Minneapolis prepares for protests and civil unrest during Derek Chauvin murder trial next month

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey outlines the city's safety plan on Feb. 17, 2021 for the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minneapolis city leaders and law enforcement officials outlined their preparations on Wednesday to prevent destruction and violence during the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin set to begin next month.

The plan includes bringing in as many as 1,100 additional police officers from 12 different law enforcement agencies, as well as 2,000 National Guard troops to be stationed in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Jury selection begins on March 8, but law enforcement activities likely won’t fully ramp up until near the end of the trial when the jury begins deliberations likely in April.

“As we’ve seen in so many other cities, as we lead into trials involving Black men who have been killed by police officers, there’s great frustration, there’s anxiety, there’s trauma,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said during a Wednesday news conference. “It is on us to honor the magnitude of this moment and ensure that our families in this city feel safe.”

Chauvin faces charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter for kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, killing him. Video of the incident sparked widespread demonstrations followed by looting and arson that caused more than $350 million in property damage, according to city estimates.

Local and state law enforcement officials say they’ve been planning for Chauvin’s trial since July and won’t be caught flat-footed by the expected demonstrations. They said they will protect people’s First Amendment right to protest while also confronting any vandalism or violence.

“If you cause harm, break things, burn things, hurt people, hurt people’s livelihood, I’m here to say, you will go to jail,” Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said. “We will arrest everyone who breaks the law.”

Law enforcement struggled to maintain order during the civil unrest following Floyd’s death in May, and at times appeared to escalate tensions with liberal use of chemical agents and rubber bullets.

The city surrendered its Third Precinct police station to rioters, who set it on fire, along with dozens of buildings along Lake Street, as well as other parts of the city. Even after the National Guard was deployed, law enforcement failed to stop arsonists and looters. Firefighters couldn’t respond to many fires throughout the city, fearing for their safety, while residents complained they couldn’t get through to 911 dispatchers.

Law enforcement officials said firefighters and other first responders will be able to respond to emergency calls, and the city said it plans to add 911 dispatchers.

The Minneapolis Third Precinct police station in Feb. 2021. It has been vacant since it was overtaken by rioters during the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in May. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Still, the potential for more destruction during the trial — expected to stretch until mid- to late April — has city residents and businesses on edge. The scars of the summer’s unrest — burned-out buildings, piles of rubble, boarded-up buildings — are still visible along Lake Street, which saw the largest demonstrations and riots.

Minnesota Senate Republicans blocked a bill last year that would have provided aid to businesses affected by the riots, and FEMA under the Trump administration denied a request from the governor for rebuilding assistance.

City leaders emphasized that the city will remain open for business during the weeks-long trial, but also recommended businesses create emergency plans and consider boarding up windows and removing important documents from offices or uploading them online to the Cloud.

“So many of our businesses lost so much that they don’t have the luxury, financially, to pause to close up their shops,” Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said. “Our city is still going to be functioning.”

The cost of the additional security and the politically thorny question of who will pay for it are still unknown. The Legislature is in a partisan standoff over two proposals.

The city’s plans assume the Legislature approves Gov. Tim Walz’s $35 million proposal for a state fund to reimburse law enforcement agencies that help Minneapolis during the trial. That proposal was recently tabled by House Democrats when they could not muster the votes to pass it, including some Minneapolis Democrats who balked at a perceived blank check for law enforcement.

Senate Republicans, pushing back against the Minneapolis City Council for “demonizing” law enforcement, put forward a competing proposal that would cut local aid to Minneapolis to pay for outside law enforcement agencies.

Frey said the Senate proposal breaks a long tradition of cities helping each other in times of need.

“Mutual aid means that we go to Buffalo when they are in a time of difficulty and they come in and help us when we are in a difficult place,” Frey said, referencing the city lending its bomb squad, a K-9 unit and a public information officer last week after a shooting at a health clinic in the south central Minnesota town.

Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said no law enforcement agencies have yet turned down his request to provide mutual aid during the trial.

Three police groups representing more than 10,000 officers across the state, however, recently sent a letter to lawmakers saying their members may be uninterested in providing support because of “the continued demonization of law enforcement officers by certain public officials at various levels of government.”

Minneapolis legislators, meanwhile, expressed concern over the lack of accountability for what they say was an overly aggressive police response to protests last summer.

Numerous journalists and demonstrators were wounded — and in at least two cases, blinded — by rubber bullets. Police were seen spraying chemical irritants into crowds for no apparent reason, even while driving a squad car. A CNN journalist was arrested live on television.

Following the unrest, the city entered into an agreement with the state’s Department of Human Rights, which stipulates that only the police chief may authorize the use of crowd control weapons like pepper spray and less lethal rounds.

That agreement only covers the Minneapolis Police Department — not assisting agencies like the National Guard — but Frey said the agencies will be operating in lockstep, with decisions made through a unified command.

Arradondo said he will authorize crowd control weapons in instances where crimes are being committed or people are in danger or being injured.

“Last year, many of us were reactionary. We were responding to the events as they were unfolding. This time around, we’re really doing our due diligence to communicate with all of our community stakeholders of what they can expect from us,” Arradondo said.

Addressing concerns about the increased military presence, National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke asked people to recognize that they are there to protect Minneapolis and St. Paul residents from harm.

“I realize the sight of soldiers in our communities is not a sight any of us want to see,” Manke said. “It is my sincere hope that the people of our communities understand that we are not a threat. … When we stand watch over you communities, we stand watch over our communities.”

Frey said he hasn’t ruled out imposing a curfew as he did last summer and may close additional streets outside of downtown. The city will allow the area around 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, known as George Floyd Square, to remain barricaded and closed to traffic until the end of the trial. The area has been controlled by activists with a sprawling memorial since Floyd was killed there.

City leaders also emphasized a plan to provide accurate information and counter any misinformation through regular briefings with reporters and outreach to media organizations serving Black, Latino and immigrant communities.

“Safety goes hand in hand with good communication and strong relationships,” said City Council Member Jamal Osman. “The East African and immigrant communities I represent have a long mistrust of government, both here and abroad. The first step of rebuilding trust is honest and good communication.”

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.