After being delayed for a day, the long-awaited trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, began on Tuesday with jury selection. The trial is taking place nine months after the tragedy that reopened racial wounds in the United States.
The trial of Derek Chauvin began on Tuesday 9 March in Minneapolis with the selection of jurors. The police officer is accused of the murder of George Floyd, which has reopened racial wounds in the United States.
On 25 May, the white police officer knelt on the neck of the 40-year-old black man for almost nine minutes. The video of the scene, which went viral, sparked giant protests against racism and police violence around the world.
He was fired on the spot, then arrested a few days later, and is now free to appear in court after being released in the fall on $1 million bail.
Read also: « George Floyd: Did civil rights advance in the US with #BLM? »
Jury selection before the substantive debates
In a gray suit and blue shirt, Derek Chauvin was in court Tuesday, separated from his lawyer by a Plexiglas wall. With a notebook, he was dutifully taking notes.
For now, the 44-year-old, who has 19 years of service with the Minneapolis police, is charged with murder and manslaughter. A third charge, close to « intentional violence resulting in death », is the subject of a final appeal. The prosecution had feared on Monday that proceeding with the trial while the issue remains unresolved would jeopardise the whole process.
However, Judge Peter Cahill said on Tuesday that it was time to kick off the trial, which began with the questioning of a handful of potential jurors.
Given the passions generated by the case, which has sparked a major debate about policing and racism in the US, jury selection is a headache.
Of the first nine people interviewed on Tuesday, all admitted to having heard about the case. « It was on TV all the time, » one of them said. Some admitted to having formed their own opinions, criticising the police. Others praised the work of the police.
Several potential jurors said they were worried about their safety. However, their anonymity is protected and the cameras filming the hearings must keep them off camera.
Only two white men and a young mixed-race woman with an uncle who is a police officer have convinced the parties of their impartiality.
They will return to court on 29 March for the start of the substantive proceedings.
« We are happy that the court proceedings have started, » Shareeduh Tate, a cousin of George Floyd who represented his family in the courtroom, told AFP.
Authorities fear disorderly conduct
On Monday, Eric Nelson, Derek Chauvin’s lawyer, set the tone for his defence. « The cause of death of George Floyd is the subject of much controversy, » he said. He plans to argue that the African-American died of a fentanyl overdose. The autopsy showed that he had consumed the synthetic opiate, but identified « compression of his neck » as the cause of death.
The prosecution will argue that Derek Chauvin knowingly used excessive force. In court documents, it has pointed out that he kept his knee on the 40-year-old’s neck even when he was unconscious and his pulse was undetectable.
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On 25 May, Derek Chauvin intervened with three of his colleagues to arrest George Floyd, suspected of having used a counterfeit 20-dollar note to buy a packet of cigarettes. In front of frightened passers-by, the police officer held his knee on the neck of the 40-year-old black man, who was handcuffed and pinned to the ground, despite his pleas.
Alerted by a video of the tragedy, crowds took to the streets, from Miami to Los Angeles, but also in London, Paris and Sydney, to demand justice. The mobilisation, which opened a fundamental debate in the United States on police methods and the country’s racist past, subsided in the autumn. But as the trial approached, it resumed in Minneapolis.
The city, which was rocked by violent riots in late May, mobilised thousands of police and National Guard troops and erected concrete and barbed-wire fences around the courthouse to ward off possible outbursts. The authorities are standing by for the verdict, which is not expected until late April.
The three other policemen involved in the tragedy, Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, will be tried together in August for « complicity in murder ».