Before becoming known as Juror No. 52 during Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, Brandon Mitchell worked for a nonprofit and had a side gig coaching basketball at Minneapolis North High School.
Among the things he teaches his players is what to do if they get stopped by police.
It’s the same checklist he’d been given growing up in north Minneapolis, where he said he got pulled over by Minneapolis police regularly — probably 50 times — for no good reason. Police wouldn’t say why they pulled him over; they’d just ask for his identification and proof of insurance, he said.
His mom, an assistant pastor, would have Mitchell drive her car and make sure it always had current insurance and registration to give police one less reason to stop him.
He didn’t think all those traffic stops were unusual because it happened to his friends, too. His friend drove a nice Cadillac and got pulled over even more often, he said.
It was so commonplace he said he didn’t even tell his mother, who had taught him how to respond during traffic stops. Be polite. Tell the cop before you do something. Don’t do anything to aggravate the situation. He passed the advice on, telling his younger brother to take off his hat when riding by police.
He was able to set aside his anger about it, he said, because he’s a mild-mannered person. And he knew if a person was too “outspoken” about it, things could go south. He saw it happen many times, he said.
Mitchell was the only Black man out of three on the jury who wasn’t an immigrant. Going into the trial, Mitchell said he didn’t think too much about it. But hearing testimony from witnesses like George Floyd’s brother Philonise resonated with him. Like Floyd, Mitchell is a tall, muscular former athlete. He realized he could have been the one lying face down on the street that day.
Mitchell said a cop once pulled a gun on him while he was changing a tire on a freeway. He assumes because he’s a large Black man, and it was dark that night, and the officer felt threatened.
During jury selection, he said while walking down a street he once saw a police officer slam and mace someone for not obeying an order quickly enough, but he also knows cops at his gym who are “great guys.” He also said during jury selection that he didn’t think Chauvin meant to hurt Floyd, but someone should have intervened.
Being raised by a pastor, Mitchell felt “a calling” to be a leader when he first got his jury summons, but said he also felt like, “I don’t know if I want to do this like, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t think I want to do this.”
He hadn’t even been able to bring himself to watch the whole viral video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd until he went unconscious and lost a pulse. After getting a reminder from the court saying it wasn’t optional, he filled out the juror questionnaire.
Despite his own experiences with the MPD, he said it wasn’t difficult to set that aside, wipe the slate clean and presume Chauvin innocent.
“Anytime there’s a murder, and a conviction for the murder, two people lose their lives, then two families lose somebody, regardless,” Mitchell said. “So there’s still compassion for him from me.”
Mitchell said he tried to be guided by humility: “I’m not any better than anybody else. So, you know, to have that type of power, I mean that weighs on you as well.”
The trial began the week of state playoffs for his junior varsity basketball team. He told his players he’d miss the playoffs due to jury duty, but didn’t tell them it was the Chauvin case.
Now that the trial is over, Mitchell plans to talk to his team soon. He was asked during jury selection whether he’d be able to face his players if the jury acquitted Chauvin. He said yes.
But he no longer plans to teach them to live by the rules he was taught for dealing with police. Young Black men have been taught those rules for too long, he said.
They shouldn’t have to take off a cap, or be endangered for questioning why a cop is stopping them, he said.
They should be able to be who they are.
“If you feel like you were wrongfully pulled over, you should be able to speak on that,” he said. “And you shouldn’t have to be beat up or anything like that.”