This post is part of a series on the death of George Floyd and the ensuing trials. This segment is about the State’s curious effort to prevent public viewing of the trial. The prosecution is headed up by the Attorney General of Minnesota, Keith Ellison.
About that prosecution, a little-noticed thing happened in the cases against Derek Chauvin, Thomas Kiernan Lane, J Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao, the officers charged with murder and aiding and abetting murder in the George Floyd death in Minnesota. The prosecution is seeking to limit public access to the trial. There have been some very limited coverage of this issue in local media and some national coverage. See here and here. In this December 14, 2020 article, which is one of the most extensive articles on the subject I’ve seen, it calls the order allowing media coverage an “unprecedented order.” Technically, this is true, but it is the state’s position that is the crazy one.
This post explains how ABSOLUTELY BIZARRE the prosecution is acting when it comes to media coverage in this trial. We will start with explaining the Minnesota Rules regarding media coverage. Then we will move on to the argument offered by the state. Then we will explain the judge’s decision in the matter, allowing televised coverage of the trial. Then we will conclude by re-examining the prosecution’s desire for “witness safety.”
Minnesota Rules and State Actions on Media Coverage
Let’s start at the top, because this actually becomes quite relevant. The 6th Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution says the following:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
These are the basic rules of any criminal trial in the United States. Your trial should be “speedy” and “public.”
Caveat 1: A Defendant’s “Right” Is Not the Same Thing as a “Requirement.”
However, as a caveat, the RIGHT to a speedy is not the same thing as GETTING a speedy trial, and that’s a very good thing. The government controls when to bring the charges, and the defendant often wants to waive the “right to a speedy trial” so that they can get… oh.. you know…. EVIDENCE and WITNESSES to defend themselves. That’s obvious.
An additional caveat is that the right to a PUBLIC trial is not the same thing as GETTING a public trial. Sometimes defendants don’t want them. After all, when a defendant pleads guilty, there still must be a “trial” of sorts, where the defendant stands before the Judge and states that he understands what’s going on, that he understands the charges against him, and that he willingly and knowingly pleads guilty. When this happens to a non-career criminal, this is often one of the most embarrassing and emotional moments of the person’s life. Why on earth would they want that public?
Caveat 2: A Defendant’s “Right” Is Not The Same Thing as the Defendant’s “Option.”
However, sometimes the state WANTS something to be public. For instance, after Dylann Roof slaughtered nine people in a South Carolina church in June 17, 2015, he pled guilty on April 10, 2017. In this case, it was the STATE that WANTED the trial to be public for a very obvious reason. They wanted the public to know that if you try to start a race war by murdering nine people in a church, we’re going to put you away for the rest of your life without the possibility of parole, so that you can then stand trial a SECOND time with the risk of the death-penalty in federal court. They really didn’t care what Dylann Roof thought about that coverage.
The Balance of the Minnesota Court Rules
So, with this balance of interests, the state of Minnesota has rules to decide how trials that have an OPTION to be public will or will not BE public. One of these particular rules is about audio-visual coverage (in other words: television cameras) of court cases. The rule is Minn. St. Rule 4.02 and the relevant subsection states as follows:
d) In criminal proceedings occurring before a guilty plea has been accepted or a guilty verdict has been returned, a judge may authorize, with the consent of all parties in writing or made on the record prior to the commencement of the trial, the visual or audio recording and reproduction of appropriate court proceedings. Coverage under this paragraph is subject to the following limitations:
(i) There shall be no visual or audio coverage of jurors at any time during the trial, including voir dire.
(ii) There shall be no visual or audio coverage of any witness who objects thereto in writing or on the record before testifying.
(iii) Visual or audio coverage of judicial proceedings shall be limited to proceedings conducted within the courtroom, and shall not extend to activities or events substantially related to judicial proceedings that occur in other areas of the court building.
(iv) There shall be no visual or audio coverage within the courtroom during recesses or at any other time the trial judge is not present and presiding.
(v) Preceding or during a jury trial, there shall be no visual or audio coverage of hearings that take place outside the presence of the jury. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing sentence, such hearings would include those to determine the admissibility of evidence, and those to determine various motions, such as motions to suppress evidence, for judgment of acquittal, in limine and to dismiss.
That sounds reasonable enough to me.
The Strange Thing the Office of Keith Ellison Did on July 27, 2020 in the Trial of the Four Former Officers
With that rule in mind, let’s remember what happened in 2020. George Floyd died while he was being apprehended by police officers in Minneapolis. I don’t think I have to remind everyone how much of a VERY BIG DEAL this issue was.
So in addition to the ordinary documents that are filed in a court proceeding, there were requests for audiovisual coverage of the proceedings local television channels channels, including KSTP-TV, WCCO-TV, Fox 9, MPR News, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, KARE 11, and WCCO Radio. Additionally, national news outlets CNN, the Associated Press, Court TV, Law & Crime Network, NBC News, the New York Times, ABC News, the Washington Post, and Reuters.
It is also an issue of extreme governmental importance, too. People want to know that justice will be done. That is why the short letter sent by Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office on July 27, 2020 was so strange. You can read it here. It stated:
Dear Judge Cahill:
In accordance with the Court’s request and Minn. R. Gen. Prac. 4.02(d), the State does
not consent to audio or video coverage of any trials in these matters.
Here’s what that means: THE PROSECUTION DOESN’T WANT MEDIA COVERAGE OF THIS TRIAL OF THE FOUR OFFICERS.
The Argument Over Media Coverage
Because the Prosecution wouldn’t agree to Media Coverage of the trial, the Defendants were forced to make a joint motion asking for media coverage.
This joint motion was made orally in Court. The Court first heard this request on June 29, 2020. Apparently, there was some pushback, as the prosecution doubled-down on this lack of consent. The Court had a hearing on the matter on September 11, 2020.
In a weird twist, there are four defendants who are being put on trial for murdering a handcuffed arrestee in cold blood, and they WANT the evidence against them to be broadcast to the nation. The prosecution (led by a politically active and ambitious attorney general), DOES NOT WANT the evidence against them to be broadcast to the nation. Strange.
The First Order Allowing Media Coverage
After hearing these arguments, the Court decided on November 4, 2020, that there WILL be media coverage of the trial. You can read that Order here. The order basically follows typical directions of what happens at high-publicity trials. Jurors are not seen. The family of the deceased is not seen without their written permission. Etc. Etc.
The Prosecution Triples Down on Preventing Media Coverage of the Trial
But then something even weirder happened. The State TRIPLED-DOWN on their desire that the trial not be shown. On November 25, 2020, the day before Thanksgiving, the prosecution filed a “Motion for Reconsideration of Order Allowing Audio and Video Coverage of Trial.” It is worth reviewing the text, because the contents are quite shocking:
The State respectfully requests that the Court reconsider its November 4, 2020 Order Allowing Audio and Video Coverage of Trial. The Minnesota General Rules of Practice strike a careful balance between public access to criminal trials and the rights of parties and witnesses. The Rules permit audio or visual recordings of criminal trials, but only if the State and Defendants have consented “in writing” or “on the record prior” to trial. Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 4.02(d). Moreover, even when the parties consent, the Rules prohibit video and audio recordings of “any witness who objects thereto in writing or on the record before testifying.” Id. (emphasis added).
The Court’s Order upsets that careful balance and violates the plain language of the Rules. The Order authorizes audio and visual broadcasts of this trial, even though the State did not consent to audio or visual broadcasts. See Order 1 n.1. It also requires audio and visual recording of the testimony of most adult witnesses, even if they have not consented to the public broadcasting of their testimony. And it makes available a live audio feed of testimony by minor witnesses and George Floyd’s family, even if they have not consented to audio broadcasting.
Now, at this point, I need to remind you that none of George Floyd’s family was a witness to his death. Therefore, they aren’t essential witnesses in the prosecution. They may be used to ramp up the drama, but the prosecution literally doesn’t need them, and therefore, there is absolutely no requirement that their audio be broadcast live. Additionally, I’d like to go back to the original Order allowing audio-visual coverage of the trial. After giving directions about the way that cameras will face (and where they won’t face), and how the jurors should never be viewed, and how deliberations outside the jury’s view shouldn’t be broadcast, it makes the following limitations about audio-visual coverage of the trial:
Pan, tilt, and zoom (PTZ) functions of cameras may be used at the discretion of the Pool Producer, but with the following limitations:
. . .
b. No witness under the age of 18 shall appear in any video unless the witness and at least one parent or guardian of the witness consents in writing before the witness is called. Audio coverage shall be allowed regardless of whether video is allowed.
c. No members of the George Floyd family shall appear in any video unless the witness consents in writing or orally on the record before the witness is sworn. Audio coverage shall be allowed regardless of whether video is allowed.
Therefore, we can understand how strange this argument from the State is. The order states that minor WITNESSES (meaning people whose testimony is going to convict someone for murder) will have the AUDIO of their testimony broadcast, even though explicit permission is required for video. The State thinks this “upsets the balance” of the Minnesota Rules.
The Strangeness of the State’s Argument
The order also states that audio of family members of George Floyd, who will also be WITNESSES (meaning people whose testimony is going to convict someone for murder) will have the AUDIO of their testimony broadcast, even though explicit permission under oath is required for video. The state this this “upsets the balance” of the Minnesota Rules.
What is ridiculous about this argument is that if the State had just agreed to audio-visual coverage of the trial, this “balance” wouldn’t be an issue. It would just be the way things are done. The State created this “balance” problem by objecting to audio-visual coverage. The judge allowed television cameras because the judge is empowered to do that, and he believed that due to the limitations of COVID-19 social distancing and the guarantees of the Constitution, televised coverage of the trial is REQUIRED for a fair and public trial.
In light of these concerns, he more or less followed the rules about television cameras as if the State had agreed instead of disagreed on June 27, 2020. But the State is crying foul. Why?
The State’s Push-Back on the Constitutional Guarantees of a Public Trial
Anyway… back to the argument:
The Court’s Order justifies this result by asserting that it is compelled by the
Constitution. But the Constitution does not require audio or video coverage of the trial in this case. Indeed, the State is not aware of a single case—from Minnesota, or any other jurisdiction—holding that the Constitution mandates the public broadcast of an entire criminal trial, let alone that a duly enacted court rule requiring party and witness consent for a public broadcast can be superseded by such a constitutional claim. That is why Minnesota has not had publicly televised criminal trials without the consent of the parties, and why this Court’s order is so extraordinary.
Here is where we get some idea of the oral argument about allowing video coverage. The judge decided to allow the video coverage that he did BECAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION.
Let me just say that in my experience, other than “taking the fifth,” it is RARE for the cited reason of a judge in an order to be “the Constitution.” It is probably true that there is not a single case where the Defendants WANTED the trial to be broadcast and the State DID NOT WANT the trial to b broadcast, and the judge allowed it anyway. But that’s not because the judge is crazy. That’s because it is ridiculous that the State wouldn’t want this highly publicized case to be broadcast.
The State’s argument is that the JUDGE’S order is extraordinary, even though the State is the one that did not consent to public broadcast. The judge wouldn’t have needed the order and two arguments on the matter unless the State objected to coverage. This is absolutely bizarre.
The State Suggests Overflow Rooms Are An Alternative Solution
Here, the Sixth Amendment’s core purpose—transparency—can readily be achieved with overflow rooms and closed-circuit cameras. And nothing in the First Amendment’s qualified guarantee of public access requires a live broadcast or audio and video recording of a criminal trial, particularly where the media and the public will have access to overflow rooms and closed-circuit television footage of the trial. Taken to its logical conclusion, the Court’s Order would require live broadcasting of nearly every high-profile trial where interest exceeds courtroom capacity. The Constitution does not require that result, especially when there are other viable options that would allow public access without compromising the interests of justice. The State absolutely welcomes a public trial; it just wants that trial to proceed under the rules Minnesota has devised to protect the privacy and safety of witnesses, to safeguard them from undue publicity and harassment that might make them reluctant to testify, and to thereby ensure that the trial may best perform its truth-seeking function. The Court therefore should not permit any recordings of this trial without the consent of the parties.
The judge concluded (correctly) that the Constitution REQUIRES the trial to be broadcast. The four defendants have been tried in the media for months. This is the biggest trial of the decade, at least. Their names are household names. Under what definition of “public trial” is a trial that the public can’t see? What’s the State’s answer to this? Overflow rooms. Closed-circuit cameras. Let’s cover this argument in pictures.
Here is just one cropped picture showing ONE OF THOUSANDS of Black-Lives-Matter protest marches that shows the massive public interest in this trial:
And here is the State’s solution to this massive, MASSIVE public interest: Overflow rooms and Closed Circuit Cameras.
That’s not one of many. That’s literally an accurate representation of the public access to the trial that the State is suggesting. Though it may look crazy — and though it may actually BE crazy — that’s the state’s argument.
The Prosecution’s Concern on Witness Safety
The argument goes on:
In the alternative, and at a minimum, the State requests that the Court narrow its Order to protect the right of witnesses to object to audio and video recordings. Ordinary citizens have been thrust into these proceedings simply because they witnessed George Floyd’s death. They should not be forced to sacrifice their privacy or suffer possible threats of intimidation when they perform their civic duty and testify. The risks of broadcasting witness testimony are particularly acute where, as here, live video and audio coverage may be intimidating to some witnesses and make it less likely that they will testify, potentially interfering with a fair trial.
Now, this is rather interesting. What “possible threats of intimidation” are we talking about here? We’ll discuss this later. However, even apart from that, do you see how STRANGE this argument about not televising the trial is if we’re talking about convicting the four officers in the murder or George Floyd?
The Middle-Ground Compromise Offer of the Prosecution on Media Coverage
The State’s argument continues:
Thus, even if the Court does not fully rescind its prior Order, it should narrow its Order to address some of these concerns—for example, by permitting live broadcasting only of (i) opening and closing arguments; (ii) Defendants’ testimony, should they take the stand and want their testimony broadcasted; and (iii) the testimony of any witness who does not object to live broadcasting. That would allow the public to see key aspects of this trial without undermining the administration of justice.
As an alternative to NO audio-visual broadcasting, the State is asking that only (1) opening and closing arguments, (2) the Defendants’ testimony, or (3) those witnesses that do not object to live broadcasting. While this may seem to be a reasonable middle ground between what the Court decided and whatever it is that the State wants, there are some things to keep in mind:
- Opening and closing arguments are NOT EVIDENCE. So in other words, the State is asking that the trial be broadcast EXCEPT FOR THE EVIDENCE, which is obviously the most important part of the trial.
- The Defendants’ testimony would only become relevant if they take the stand. Because of the 5th Amendment protections and the tactical advantage of not taking the stand, it is rare that Defendants ever give testimony, and therefore extremely unlikely that any evidence would be broadcast.
- I’m sure that there might be some witnesses who would like their testimony to be broadcast to the entire country. Perhaps the independent medical examiner who takes clients would like the publicity. Perhaps witnesses who want a message to get out to the entire country want it to be broadcast. But what ORDINARY witness without an agenda or a business would want it to be broadcast?
In other words, the State wants NO EVIDENCE to be shown to the general public by television or audio coverage, except those who WANT to thrust themselves into the national public spotlight on a highly contentious issue. That is bonkers.
But it gets even more bonkers when we read the Court’s order in response to this request and see what is really going on.
The Court’s Order Denying the State’s Motion
The Court’s Order denying the State’s Motion is so brilliant, it is worth quoting extensively. The key text is as follows:
In the November 4, 2020 order, this Court acknowledged that it was allowing more extensive audio and video coverage than is permitted by Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 4.02(d). The Court did not do so lightly, but out of necessity in light of the vicissitudes of the ongoing public health pandemic. in addition to the necessity, however, the Court relies on the authority granted the trial courts in Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 1.02. That rule provides that “[a] judge may modify the application of [the General Rules of Practice] in any case to prevent manifest injustice.” [Footnote: David Herr, Reporter for the Minnesota General Rules of Practice Committee, notes that Rule 1.02 allows flexibility in the application of the rules, but requires a showing that flexibility is required in a particular case. . . . It would be hard to imagine a more desperate need for flexibility than here.] Without question, deprivation of the constitutional rights that are the hallmarks of a public criminal trial would be a “manifest injustice.” The only real issue, then, is whether there is reasonable alternative to televising the trial that would vindicate the defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights and the First Amendment rights of the public and the press. If clearly so, the Court should adopt that alternative and abide by the scritures of Rule 4.02. If not, the flexibility granted the Court by Rule 1.02 supports the Court’s original order. The Court concludes that televising the trial is the only reasonable and meaningful method to safeguard the Sixth and First Amendment rights implicated in these cases.
Yes. Somebody grant that judge a Nobel Prize for Keen Observation. This is OBVIOUS.
The Logistical Context of the State’s Crazy Motion to Restrict Television Access
But things get crazier when we see the actual facts of the courtroom. The Order continues:
The Court in the November 4 order wrote extensively as to the unique circumstances in these particular cases that require variation from Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 4.02(d). Nothing in the State’s brief seems to take issue with the Court’s conclusion that this is a unique and unprecedented situation. The social distancing requirements in dealing with COVID-19 have forced the Fourth Judicial District to completely remodel one of its largest courtrooms, Courtroom 1856 in the Hennepin County Government Center, to facilitate social distancing of jurors, counsel, defendants, and court personnel in this joint trial. The modified jury box can hold only fourteen jurors, despite the Court’s earlier plan to seat sixteen. The public gallery had to be removed entirely to accommodate the multiple counsel tables required for trial counsel and the parties, in keeping with social distancing requirements. in light of this remodeling, only one seat in the courtroom is not designated for use by a trial participant and, if the trial is televised, a technician will occupy that chair. No other seating is available in the trial courtroom. It would be farcical to say that this arrangement, by itself, provides meaningful access to the public or the press or vindicates the defendants’ right to a public trial.
Look at that again. Because of COVID-19, we see that the size of the jury was reduced by two people. Additionally, because this is a joint trial of four defendants, there are four tables that are needed for the defense. And because we need six feet of distance between the participants, there is only one seat in the entire courtroom that is available for someone who is not actually participating in the trial. By the Court’s original order, that place would be occupied by the television technician. That television technician is the ONLY access the public has to the trial. The state wants to turn that back into “public seating.”
The State is asking that LITERALLY ONE PERSON ONLY occupy the courtroom during the trial.
Family of the Defendants? Nope. Family of George Floyd? Nope. Members of the public? Nope. Members of the press? Nope. Literally no one except one person was going to see the trial in person. Everybody else can watch on closed-circuit television. That is absolutely crazy.
The Constitutional Importance of the Right to a Public Trial
The Order continues:
The State is correct that there is no constitutional right to televise criminal trials. See State’s Brief, p. 12. This Court never said there was. This Court merely concluded that audio and video coverage of the trial despite the State’s objection is the only reasonable alternative to ensure a truly public trial for the defendants and meaningful access to the trial for the public and the press. Those rights are constitutional in nature and must be protected.
The Judicial Smack-Down of “Overflow Rooms.”
Of course, there was the issue of the overflow rooms, which the State thought was the solution here.
The Media Coalition accurately points out the deficiencies in the use of overflow courtrooms, including bad video, bad audio, limited seating, jostling for position by members of the media and the public, as well as the likelihood of having hundreds (if not thousands) of members of the public and press assembling at the Hennepin County Government Center every day for the better part of the months of March and April 2020 seeking access to an overflow courtroom, running afoul of and complicating the Court administrative and law enforcement efforts to enforce social distancing requirements ordered by Chief Justice Gildea. . . . These observations are not speculative, but based on recent experience in other cases such as State v. Mohamed Noor, in Hennepin County District Court in April 2019, and the high-profile trial of Harvey Weinstein in New York earlier this year.
Once again. OBVIOUSLY. To pretend that “overflow rooms” will solve this issue is ridiculous. As the Court states:
Even if the technology were improved such that the broadcast of the trial to the overflow courtrooms was of sufficient quality to substitute for the experience of actually being in the courtroom, it begs the question of how many overflow courtrooms would suffice. Keeping in mind that overflow courtrooms would also be subject to social distancing requirements, how many would be enough? Two? Three? Twenty? [Footnote: To provide additional context. In the majority of the courtrooms in the Hennepin County Government Center, the public gallery contains 28 seats. Given social distancing requirements, those courtrooms can currently accommodate only ten observers. In the Noor trial, between the Judge Quaintance’s courtroom, in which additional chairs were brought into the trial courtroom, and the overflow courtroom, there were 115 total seats available for family members, the press, and the public. That trial, of course, was pre-COVID. The Court expects even greater demand for this trial than for Noor, between family members of the Defendants’ and the Floyd families, the press, and the public. Given social distancing requirements, just to meet the same seating that was available for the Noor trial would necessitate using more than ten overflow courtrooms.]
In other words, this is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS to think that the State’s solution is workable. And the Order says just as much:
Should the Fourth Judicial District pause all courtroom activity for the months of March and April 2021 to allow every courtroom in the Hennepin County Gobernment Center to be used as overflow courtrooms for this trial? At what point does this become televising the trial, but just to a select and limited group?
The latter question highlights the flaw in the State’s proposal: an overflow courtroom is not truly a courtroom, but merely a venue for the consumption of a televised trial. They are courtrooms in name and appearance only. Nothin in Rule 4.01 or 4.01 permits a closed-circuit audio and video feed to another location for public consumption, even if you call that location a courtroom or an “overflow” courtroom.
The Order then states some quite powerful and obvious Supreme Court precedent for the access of the public to trials, and then concludes as follows:
This Court will not reiterate the constitutional analysis from its November 4 Order, but merely finds that the State’s suggested procedures to accommodate the Defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights and public’s and press’ First Amendment rights to a public trial would be, at best, inadequate, and at worst, mere lip-service to the Defendants’ and the public’s constitutional rights. Accordingly, the State’s motion to vacate or amend the Court’s November 4, 2020 order allowing audio and video coverage of trial is denied.
Because OF COURSE!!!! Thank Goodness that somebody believes that trials should be PUBLIC.
Supreme Court Precedent Regarding the Public Viewing of the Trial
In this Order, the Minnesota Court quoted the United States Supreme Court in a case called Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Ct., 464 U.S. 501 (1984). I decided not to include the Court’s cite above, because I think a more complete citation is appropriate:
The value of openness lies in the fact that people not actually attending trials can have confidence that standards of fairness are being observed; the sure knowledge that anyone is free to attend gives assurance that established procedures are being followed and that deviations will become known. This openness has what is sometimes described as a “community therapeutic value.” Id. at 448 U. S. 570. Criminal acts, especially violent crimes, often provoke public concern, even outrage and hostility; this in turn generates a community urge to retaliate and desire to have justice done. See T. Reik, The Compulsion to Confess 288-295, 408 (1959). Whether this is viewed as retribution or otherwise is irrelevant. When the public is aware that the law is being enforced and the criminal justice system is functioning, an outlet is provided for these understandable reactions and emotions. Proceedings held in secret would deny this outlet and frustrate the broad public interest; by contrast, public proceedings vindicate the concerns of the victims and the community in knowing that offenders are being brought to account for their criminal conduct by jurors fairly and openly selected. See United States v. Hasting, 461 U. S. 499, 461 U. S. 507 (1983); Morris v. Slappy, 461 U. S. 1, 461 U. S. 14-15 (1983).
“People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing.” Richmond Newspapers, supra, at 448 U. S. 572. Closed proceedings, although not absolutely precluded, must be rare and only for cause shown that outweighs the value of openness.
Once again: OF COURSE. “You aren’t allowed to see this, but you can trust us that we’re doing the right thing” is not a good practice of a free and fair country.
The Protection of Witnesses from Public Intimidation
Additionally, in the Order, the judge addressed the issue about overflow courtrooms, but says something interesting at the beginning:
The State, with a sincere but historically unsupported concern regarding witness intimidation, opines that Sixth Amendment and First Amendment rights can be vindicated by using overflow courtrooms to supplement the main courtroom.
I think it is necessary to explore that “sincere” part of this argument by the State.
George Floyd died on May 25, 2020. He was charged on May 29, 2020. The other officers were charged on June 3, 2020. However, it took all of one day after the death of George Floyd for the crowds to become aggressive an unruly. As the Wikipedia Page on 2020 unrest in Minneapolis states:
Protests began in Minneapolis on May 26, the day after the killing of George Floyd and when a video of the incident had circulated widely in the media. By mid day, people had gathered by the thousands at the location of Floyd’s death and set up a makeshift memorial. Organizers of the rally emphasized keeping the protest peaceful. Protesters and Floyd’s family demanded that all four officers at the scene of his arrest and death be charged with murder and that judicial consequences were swift. That evening, the protest rally turned into a march to the Minneapolis Police Department’s third precinct station where the officers were believed to work. After the main protest group disbanded, a small skirmish the night of May 26 resulted in minor property damage at the station and the police firing tear gas at demonstrators.
Within 3 days of this “small skirmish the night of May 26,” Derek Chauvin was fired by the Minneapolis Police Department and charged with murder. Protests poured out into the streets, including this famous footage of an 18-wheeler being stopped in the midst of a mob:
And things soon changed. The chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” changed to “Defund the Police.” On June 8, 2020, Mayor Jacob Frey, who had met all the demands of those protesting for “justice” in the death of George Floyd, he was asked if he would defund the police. The aggressive speaker, with a cheering crowd, before asking the question said:
“If y’all don’t know, he’s up for re-election next year. [whoops and cheers from the crowd] And if he says no, guess what the f**k we goin’ to do next.”
When he refuses to say that he will defund the police, the speaker aggressively snatches the microphone out of his hand and yells at him:
“Get the f**k outta here!”
The crowd booed, threw drinks on him, flipped him off, screamed obscenities at him, and chanted “Go home, Jacob! Go home!” and yelled “Shame! Shame!” And that was the mayor of the city. You can watch it here:
That was on June 8, 2020.
Then, on June 10, 2020, the protests had morphed into tearing down statues and monuments. In Minneapolis, the protest moved to the state capitol, where we read the following summary from Wikipedia:
An American Indian Movement group tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus outside the state capitol building in Saint Paul on June 10 as the global protest movement turned towards removing monuments and memorials with controversial legacies. . . . American Indian Movement members and other demonstrators, including Dakota and Ojibwe community members, looped a rope around the statue and pulled it off its granite pedestal. The group drummed, sang songs, and took photos with the fallen statue. No one was arrested at the event. State Patrol troopers watched from a distance and did not intervene. Troopers eventually formed a line to protect the statue before it was transported offsite. . . . Officials estimated the cost to repair the statute would be over $154,000.
Protests continued on June 19, 2020, with marches in front of the state capitol. The Pride Parade, which had been canceled due to COVID-19, was the impetus for another George Floyd related public gathering on June 28, 2020. On July 1, 2020, hundreds of protestors blocked I-94 again. On July 4, 2020, a “Black 4th” demonstration was held, where crowds of Black Lives Matter protestors marched through predominantly white areas of town.
Additionally, in mid-July, there was also a problem of public encampments in the city. As we read in the Wikipedia summary:
A sprawling encampment at Powderhorn Park generated controversy as it grew to 560 tents by mid July. Numerous sexual assaults, fights, and drug use at the encampment generated alarm for nearby residents. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board later cleared the park of people living in tents, but voted to create a permitting process to make homeless encampments a permanent fixture at 20 city parks with up to 25 tents each. The city had made a push to connect people experiencing homeless with services, including establishing three new shelters, and shelter beds remained available. But officials adopted a de-escalation for disbanding camps due to the ongoing civil unrest, and when they attempted to remove tents at non-permitted sites, they faced opposition from a sanctuary movement and protest groups. The situation quickly grew out of the control of park board officials. Said Park Board Commissioner LaTrisha Vetaw, “We are outside of our wheelhouse. I have visited multiple sanctuary sites. I have been offered drugs. I have been offered money for sex. I have watched an overdose happen. I’ve seen things that I’m not even sure of what they were.” Encampments spread to nearly 40 park sites during the summer. Officials attempted to disband encampments before freezing weather, but 53 tents remained at three encampments by early December as some encampment residents declined available shelter space.
The problems continued in August, and I won’t even talk about the Jacob Blake related protests.
Instead, let’s talk about the August 26, 2020 protests and riots that were purely the result of passion:
Rooting and looting in downtown Minneapolis came as reaction to false rumors that Eddie Sole Jr., a 38 year old African American man, had been shot and killed by Minneapolis police officers on August 26. Surveillance video showed that Sole Jr. had died by suicide, a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, during a manhunt for a homicide suspect in which he was the person of interest as police officers closed in to arrest him after a foot chase. Controversially, the police released the CCTV camera footage of the suicide in attempts to stop the unrest. Overnight destruction from August 26 to 27 reached a total of 72 property locations in Minneapolis and four locations in neighboring Saint Paul. In Minneapolis, four businesses were set on fire, including a downtown restaurant and three other businesses located miles away from the city’s downtown area. State and local officials arrested a total of 132 people during the unrest.
I think you get the point, even though protests continued into November, at least. But note that ALL of the activity I just mentioned was restricted to the city of Minneapolis. I’m not even talking about the stuff going on elsewhere or stuff related to other racially-charged incidents.
Who Will Intimidate Whom?
So let me ask a rather obvious question. If the state is “sincerely” worried about voter intimidation. Who is going to be intimidating whom? Do we really think that a bunch of people with thin-blue-line flags are going to mob witnesses that testify against the officers?
What about witnesses against the officers who might happen to tell the not-quite-as-clear-as-we-were-led-to-believe truth about how sticky this situation actually was?
What about the state coroner who will have to say that there was a fatal level of Fentanyl in George Floyd’s system?
If a sympathetic Jacob Frey was told to “get the f**k outta here” whenever he wouldn’t agree to defund and abolish the Minneapolis police, what will happen to a witness for the Defense (or the State) who will be forced to say “Due to the amount of Fentanyl in his system, I cannot state with any medical certainty whether George Floyd would be alive today if the officers did not encounter George Floyd at all.”
Remember this video from a Black Lives Matter protest somewhere in the United States on June 1, 2020:
Witness safety will definitely be an issue. But it won’t be from supporters of the Defendants.
As I have explained, beginning on my first May 29, 2020 post on the subject transcribing the video evidence, the case against the four police officers have some SERIOUS problems. But people are afraid to talk about this.
I know this from personal experience, as well. This series on George Floyd is one of the most-read subjects on this entire blog. I do not advertise or market, and I only share my posts on my own social media accounts. However, I’ve got multiple thousands of views on this. But contrary to the ordinary posts and projects that I have seen go viral and take off, I have seen almost NO ONE share these items publicly. I’ve had dozens of people contact me privately to thank me for the writing, but people — ordinary people holding private opinions — are afraid to speak. That’s a big deal. There IS a problem of witness safety, but it’s not coming from the pro-police side.
There IS a problem of witness intimidation, but I’m not talking about the witnesses at the trial. I’m talking about the ordinary witnesses of this process. I’m talking about you reading this sentence right now.
Don’t be intimidated. watch, learn, and fearlessly speak and share. That’s the only way that our system works.