No Black jurors were selected in the trial of three former Minneapolis police officers who were on the scene when former officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.
In a lightning-quick selection process Thursday, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and Judge Paul Magnuson agreed to impanel 11 white people and one person of Asian descent to the jury that will deliberate the charges against former officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Kueng.
Two of the officers helped restrain Floyd as Chauvin kneeled on the 46-year-old’s neck for more than nine minutes and a third held back the growing crowd that looked on.
Of the six alternative jurors, one is of Asian descent while the rest are also white.
During the selection process, Judge Magnuson reportedly signaled that he saw no issue with the makeup of the jury.
“There is absolutely nothing about the subject of religion, race, or ethnicity that’s involved in this case,” Magnuson told one juror who said he couldn’t be impartial because he was not white, according to the Associated Press.
While the trial is specifically about whether these officers were complicit in Floyd’s murder when they decided to not take action against Chauvin, their superior officer at the time, the issue of race still looms heavy over the case. After all, Floyd was Black; several of the bystanders, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning teen who recorded the most damning piece of evidence against the officers is Black; and Powderhorn Park, the Minneapolis neighborhood where Floyd was killed, is a community that’s 48 percent non-white, according to MNCompass.org.
“Though the charges these men face isn’t a hate crime, you’d have to be blind to say race isn’t a key issue in the trial.”
“Though the charges these men face isn’t a hate crime, you’d have to be blind to say race isn’t a key issue in the trial. The two biggest issues are the jury’s views towards law enforcement and racism,” former federal prosecutor and current president of the West Coast Trial Lawyers Neama Rahmani told VICE News.
Rahmani argued that since jurors are likely very familiar with the important evidence in the case, like the video of Floyd’s death, jurors are certain to consider their opinions of police.
“Some jurors are going to defer to law enforcement and hold them in high regard and think they can do no wrong,” Rahmani said. “And others will think that police officers use excessive force and there are issues of systemic racism in the Minneapolis Police Department.”
“For a district judge to say that race isn’t an issue in the case, I think that’s either hopefully ignorant or disingenuous frankly,” he added.
The makeup of the jury is considerably different compared to the makeup of the jury that convicted Derek Chauvin last spring. In that case, six of the jurors were white and six of them were non-white.
Jury selection was also noticeably faster than the weeks-long process the public witnessed in Hennepin County nearly a year ago. In pretrial court proceeding last week, Magnuson told attorneys that he wanted both prosecutors and the defense to keep a brisk pace.
“The longer we are in this courtroom, the more potentiality we have with exposure to COVID," he told the courtroom, according to the Star Tribune.
While the white jury is locked in, it doesn’t mean that the public should expect a verdict favoring Thao, Lane, and Kueng. In two recent high-profile trials, involving the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Daunte Wright, a majority-white jury chose to convict with punishing verdicts.
In the Arbery case in Georgia, both Travis and Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan were eventually sentenced to life in prison as a result of a mostly white jury’s decision. And former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter faces a maximum of up to 15 years in prison for manslaughter in the Wright case.
Opening arguments in the trial against Thao, Lane, and Kueng are expected to begin Jan. 24. The three men are facing federal charges for depriving Floyd of his civil rights by failing to provide him with medical assistance as he died under Chauvin’s knee. Both Kueng and Thao face an additional charge of failing to intervene while the convicted former cop placed him in a deadly hold.
Follow Trone Dowd on Twitter at @theloniusly.