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Nation & World

Unprecedented Security Measures Surround Court For George Floyd Murder Trial

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd, is set as of now to go on trial in Minneapolis next week amid heavy security. Thousands of soldiers and police will patrol the streets as city leaders hope to avoid a repeat of the violence and destruction that followed Floyd's death last May. Some in the community argue the expected show of force is excessive, though, as Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: I'm standing outside the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. For decades, the sweeping brick plaza here has been the venue for countless demonstrations, but now it's encircled with concrete barricades, several layers of fencing and a long, rusty coil of razor wire. Racial justice advocates gathered here last week just before most of the plaza was sealed off. They say the city's security plan upsets the balance between public safety and free speech.

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MICHELLE GROSS: They are more afraid of the people than they are afraid of police violence.

SEPIC: That's Michelle Gross, a longtime police reform activist. Gross pledges to continue demonstrating throughout the trial even as 1,100 police and several thousand National Guard personnel patrol Twin City streets.

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GROSS: They want to make it seem like the protesters are the problem, not the police violence that led to our protests.

SEPIC: Nearby, inside a boarded-up Minneapolis City Hall, Mayor Jacob Frey defends the security plan, saying it respects the First Amendment. But he says violence can't be tolerated.

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JACOB FREY: Safety is a top priority through this very difficult time in our city. We need to make sure that our communities, our businesses, families throughout the city are safe and feel safe regardless of where they live and regardless of where they've - work.

SEPIC: Critics accuse Mayor Frey and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz of being slow to respond to the unrest after Floyd was killed last May. While initial protests were peaceful, rioting ensued, and an estimated half-billion dollars in damage followed.

Elvira Espinoza welcomes the increased security. She owns a Mexican restaurant and grocery near a police station that rioters torched when officers retreated. With granddaughter Chelsy Solis-Cruz interpreting, Espinosa says while her store did not burn down, no one stopped the looters.

ELVIRA ESPINOZA: (Speaking Spanish) - everything broken, broken - the windows.

CHELSY SOLIS-CRUZ: When the break-in happened, we were at home watching the cameras. Over 50 people came - coming in and out, stealing stuff.

SEPIC: Council member Phillipe Cunningham says a lack of protection last May also left Black-owned businesses in his ward vulnerable. But now Cunningham fears the presence of so many armed people in uniform could retraumatize the community and that out-of-town cops may miss the nuance of demonstrations.

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PHILLIPE CUNNINGHAM: Peaceful protests also include Black rage from the ongoing trauma and pain that has been a result of structural and systemic violence. But that kind of emotional expression is very upsetting to Minnesota sensibilities.

SEPIC: The security plan also includes an effort to combat disinformation through partnerships with neighborhood news outlets. But after significant online blowback, officials scuttled a plan to put so-called social media influencers on the city payroll. While there will be a visible police and military presence throughout the trial, it'll ramp up as a verdict nears. With three weeks set aside for jury selection, Derek Chauvin's trial is expected to stretch well into April.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "RECURRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.