Fourteen people in Minnesota have been selected as jurors in former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial for killing George Floyd, ending a more than two-week process in which they explained their views on Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, the protests after Floyd’s death, and defunding the Minneapolis Police Department.
The jurors identities’ will be kept anonymous through the trial, but according to the court they include eight white people, four Black people, and two people who identified as more than one race.
Among them is a retired Black grandmother in her sixties, a white nurse in her fifties, two Black managers in their thirties and forties who immigrated to the US, a white auditor and a Black youth sports coach in their thirties, two single white mothers in their fifties working in healthcare, a white chemist and a white social worker in their twenties, a multiracial woman in her twenties, and a multiracial woman in her forties. The court selected a 15th juror Tuesday, a white man in his twenties, in case one of the 14 seated jurors drops out before opening arguments begin on March 29.
During the selection process, there were concerns that excessive publicity about the case, especially the city’s $27 million civil settlement with George Floyd’s family, would prejudice prospective jurors. Hennepin County district judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the trial, dropped two jurors who said they could no longer be impartial after hearing about the news of the settlement.
The defense, prosecution, and judge had to determine whether prospective jurors could be fair and impartial. The bystander video showing Floyd on the street with Chauvin’s knee on his neck sparked international protests for police accountability and racial justice and led to a mass reckoning with systemic inequalities throughout society.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder. The three other officers involved in Floyd’s death will be tried together in August.
To determine their biases, prospective jurors were asked to explain their views — which they filled out in a 16-page questionnaire before jury selection began — on significant and contentious topics in the country.
The jurors’ opinions, given under oath, provided a fascinating insight into what a cross section of residents in Minnesota — which became a hub of police brutality protests last year — thought about Floyd’s death, the aftermath, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system.
Most people who did not get picked expressed strong views about the police and racial justice issues or appeared to be very knowledgeable about the case.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, used his strikes to dismiss prospective jurors who believed Chauvin was culpable in Floyd’s death and who wanted police reform. Prosecutors used their strikes against those who were very pro-police.
The jurors who were selected appeared to hold more passive and neutral opinions about many of the same topics, ascribing their views to either a lack of knowledge or personal experience.
Nearly all of the selected jurors had somewhat negative or neutral views of Chauvin, while a few mentioned Floyd’s “checkered past” and “skeletons in his closet.” Many felt favorably about Black Lives Matter as a statement but not as an organization, and most were favorable or neutral about Blue Lives Matter. All the jurors said they respected law enforcement and most disagreed with the idea of defunding the Minneapolis Police Department. Several believed that the protests after Floyd’s death negatively affected their communities in terms of the destruction of property and rioting.
Ultimately, all the jurors had to unequivocally state that despite their opinions they could — as Chauvin’s attorney described it — “become a blank slate” to serve on the jury.
These are some of the opinions of the 14 jurors who will judge one of the most significant police prosecutions in recent history.
Jurors’ impressions of Chauvin and Floyd after watching the video
All the jurors said they had either a “somewhat negative” or “neutral” impression of Chauvin based on clips of the video and news reports. Many said that their negative opinion of Chauvin was based more on the fact that a person died during the incident, and not on their personal views about him.
“I don’t think [Chauvin] had any intention of harming anyone, but somebody did die,” one juror, a Black youth sports coach in his thirties, told the court.
“Nobody wants to see somebody die, whether it was [Chauvin’s] fault or not,” said a woman in her twenties who identified as more than one race.
A single white parent in her fifties said she had sympathy for Floyd as well as the officers accused of killing him.
“No one wants to take someone’s life — if that is what happened — so that’s where the empathy comes from,” she told the court. She felt that Chauvin was innocent until proven otherwise.
Several jurors said they didn’t have all the details about what happened before or after what the video showed and didn’t trust media reports to provide the full picture.
“There are two sides to every story,” a Black grandmother in her sixties told the court.
Most of the jurors had a “neutral” opinion of Floyd, saying they didn’t know enough about him. At least four white jurors brought up allegations of drug use and domestic violence to suggest that Floyd had a “checkered past.”
One woman had a somewhat negative opinion of Floyd because his “record wasn’t clean and he abused drugs at some point,” she wrote in her questionnaire.
While Floyd didn’t deserve to die, the woman said, “I don’t believe he is completely innocent.”
A single white mom of two teenage boys wrote in her questionnaire that Floyd was “not a model citizen.”
“He may have had more skeletons in his closet than most, but he did not deserve to die,” she wrote.
Jurors’ opinions on Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter
Most of the jurors had somewhat favorable views of Black Lives Matter as a statement but not as an organization. Several jurors said they supported the BLM movement within the context of the idea that all lives matter.
“I don’t love the Black Lives Matter organization,” said a white chemist in his twenties who was the first juror to be seated. “I do support the message that every life should matter equally. I don’t believe that the organization Black Lives Matter necessarily stands for that. I do think that the phrase and the movement stands for that.”
He said that he didn’t see Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter as “mutually exclusive,” adding, “the whole point of that is all lives should matter equally and that should include police.”
One juror, a white man in his thirties, said he supported Black Lives Matter in a general context but disagreed with some of the ways the group’s members “have gone about it.”
The woman in her twenties who identified as more than one race said that she liked the idea of what Black Lives Matter was supposed to stand for but thought it had been turned into “a propaganda scheme by companies just to get you to buy their stuff.”
The white single mother in her fifties checked that she had a “somewhat unfavorable” view of Black Lives Matter in her questionnaire. When questioned about it in court, she said she wasn’t sure why she selected that, adding, “I strongly believe all lives matter.”
“Maybe I was thinking that sometimes they were taking it too far,” she said. The woman suggested that the movement started because Black people “maybe felt that they were never seen or never heard,” adding, “I don’t believe that to be true, but I don’t know because I’m not them.”
The juror also said that when people say Black Lives Matter, she perceived them as saying that others’ lives don’t matter. She said that if someone told her Black Lives Matter, “I would probably tell them that all lives matter.”
The woman did not know Blue Lives Matter was related to police officers. “I took that to mean everybody else,” she said.
A white social worker in her twenties felt neutrally toward both movements, saying, “I believe Black lives matter as much as Latinas, police etc... I don’t think one is more important than the other.”
The four Black jurors had favorable views of Black Lives Matter, while three of them also felt favorably about Blue Lives Matter.
“I am Black and my life matters,” the grandmother wrote in her questionnaire. With respect to Blue Lives Matter, she wrote, “Everyone is important and my family member is a police officer.”
When Chauvin’s attorney asked her if she agreed with the premise that all lives matter, she said yes.
A Black IT manager in his thirties who immigrated to the US 14 years ago wrote, “I believe all lives matter, but I think Black lives matter more because they are marginalized.”
He was also favorable toward Blue Lives Matter, writing, “Cops need to be safe and feel safe to protect our community.”
A Black man in his forties who also immigrated to the US was favorable to both because he believed “every life matters.”
A white woman in her forties who works in insurance wrote that while she believed “people of other races are treated unfairly,” she did not personally get involved to “support the cause” of Black Lives Matter. She had a “very favorable” opinion of Blue Lives Matter, writing in her questionnaire, “I would be terrified if our police departments were dismantled.”
Jurors’ opinions about the impact of protests in the Twin Cities after Floyd’s death
While some jurors believed there were positive aspects to the protests after Floyd’s death, especially in bringing awareness about racial justice issues, many felt that the impact was negative because of the damage to communities and local businesses.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, frequently mentioned “rioting” while questioning prospective jurors about the protests and asked them if they could differentiate between the two.
A white woman in her forties said the protests had a positive and negative impact on the Twin Cities area, as “some things led to rioting and some people brought awareness through protests.”
The Black grandmother said her community had been affected by the protests because “so many stores were looted and destroyed.” She said her brother was unable to get his medications delivered through the post office. The only positive impact of the protests, she said, was that people came together to help each other and their local businesses.
The Black man in IT management said that while people in his community understood why people were protesting, they were “not OK with the looting.”
The Black youth sports coach said the protests had the potential to have a positive impact but that he hadn’t seen any changes so far.
The single white mother in her fifties believed that while the protests had brought attention to “real issues,” she felt the destruction of businesses was “unnecessary.” When Chauvin’s attorney asked her if she thought the people protesting were also responsible for rioting, she said the majority weren’t, but some were.
Another white woman in her 50s said the communities in the Twin Cities area “took a beating” from the protests. She said she was scared that the “riots” would spread to her neighborhood.
Jurors’ opinions on law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and defunding the Minneapolis Police Department
Most jurors said they respected and trusted law enforcement, agreed that police made them feel safe, and disagreed with the idea of defunding the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
Both the Black men who immigrated to the US said they strongly disagreed with defunding the MPD.
“While I necessarily might not agree with the police action in some situations, I believe that in order for police to make my community safe they have to have the funds to do that,” one of the men said.
The other man, whose house had been previously broken into, said that if the police were defunded they wouldn’t have been able to come and help him. He believed that defunding the police was more of a political statement.
The Black sports coach said that in some instances the police didn’t make him feel safe, recalling an incident when he witnessed some officers slam a young man to the ground.
“But I also know some great guys,” he said, referring to officers he knew at his gym. He disagreed with defunding MPD because he didn’t have enough information about it to form an opinion.
The white woman in her forties who works in insurance said that defunding the MPD would “terrify” her and would not work out well.
“Just look at the riots,” she said. “I don’t think it seems to solve problems.”
A white social worker in her twenties also strongly disagreed with defunding MPD, saying, “My understanding from that overall movement is getting rid of the police in general, and I do not agree with that.”
Several jurors somewhat agreed that the police discriminated against Black people and other minorities, basing their opinions on what they saw on the media. Some felt that the media exaggerated or sensationalized such incidents. But the Black youth coach said the media couldn’t possibly cover the extent of discrimination in the system.
Both the Black grandmother and a white woman in her fifties who advocates for homeless people felt that the bias against Black people and other minorities in the criminal justice system was driven more by economic factors and not by race.
The white woman believed that police treated Black people and white people equally based on her “personal experience.”
“I’ve seen incidents where police and minorities were involved and I didn’t see them treat them any differently than anybody else,” she said.
One of the single mothers in her fifties said that as part of her advocacy work in healthcare she felt there was “an inherent systematic bias” against Black and Native communities, but added that “not all police are bad.”
A couple of the jurors felt that, if something negative happened to people who didn’t cooperate or comply with police, then the people most likely had themselves to blame.
“If you don’t comply something needs to happen to resolve the situation,” the homelessness advocate told the court.
Jurors’ opinions on use of illegal drugs
Chauvin’s defense is set to focus on Floyd’s use of drugs and preexisting medical conditions as contributing factors to his cause of death. The trial judge allowed the defense to introduce evidence from Floyd’s previous arrest in May 2019, when he ingested drugs during the incident.
During jury selection, prosecutors tried to ascertain if jurors would be biased against people who use illegal drugs. While most jurors said they wouldn’t judge a person for abusing narcotics, one juror, a white woman in her forties, had a negative view of Floyd based on his use of drugs.
She said those who struggle with addiction aren’t bad people but that she would be “cautious” about trusting them. The single white mother in her fifties said she was “anti-drug” and believed that those who use drugs “are making bad decisions.”