In Derek Chauvin Trial, Political Issues Take Center Stage in Jury Selection

Animating the line of questions: a desire to divine whether potential jurors can put aside their personal opinions while evaluating evidence presented in court—though lawyers haven’t always been swayed by such pledges.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is being tried for second-degree murder and other charges over the death of George Floyd. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday highlights how prosecutors and the defense may present their case. Photo: Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters

On Thursday, Eric Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s attorney, pressed one potential juror who said the viral video made him think of scenes from a war. He said he had a favorable view of Black Lives Matter, the movement that among other things aims to restrict police use of force and transfer police funding to other services. And he said he supports the idea of defunding police, saying he means that he thinks “police are asked to do too much, way too much, and other entities should take that burden off them.”

“Can you basically clear your brain of that, a clean slate, and start from the beginning, analyze this case only on the evidence presented in the case, essentially abandoning your opinion?” said Mr. Nelson. The man said he believed he could. Mr. Nelson struck him from the jury.

Defund the police became a loosely defined rallying cry in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death. Some have interpreted it as dismantling police forces altogether, while others say it is more about rethinking law enforcement’s role in society. The juror questionnaire didn’t define what defunding the police means.

After Mr. Floyd’s death, the slogan Blue Lives Matter became more prevalent among people who support traditional law-enforcement methods and police officers’ role in public safety.


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The jurors selected so far include five men and two women. Four are white and three are people of color. Twelve jurors and two alternates will ultimately be chosen; jury selection is expected to take about another week.

Mr. Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder—unintentional, while committing a felony—third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. In the video footage, Mr. Floyd can be seen facedown on the ground and losing consciousness as Mr. Chauvin places a knee on his neck for around nine minutes, as three other officers assist him.

The county medical examiner ruled Mr. Floyd’s death a homicide and listed the cause as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.”  The county autopsy indicated Mr. Floyd suffered from heart disease and had drugs in his system, which was complicated by officers holding him down.

The defense has argued that the drugs and heart disease caused Mr. Floyd’s death, noting the medical examiner found no evidence of injury to his neck and back.

Prosecutors say the medical examiner’s report supports the charges that the police officers contributed to Mr. Floyd’s death.

Mr. Floyd’s death sparked protests and violence around the country, and the Black Lives Matter movement propelled a national debate about whether police funding would be better used for social services and other purposes. Minneapolis faced days of protests and riots.

“There wasn’t a need for all the criminal activities that happened, all the burning and the looting,” a married man in his 20s said while being questioned by Mr. Nelson on Thursday. The man, identified as Hispanic, was chosen for the jury.

One prospective juror, a Black woman with two young children, said she “couldn’t unsee” the video from the case. In the questionnaire, she described Mr. Chauvin’s expression as hateful in the moments when he was seen kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck in the viral video. She was dismissed.

But other jurors held more nuanced views, some of whom were accepted on the jury.

Six of the seven jurors chosen to date indicated in jury questionnaires and follow-up questioning that they held at least a somewhat favorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But most of the seated jurors who expressed that support said that it was more for the concept of Black Lives Matter and that they didn’t always like the group’s tactics or politics.

The first juror approved, a chemist who said he had not seen video of Mr. Floyd’s death, said he felt the BLM organization was sometimes too extreme. Another juror, a woman who said she has an uncle who is a police officer, said she felt that both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter had been co-opted by marketers.

“I like the idea of what they’re supposed to stand for, but I think that it’s been turned into a propaganda scheme by companies and stuff just to get you to buy their stuff,” she said of Black Lives Matter when questioned by Mr. Nelson, adding that she felt similarly about Blue Lives Matter.

Melissa Mordell Gomez, a jury consultant, said asking about Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter gives lawyers a concrete way to frame conversations about otherwise uncomfortable topics. She noted that the Me Too movement—which shined a light on the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct, especially on the workplace—did the same thing in trials for

Harvey Weinstein

and Bill Cosby.

“It has a name, and it is something easier to talk about,” she said.

Trahern Crews, founder and chief organizer for Black Lives Matter Minnesota, said he was encouraged that some members of the jury had a positive view of the group. “People from Minnesota actually get to see us do the work. They know we’re not like spooky people or a threat to society,” he said.

Fred Bruno, an attorney for the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association’s legal defense fund who is consulting on Mr. Chauvin’s case, said he liked jurors who agreed with the philosophies behind both the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements. The MPPOA is a statewide professional association and is paying for Mr. Chauvin’s defense.

“The ones I would avoid are the ones who strongly agree with BLM and who disagreed with Blue Lives Matter,” he said.

Mr. Crews says he sees problems with the composition of the jury so far because the only Black person seated is an immigrant who said he came to the U.S. more than a decade ago.

“I would like to see someone whose ancestors actually went through slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era, who understand the history of our relationship with the police,” he said.

Write to Joe Barrett at

Derek Chauvin Murder Trial in Death of George Floyd

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Source: WSJ – US News

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