A group of Minneapolis police-reform advocates expressed concerns Wednesday about the makeup of the jury in the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin.
Five jurors had been seated by the end of the day — three white men, along with a woman of color and a Black man, in a case that has sparked a national reckoning over racial bias in policing. Nine more jurors will be chosen before opening statements begin in the trial over George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
"We need people of color on the jury, we need Black elders on the jury," lawyer and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong said. "We need people who have a history of understanding the context for what is happening in this country."
Jess Sundin of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar said she is concerned that already three selected jurors have personal relationships with police. "To me that's already tilted," Sundin said.
The advocates also hoped to raise awareness around a number of bills introduced this legislative session that they said would be starting points in holding police officers accountable in Minnesota.
"This week many families, many people across the state of Minnesota and across this country are looking to our state and to the trial of officer Chauvin," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The eight proposed bills include access to footage within 24 hours of critical incidents, the elimination of the statute of limitations for wrongful-death lawsuits, civilian oversight and a ban on no-knock warrants. They also seek an end to qualified immunity that can shield government officials from lawsuits, an end to prosecution for false reporting of police brutality, the formation of an agency to investigate and prosecute critical police incidents as well as police liability insurance and mobile mental health crisis response teams.
Levy Armstrong and Michelle Gross, of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said they worried about parallels with the trial of former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, acquitted in the death of Philando Castile in 2016 during a traffic stop.
Many people thought the Yanez case would be a slam dunk for a conviction, Levy Armstrong said, but the majority of the jury was white, with just two young Black people. She questioned whether she would have buckled under pressure at 18 or 19 years old.
"Would I have been able to withstand being on a jury in a complicated situation where police officers are rarely if ever charged, and be able to stand against white people who typically have the opinion that officers are there to protect and serve?" Levy Armstrong said.
"Anybody who had any sympathy for the movement for people fighting for justice, they were waived from the jury," Gross said. "It was then that I knew there would be no conviction."
Much of what happens in a trial is dependent on jury selection, said Gross. "It is a huge part of this trial; it is not an afterthought," she said. "Who sits on that jury means everything, and I'm deeply fearful just watching what I'm seeing so far."