly after 8 p.m. about a man trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner market, according to a criminal complaint filed by the state of Minnesota.

The suspect, Floyd, was sitting in a parked car near the store with two other passengers when Kueng and Lane arrived, the complaint stated. After Lane began speaking to Floyd, the officer pointed his gun at Floyd’s open window. He then pulled Floyd out of the car and handcuffed him. Floyd “actively resisted” being handcuffed, according to the complaint.

Read the full criminal complaint against Chauvin here.

Once handcuffed, Floyd was “compliant,” following Lane’s directions and engaging in a short conversation with the officer, the complaint stated. At 8:14 p.m., as Lane and Kueng attempted to walk Floyd to their patrol car, Floyd “stiffened up, fell to the ground and told the officers he was claustrophobic.”

Two more officers ― Chauvin and Tou Thao ― arrived about that time. They joined the other officers in trying to get Floyd into the backseat of the patrol car, but Floyd was not cooperating, according to the complaint. Floyd “began saying and repeating that he could not breathe.”

At 8:19 p.m., Chauvin pulled Floyd to the ground and placed his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck while Kueng held Floyd’s back, Lane held Floyd’s legs and Thao stood watch, the complaint stated.

Floyd, while handcuffed and pinned face-down to the ground, stated multiple times that he couldn’t breathe and repeatedly said “mama” and “please,” according to the complaint. At one point, Floyd can be heard on a bystander’s video stating that he was “about to die.”

Bystanders can be heard in the cellphone video telling officers that they’re killing Floyd and pleading with them to help him.

George Floyd's family, including brother Philonise Floyd (2nd L), and Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump (R) visit a memorial on March 12 at the site where George Floyd died in Minneapolis. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images) (Photo: KEREM YUCEL via Getty Images)
George Floyd’s family, including brother Philonise Floyd (2nd L), and Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump (R) visit a memorial on March 12 at the site where George Floyd died in Minneapolis. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP) (Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images) (Photo: KEREM YUCEL via Getty Images)

By 8:25 p.m., Floyd had stopped moving and, moments later, ceased breathing, the complaint stated. Kueng checked Floyd’s wrist for a pulse but “couldn’t find one.” Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck until 8:27 p.m.

Floyd was then taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m. after first responders and doctors tried to revive him for nearly an hour. Chauvin and the other three officers were fired the next day.

Two autopsies ― one conducted by county officials and the other commissioned by Floyd’s family ― separately classified Floyd’s death as a homicide. However, the autopsy reports, which were both released last June, differed on the exact cause of death.

The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office said in its report that Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” Michael Baden and Allecia Wilson, the doctors who conducted the independent autopsy, said Floyd died of mechanical asphyxia.

Charges

On May 29, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) filed a tougher second-degree murder charge against Chauvin on June 3.

Under Minnesota statutes, a person can be charged with second-degree murder if they intentionally killed someone without premeditation or unintentionally killed someone while committing certain other offenses. A person can be charged with third-degree murder if they unintentionally cause “the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over Chauvin’s trial, dropped the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin in October. He ruled that such a charge under Minnesota law would require proof that Chauvin’s conduct was “eminently dangerous to others,” not just Floyd.

But Cahill reinstated the charge on March 11 after an appellate court ruled that he should have followed the precedent set by the conviction of former officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Justine Damond in 2017.

Lane, Kueng and Thao have been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. They have each pleaded not guilty to the charges and are scheduled to be tried together beginning in August. The three officers were released on separate $750,000 bonds weeks after Floyd’s death.

Chauvin was released from jail in October on a $1 million bond, reigniting protests across Minneapolis.

Trial Begins

Jury selection for Chauvin’s trial began March 9 and lasted roughly two weeks before wrapping up on Tuesday. Of the 15 jurors seated, two are alternates and one is an extra alternate. Cahill is expected to dismiss the extra alternate Monday if none of the other jurors drops out before then.

Because of COVID-19 precautions, Cahill is allowing only a limited number of people inside the courtroom, including just two journalists each day. However, in a rare move, the trial will be broadcast live.

The jurors’ faces will not be broadcast and their identities will not be released during the trial. They will be referred to only by their juror numbers.

Cahill, as well as members of the prosecution and defense teams, questioned the prospective jurors about a range of topics, focusing mostly on their backgrounds, their feelings about the trial and their stances on Black Lives Matter, the criminal justice system and police generally.

People march near the Minnesota State Capitol to honor George Floyd on March 19 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) (Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images)
People march near the Minnesota State Capitol to honor George Floyd on March 19 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) (Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images)

Three days after jury selection began, the city of Minneapolis announced it agreed to a record-breaking $27 million civil settlement with Floyd’s family. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, filed motions to delay the trial and change the venue, arguing news of the city’s settlement prejudiced the jury pool. Cahill ruled against the motions.

The seven jurors who were seated before the settlement was announced were recalled at Nelson’s request to see if the agreement had affected their ability to be impartial. Cahill dismissed two of the jurors after they said it had.

Here’s what we know about the 15 jurors, which include four Black people, two multiracial people and nine white people, according to The Associated Press:

Juror No. 2 is a white man in his 20s who works as a chemist. He is the only juror on the panel who said he had never seen bystander video of Floyd’s arrest.

Juror No. 9 is a multiracial woman in her 20s. She said she has an uncle who is a police officer and suggested Chauvin may have behaved the way he did because Floyd was potentially resisting arrest or that civilian lives may have been in danger.

Juror No. 19 is a white man in his 30s who works as an auditor. He has a friend who works for the Minneapolis police. He said he generally supports Black Lives Matter.

Juror No. 27 is a Black man in his 30s who works in computer security. He said he immigrated to the U.S. more than 14 years ago. He said he had a somewhat negative view of Chauvin.

Juror No. 44 is a white woman in her 50s who serves as an executive of a nonprofit health care advocacy organization. She said she strongly agrees that the criminal justice system is biased against minorities.

Juror No. 52 is a Black man in his 30s who works in banking. He said he has neutral opinions on Chauvin and Floyd.

Juror No. 55 is a white woman in her 50s who works as an executive assistant at a health care clinic. She said “all lives matter” to her no matter “who they are or what they are.”

Juror No. 79 is a Black man in his 40s who works in management. He said he has lived in the Minneapolis area for roughly two decades after he immigrated to the U.S. He said he generally trusts police.

Juror No. 85 is a multiracial woman in her 40s who works as a consultant. She said she has a neutral view of Floyd. She said she has a pretty strong faith in police but recognizes they are human and can make mistakes.

Juror No. 89 is a white woman in her 50s who works as a registered nurse. She said she somewhat disagrees about the statement that it’s not right to second-guess decisions officers make.

Juror No. 91 is a Black woman in her 60s who worked in marketing before retiring. She said she has a very favorable view of Black Lives Matter. She said she has a relative who is a police officer in Minneapolis.

Juror No. 92 is a white woman in her 40s who works in the commercial insurance industry. She said she doesn’t believe police should treat poorly someone who isn’t cooperating or might be under the influence of drugs.

Juror No. 96 is a white woman in her 50s who is unemployed. She said a person should have nothing to fear from police if they cooperate with their commands.

Juror No. 118 is a white woman in her 20s who is a social worker. She said police and their jobs are important but that she also believes there are things about policing practices that should be changed.

Juror No. 131 is a white man in his 20s who works as an accountant. He said he initially had a somewhat negative opinion of Chauvin and that he views Black Lives Matter somewhat favorably.

What’s Next

Opening statements from the prosecution and defense are scheduled for Monday. Witness testimony and cross-examination will follow. This portion of the trial is expected to last two to four weeks before closing arguments are made and the jury begins deliberation.

Chauvin’s attorney is expected to argue that Floyd died of a drug overdose. (The county medical examiner’s report indicated Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died.)

The prosecution, led by Ellison, will likely contend that Chauvin’s actions were part of a pattern of excessive force during his tenure as a police officer. Ellison’s office has outlined six incidents prior to Floyd’s death in which Chauvin restrained people by their necks or knelt on top of them. Chauvin was never reprimanded for his actions, though at least two of those arrested said they filed formal complaints against him, The Marshall Project reported.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison. He faces up to 25 years behind bars if convicted of third-degree murder and up to 10 years if convicted of manslaughter.