Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti, Associated Press, March 24, 2021
The jury that will decide the fate of a white former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death is unusually diverse by local standards, and that’s boosting activists’ hopes for a rare conviction.
The panel of 15 includes nine people who are white and six who are Black or multiracial, according to the court. If the court follows standard practice and the alternates are the last three chosen, the 12 who deliberate would be evenly split between whites and people of color. Opening statements are Monday.
“It’s a small step in the right direction,” said Trahern Crews, an organizer and spokesman for Black Lives Matter in Minnesota. African Americans bring “an institutional memory of the police” to jury rooms that whites and even other people of color don’t share, he said.
It’s very rare to seat such a mixed jury in Minnesota, said Mary Moriarty, a former chief public defender for Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis. That’s important because they’ll bring a “very different lens” to their deliberations, she said, though she said it’s a mistake to think people of color all view things the same.
Court records obtained by Moriarty show Blacks are chronically underrepresented on juries in Hennepin County, which is 74% white and 14% Black. The jury pool in 2019 — created from lists of people with driver’s licenses or state ID cards, as well as voter registration lists — was 79% white and 8% Black.
People not on the lists don’t get summoned.
During questioning for Chauvin’s jury, some people in the pool were strikingly direct about how the color of their skin affected their view of Floyd’s death.
A Black man in his 30s who immigrated to America more than 14 years ago said he talked with his wife about the case. “We talked about how it could have been me, or anyone else,” he said.
Another Black man in his 30s, asked about his response to a jury questionnaire on the extent of discrimination in America, said it goes “well beyond what the media can even report.” And he added: “Black lives just want to be treated as equals and not killed or treated in an aggressive manner simply because they are Black,” he said.
Both are on the jury.
Attorneys on both sides used questions about Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter to probe deeper attitudes on race and policing. Jurors were also asked whether the protests and violence following Floyd’s death had a positive or negative effect on the community, and whether they supported defunding the Minneapolis Police Department.
One juror, a white woman in her 50s, related an anecdote that she said helped her understand white privilege: a conversation she had with a Black co-worker who described how her Black son could be in much greater danger if pulled over by police than the white juror’s son would be.