By Lisa Leonard
Last year, on May 25, Memorial Day, the world watched in horror as George Floyd, an African-American man, was brutally murdered in broad daylight on a street corner in Minneapolis. A bystander filmed Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes, while he pleaded for air. Three other police officers standing nearby colluded in the murder. And all this because Mr. Floyd allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill at the corner store! The murder, which gained worldwide attention, exposed racist police brutality in America as never before. On average one unarmed Black man is murdered by police every day.
The capitalist system’s “legalized” violence and brutality was created during slavery and then transformed into Jim Crow “legalized” segregation. Today it is manifested in the racist school-to-prison mass incarceration horror wherein the U.S. stands first in the world in the number and percentage of its population warehoused in increasingly privatized-for-profit prisons at “wages” averaging fifty cents per hour – a virtual return to slavery. The victims in the majority are Black, Brown, indigenous, other oppressed nationalities and immigrants.
With Floyd’s videoed murder millions of people began to understand that what happened to Floyd and to Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Treyvon Martin and to thousands of others just like them, was the daily norm not the rare exception. What began as mass Minneapolis protests and rioting soon became massive anti-racist mobilizations, overwhelmingly peaceful and nationwide. Millions poured into the streets in some 2,000 U.S. cities accompanied by solidarity protests similarly scoring systemic racism in countries around the world. By the time the protest ebbed several months later the world witnessed the largest protest movement in U.S. history, with estimates of participates ranging from 16 to 24 million – all demanding Black Lives Matter! and an end to institutionalized police terror and racist brutality. Initiated largely by working class Black, Latino and Native American youth, the unprecedented and courageous mobilizations witnessed the solidarity of millions of white youth imbued with the spirit of solidarity. That these multi-racial protests took place in the context of a deadly global pandemic evidenced the growing radicalism in the U.S. today and especially among the youth.
Slap on wrist for murdering cops at most
Derek Chauvin’s murder trial is set to begin on March 8. The mere fact that he was charged with the murder of George Floyd is almost unprecedented as most police officers who murder Black and Brown people get off with just a slap on the wrist at most. A murder conviction is an extremely rare exception given the numerous provisions of a racist legal system that virtually exempts killer cops from conviction. But Chauvin’s case may be this exception. On March 12 the City of Minneapolis agreed to settle a civil suit for wrongful death filed by the Floyd family by agreeing to pay an unprecedented $27 million. The settlement is separate and apart from the legal proceedings against Chauvin that have already begun. Some eight jurors have already been selected. All but one admitted to previously seeing the Chauvin murder video. Adding to the chances of a murder conviction, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled last week to reinstate a third degree murder charge against Chauvin that had been previously dropped by a judge in late February. Chauvin already faces charges of second degree murder.
Prosecutors are also asking for charges of aiding and abetting third-degree murder to be added to the cases of J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, Chauvin’s police colleagues who stood by and watched while Chauvin murdered George Floyd. These officers will be tried in August.
Police murders continue with impunity
Despite widespread calls to “Defund the Police” coming from protestors and community leaders, Minneapolis officials have hemmed and hawed and delayed any final decisions over the last few months. Things have largely returned to “normal” in Minneapolis and St. Paul, not to mention the rest of the country, where police continue to kill people of color on a daily basis with virtual impunity. On December 30th, police shot and killed a Somali American man, Dolal Idd, at a gas station in South Minneapolis during a felony traffic stop for an alleged firearms sale. At the same time, the City of Minneapolis is spending $6.4 million to hire dozens of new police officers, a move that was unanimously approved by the Minneapolis City Council in February 2021.
National Guard to police Chauvin trial
Meanwhile, security measures in Minneapolis are ramping up in anticipation of new protests during the Chauvin trial. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has activated the National Guard to police the event. The Guard has also been assigned to duty during the follow-up trial of the other three officers. The Minneapolis Police Department, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota National Guard are all collaborating on security measures. 1,000 National Guard troops and 1,200 law enforcement officers will be on standby to help “keep the peace.” Officials have stated there will be “zero tolerance for rioting, looting, and property destruction.” Measures are in preparation to prevent highways being used for protest marches. Concrete security perimeters are already being erected around Minneapolis City Hall and the Government Center, while several downtown streets will be closed for the duration of the trial.
The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate approved a measure that compels the City of Minneapolis to pay for the cost of security measures surrounding Chauvin’s trial, including the costs of bringing in surrounding police agencies to help with crowd control. Some Senators have justified these measures imposed on Minneapolis based on the argument that other cities shouldn’t be responsible for paying for riot response in a city that isn’t supposedly doing enough to stop those riots. “People across the state are very, very frustrated with the City of Minneapolis, the leadership, that over and over and over talked about defunding the police,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. At the same time, the Democratic Farmer Labor-controlled House was expected to take up legislation to create a $35 million SAFE Fund (State Aid for Emergencies), that would help reimburse cities that support nearby areas with firefighters and police during rioting and other emergency situations. That measure was tabled.
City presses for anti-protest propaganda
The Minneapolis City Council recently approved $1,181,500 for so-called “communication with the community” during the trial. As part of these communication efforts, the City will be hiring six social media influencers to intentionally target Black, Native American, Somali, Hmong and Latinx communities with messaging throughout the trial. In a public statement, the City Council said, “The City is collaborating with social media partners to share public information with cultural communities and to help dispel potential misinformation during the upcoming trials of the former officers involved in the killing of George Floyd. The goal is to increase access to information to communities that do not typically follow mainstream news sources or City communications channels and/or who do not consume information in English. It’s also an opportunity to create more two-way communication between the City and communities. The recommendations for which social media messengers to partner with come from the City’s Neighborhood and Community Relations staff.”
But community activists are already expressing concern about this strategy. Toussaint Morrison, a local activist with over 11,000 Instagram followers, is concerned about the clear bias of this messaging. “The key words here are ‘city approved.’ What do you think the message is going to be? It’s going to be pro-city; it’s going to be anti-protest.” said Morrison in an interview with CBS News. Sara Davis, the Executive Director of the Minneapolis Legal Rights Center, expressed similar concerns. “It really reflects that they know there’s a lack of trust between community and city institutions and that’s real, let’s be honest about that, that’s real,” she said. Following mounting pressure and criticism from the community, Minneapolis officials backtracked and said they are no longer planning to hire influencers to spread city-approved messages during the trial.
Cops not protestors make streets unsafe
Clearly, pouring millions of dollars into hiring new police officers, ramping up security measures, and controlling messaging surrounding Chauvin’s trial is not going to make our streets safer. It’s not the protestors, often labeled “rioters,” who are making our streets unsafe. In fact, the vast majority of protests against police brutality that took place in 2020 were peaceful. It’s the police officers who are arresting Black and Brown people for low level drug offenses and putting them in jail, ripping them out of their families and their communities. It’s the police officers who collaborate with ICE agents to deport immigrants, who most of the time haven’t committed any crime at all, and are just trying to work to provide a better life for their families. It’s the fact that we have thousands of people experiencing homelessness in the Twin Cities, people who are kicked out of city parks for living in tents, people who are without housing during the brutal Minnesota winter while rent costs skyrocket. And yet, the City can find millions of dollars to spend on so-called security measures. The planned massive police presence during Chauvin’s trial is aimed at suppressing free speech and the right of people to protest peacefully in the streets. It’s the police officers who should be arrested for their brutal treatment of the most oppressed members of our society, not the protestors speaking out for truth and justice.
Check back on our website, socialistaction.org, for ongoing coverage of Derek Chauvin’s trial.
Join the mass protests to demand justice for George Floyd! Jail killer cops! Defund, disarm and disband racist police departments! For Black, Brown and indigenous community control not racist police!