Chauvin Trial Highlights Divide Between US City and Activists | Black Lives Matter News

The tumultuous months Minneapolis has seen since ex-cop Derek Chauvin knelt George Floyd’s neck As he died last May, they are reaching a critical point as the city prepares for the start of his trial. Jury selection begins on Monday March 8.

As the city has been preparing for months to host the trial in collaboration with local, state and national law enforcement partners as part of a plan it calls Operation Safety Net, local activists and organizers l ‘also did, as they promise to seek justice for Floyd. with a peaceful demonstration starting on the morning of the jury selection.

Community groups and activists are planning a number of events, ranging from pre-protest briefings and safety training to various actions near the trial site in downtown Minneapolis and its twin capital, St. Paul’s. , until March 8 and beyond.

Protests are also planned for George Floyd Square, the intersection where he was killed.

All this to “seek justice for George Floyd and all the lives stolen and an overhaul of our police system in Minneapolis and that of Minnesota,” local activist Nekima Levy Armstrong told Al Jazeera.

However, the city’s pre-trial preparations, particularly its claims about community partnership and transparency, have already drawn criticism from local activists and black community organizers in particular.

David Rubedor, director of the Minneapolis Neighborhood Community Relations Department, told Al Jazeera that the city’s approach is to keep the community centered and ensure two-way communication throughout.

Michelle Gross, a police accountability activist with Twin Cities-based Communities United Against Police Brutality, told Al Jazeera that she had had a different experience. She said the city “has not been in contact with any of us” who are in fact planning protests, except for an email she received from the city offering masks.

Minneapolis is bolstering its police force by adding approximately 2,000 National Guard soldiers and 1,000 State Police officers to the growing list of more than 12 external law enforcement partners working with the city throughout the trial.

At a press briefing on March 4, city officials said traditional and additional de-escalation training had been provided to external law enforcement officers.

“I don’t think they received adequate training on de-escalation,” Levy Armstrong said of the Minneapolis National Police. “We generally haven’t seen de-escalation in practice. We saw a shoot first, we asked questions later about the mentality in practice.

She believes police have been focused on coercing peaceful protests for months, citing an anti-Trump protest on November 5 that Levy Armstrong and other protesters staged. In Minneapolis, it’s common for peaceful protesters to spill over onto Interstate 94, a major thoroughfare through the city.

When the protesters did this in November, “the police had already closed it down and were preventing us from going out. [the interstate] for five hours and didn’t let us go, ”she said. “It ended up being a mass arrest of 646 people, so we know they’re training on us.”

Preparing the trial grounds at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis included erecting barricades made up of concrete barriers, barbed wire and fencing around the courthouse. The same was done for the nearby town hall, the public service building and the five police stations in the town.

These measures are “clearly intended to prevent people from entering The People’s Plaza,” a park in downtown Minneapolis, “and away from the Government Center where the county court and trial are taking place,” he said. said Levy Armstrong.

Protesters stage a murder outside the Hennepin County Family Justice Center where four former Minneapolis police officers appeared in a hearing on September 11, 2020 in Minneapolis [File: Jim Mone/AP Photo]

These measures cost about $ 650,000 according to city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie. The city is hoping to be repaid through a $ 35 million State Emergency Assistance Account (SAFE) that has been proposed but is locked in a largely partisan impasse in the Minnesota legislature.

No word from the city

“Part of our lack of confidence is that the city has, bit by bit, tried to reframe this whole issue as an issue with protesters, not with police violence,” Gross said. “We see it with what they’re doing with the buildings in downtown Minneapolis that are all surrounded by chain link fences and barbed wire, barbed wire and all that.

Further, Gross interprets the barricades as suggesting that “they fully expect Chauvin to be acquitted or some sort of slap in the face”, and that the city is already preparing for the reaction.

Rubedor said he had yet to hear “a lot” from the community members and groups he works with on barriers, but said his office’s job was to “let people know that [the barricading] happens and why it happens ”. When asked why this was happening, he said the police department would answer the question better.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in the March 4 briefing that “while some in our communities may find some of the environmental structures they see – barricades and gates and fences – maybe a little intimidating, but as we have seen from the events of January 6, it is a preventive tool that we must consider and that we must examine. “

Moments later, Arradondo said plans to barricade the city’s properties were in place by January 6, with preparations starting as early as late August.

Beyond the physical preparations, the city is also taking a number of measures focused on communications.

The city briefly launched a program to pay social media influencers – people they have dubbed “trusted messengers” – $ 2,000 each to deliver city-approved messages to traditionally marginalized groups like Hmong communities and East Africa under what they call joint information systems. , two-way streets of information circulating in and out of town in partnership with community groups.

Rubedor said in a statement the city plans to share information on everything from assigned public transport routes to “security infrastructure” put in place downtown to communities generally disconnected from “traditional information-sharing routes. from the city”.

Terrence Floyd, brother of George Floyd, after a recording session for an album of protest songs on Monday, December 28, 2020, in New York [File: Frank Franklin II/AP Photo]

The influencer element was quickly squeezed out days later after community outrage over what appeared to be the city’s approach to paying people to influence opinion rather than just sharing information.

“Influencers was not the right term,” said Rubedor. “It brought the connotation that the city was going to try to persuade public opinion and that was not the intention.”

Despite the influencer setback, the city continues with the rest of its strategy to disseminate information through community groups on everything from trial updates to road closures and more.

On Friday, the city launched a website for such information. It is also at this time that the City’s Violence Prevention Office plans to open an invitation to community organizations to request contracts of up to $ 175,000 each from a budget of more than $ 1. million dollars to create a communications network designed to circulate information from the city to communities and vice versa.

This will be in addition to the broadcasts the city regularly airs on cultural radio stations that serve the city’s Latin, East African, Hmong and other communities.

Continued skepticism

Gross remains deeply skeptical.

“There are small groups of people who still have a hand for the city’s money and it’s a bit more of the same,” she said. “The fact that they give out these grants of about $ 175,000 for about six weeks of work tells me. Our group is completely voluntary and on a very low budget and we should never take that stinky money. We would never allow ourselves to be in a position to lie to the community.

In response to the charge that the money is for lying to communities, McKenzie referred to the city’s Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) application for community groups “that can be activated during times of increased tension for the remainder of 2021, including during the trials of the former officers involved in the murder of George Floyd ”.

The site of the arrest of George Floyd, who died in police custody, in Minneapolis, Minnesota [File: Eric Miller/Reuters]

Gross also draws distinctions between city-chosen communicators, media outlets, and groups like his who communicate regularly with the communities they serve.

In addition to noting that the city already has a variety of means, such as text messaging, to communicate with its citizens, she said, “The media have the capacity to view these messages critically. [The city] don’t want that to happen, they want people to repeat what they want them to say. “

Gross added that Communities United Against Police Brutality had already been working on communications about the trial for weeks. “We are working on cable programming to be able to explain some of the more legalistic parts of the trial,” with the help of a lawyer, she said.

“We also work with a lot of social media and write newsletters and things of that nature. We had a press conference last week and different things like that to make sure the community understands what’s going on. And the city didn’t have to pay us to do that!

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