Minneapolis and St. Paul are braced for civil unrest as the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin commences. City councils in both cities have been receiving updates on plans to allow peaceful protests and demonstrations, yet prevent the violence and property destruction that roiled the cities in May 2020.
Chauvin is going on trial for the May 2020 death of George Floyd. Chauvin is seen on video putting his knee on Floyd’s neck outside of a south Minneapolis convenience store.
University Avenue, downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis and Minneapolis’ Lake Street were hit especially hard by property damage in the wake of civil unrest after Floyd’s death. Several arrests have been made and more suspects are sought. Many agencies are making plans. Metro Transit is telling bus and train riders to be prepared for potential service disruptions. Area district councils and business groups are also discussing steps they can take to prepare.
St. Paul council members Feb. 24 raised questions about law enforcement response, and urged that care be taken to not inadvertently put innocent people through racial profiling. They also asked questions about business protections and what everyone should look out for.
The primary focus for law enforcement is to protect people, protect property and to protect free speech rights, said St. Paul Police Department Deputy Chief Stacy Murphy. “The St. Paul Police Department is committed to protecting free speech.” The majority of those who wish to protest will be peaceful. But violent and dangerous behaviors will not be tolerated, said Murphy.
Murphy outlined the steps being taken, including weeks of specialized training. The former Sears store on Rice Street has been a training ground, where almost 1,000 first responders have been trained in recent weeks. St. Paul’s law enforcement is part of a group called operation Safety Net; a parallel training and planning process is in place for Minneapolis.
St. Paul Police have also been meeting with business associations to discuss how business owners can protect themselves against another round of property damage. Business owners are urged to put measures in place including better lighting and security cameras that have the capacity to record and save video. Boarding up or laminating doors are options.
Loose items such as outdoor decorative elements should be removed or secured. Businesses should also check with their insurance carriers about what is covered and what is not.
Police are also meeting with groups that plan to protest. Murphy said police have a good working relationship with most of the St. Paul groups that will stage protests and demonstrations.
Jury selection for the Chauvin trial started March 8, said Murphy. Opening statements are set for March 29. It’s not known how long the trial and jury deliberations will last, or when there will be a verdict. The trial is expected to draw people from around the country and possibly the world.
Staffing changes are going into place to handle the anticipated volume of 911 calls and to deploy mobile field forces as needed. About 1,000 National Guard members will be deployed in St. Paul.