The first juror selected for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police department officer accused of murdering George Floyd, says he hasn’t seen the infamous video of the incident, which inspired nationwide protests.
“I have not seen the video,” the juror, the second person interviewed on Tuesday, told Mr Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson. “There’s a still image that was pretty common. That’s the most I’ve seen,” the individual, who identified himself as white on court documents, added.
In the video, Mr Chauvin can be seen kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for minutes as he repeats that he can’t breathe. (In June, the Hennepin County, Minnesota, medical examiner described Mr Floyd’s death as a homicide, and said he went into cardiopulmonary arrest as Mr Chauvin kept his knee on his neck).
The juror, one of the eventual 12 who will be selected for the case, also told the court he was “neutral” when it came to his opinion of Minneapolis police, though he did favour “community policing”.
Finding impartial jurors who haven’t been overly influenced by media coverage or pre-conceived ideas of Mr Floyd’s death – nearly impossible given the nationwide press coverage and popular outrage over the death – is one of the major early priorities for attorneys involved in the case.
Mr Chauvin’s attorneys eliminated another juror, a Hispanic man who said he’d previously been mistreated by police when he was younger, arguing the individual already had a strong opinion of the case.
During questioning, the potential juror said he believed the police had “taken the law into their own hands” when they were called to the scene of the incident last May, after Mr Floyd was accused of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.
“He didn’t make his court date,” the juror said. “His fate was decided on the street that day.”
The juror also said that, based on some martial arts training he had, that Mr Chauvin’s rough physical detention of Mr Floyd was an “illegal” move, and that the criminal justice system was “broken”.
State prosecutors protested that Mr Chauvin’s attorney struck the juror because of his race, but the court agreed there were “race-neutral” reasons for removing the man from the bench.
Questionnaires went out late last year to people across Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs to serve in the trial, asking about a host of factors ranging from their race and education to their martial arts training and favourite podcasts.
Once they got the forms, recipients were instructed to ignore continuing media coverage surrounding the incident, though by that point Mr Floyd’s death had inspired tens of thousands of people to protest and occasionally riot in Minneapolis, and millions more across the rest of the country in the largest mass movement in the US since the civil rights era.
“I think it’s going to be extremely difficult to pick a jury,” Susan Gaertner, the former top prosecutor in St. Paul, Minnesota, told The New York Times on Sunday. “There have been few incidents in our state that have had as much impact on the community. It’s hard to imagine finding a juror who is enough of a blank slate to really give both sides a fair hearing.”
The first day of jury selection revealed many of the themes that will be present throughout the trial: race, policing, politics. It also showed how they don’t fit neatly into one political camp or another.
The eighth juror to be questioned, for example, said he was sympathetic to the “loss” Mr Floyd’s family faced, understood accusations of racism in the criminal justice system, and said he had a “negative” opinion of Mr Chauvin.
But he was also deeply sceptical of the Black Lives Matter movement and supportive of the Blue Lives Matter movement.
“As a far as the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve done some research, I’ve read some articles, this and that,” the juror said. “As far as the organisation and the politics, I have some misgivings about some of the platforms that they emphasise.”
He also said the police brutality protests that swallowed the Twin Cities for months had made him afraid to visit Minneapolis, and that people shouldn’t second-guess split-second decisions made by police officers in the line of duty.
“They have to make split-second decisions a in a lot of instances, and I trust their judgement in a vast majority of those situations,” he said. “I would strongly disagree that people second-guess police officers, but that’s not to say mistakes aren’t made,” he added.
The state of Minnesota eventually struck that juror as well.
Making matters even more complicated is the composition of the jury pool itself. High-profile cases accusing officers of excessive force have been criticised for having racially biased juries, such as the Rodney King trial, where a mostly white jury acquitted four officers caught on tape brutality beating Mr King.
The Minneapolis population is 64 per cent white and 20 per cent Black, while the jury pool, which also draws from the city and surrounding suburbs of Hennepin county, is 80 percent white and 8 percent Black.
So far, two potential jurors who were Hispanic have been removed from consideration.
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