Patiently, two workers grab a high iron fence on this sunny Wednesday morning and assemble it to its neighbors. Thanks to these final twists and turns, the administrative center of Hennepin County is now completely closed. A security cordon that makes it impossible to access this vast rectangular building located in the heart of the central square of Minneapolis (Minnesota), to which all eyes will be on from this Monday, March 8.
And for good reason, the site houses the county court where Derek Chauvin is about to appear, the police officer accused of killing George Floyd by keeping his knee on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, during his arrest on May 25, 2020. “I can’t breathe”, were the last words of this African-American whose death, captured by countless videos, scandalized the United States and far beyond . If this hearing promises to be one of the most important legal events in the country for many years, its preparation is the subject of all the attentions and all the fears.
Emptied by the Covid-19, downtown Minneapolis and its gleaming skyscrapers have taken on the appearance of an entrenched camp. The central square is surrounded by concrete blocks topped with fences. Rolls of barbed wire bristling with thin rusty blades stretch between two rows. Large wooden plaques have been placed on the facade of the town hall which faces the court. A strange atmosphere halfway between the Berlin of the Cold War and the “Green Zone” of Baghdad.
“Unfortunately these preparations are necessary, philosopher Kent Schulze, a former agricultural professional who grabs the device on the camera of his cell phone. Considering the events of last year, there was no alternative. “
The death of George Floyd had provoked violent riots, in Minneapolis then in many other American metropolises. In the main city of Minnesota, two people were killed and many businesses burnt down. A police station had also burned down. “The vast majority of protesters were peaceful,” notes Kent, who shares the anger that this senseless death provoked. But there is still a minority of looters who take advantage of it. “
“As much as nothing can happen, the city can burn”
This violence has left its mark. The mayor and governor, both Democrats, have been accused of failing to properly handle this crisis, each blaming the other for the failure. This time, the two men decided to take the lead. In addition to the imposing barrier put in place, many police reinforcements have been planned. The mayor increased contacts upstream with representatives of the various communities in the city while the governor called on the National Guard.
This unprecedented and costly deployment of forces (estimated at one million dollars) takes place in a context of great uncertainty. “I hope the protests remain calm, but frankly no one can predict how things will turn out,” said Stuart Devaan, a 57-year-old engineer. All that matters to me is that Justice passes. “As much as nothing can happen, the city can burn.” It’s a little scary, worries Debbie, an employee of a law firm. As a precaution, I will avoid going out after dark for the duration of the trial. Which should end in April.
VIDEO. Death of George Floyd: all the images on board two police officers unveiled
Former prosecutor in the neighboring state of Ohio, Richard Termulhen does not hide his annoyance at seeing the heart of the city caulk. “But that’s wisdom,” insists this sixty-year-old. Look at what happened on January 6 in Washington with the attack on the Capitol. These are two events that have nothing to do with it, but we saw what could happen when we were not prepared. “On the other hand, his legal opinion is more clear-cut:” Everyone has seen the video of this murder. Its author must be condemned and sent to prison, ”he says under his red cap. The events on Capitol Hill were also cited by Medara Arradondo, Minneapolis Police Chief, at a press conference on Thursday: “Some members of our communities may find that the structures they see – barricades, barriers and fences – may be be a little intimidating. But, when we see the events of January 6, these are prevention tools that must be considered. “
These exceptional precautions are, however, far from unanimous. “The authorities care more about the safety of the police than of those of the demonstrators,” grumbled Ty Watkins, 29, a cook in a fast food restaurant. Protesting does not mean killing each other. “
The many associations which have called to come together share this resentment. “All these steps pose a real problem as regards the exercise of our First Amendment (Editor’s note: on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly) », Laments Dave Bicking, member of the board of the association Communities united against police brutality, a reference on the subject in Minneapolis. “It is out of the question to parade in an enclosed space surrounded by barriers,” continues this seasoned activist. It is far too dangerous. “
The fear of a not guilty verdict
Even if the opening of the trial, which begins with the jury selection process, promises to be a highlight, it is in thinking of its outcome that everyone holds their breath. For Madi, who watches over the place where George Floyd died in the south of the city, the signal sent by this preventive deployment of force is very bad. “We have the impression that the city is preparing for the worst, that is to say a verdict of not guilty, says this young woman of 28 years. It is as if they are more concerned with the protection of property than with justice. “
An acquittal of Derek Chauvin would undoubtedly cause an earthquake. Politics, but not only. “Do you remember Rodney King?” », Launches Kent Schulze. In 1991, this African-American was severely beaten to the ground by four policemen. The shocking scene had been captured by an amateur videographer. A year later, the acquittal of the four officers sparked unprecedented riots in Los Angeles. “If Derek Chauvin is acquitted, predicted the retiree, then we could have a repeat. “