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Minneapolis Braces For A Verdict As Closing Arguments Begin In Derek Chauvin's Trial


Today, closing arguments begin in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Jurors have heard difficult testimony for almost three weeks. They have repeatedly watched the footage of George Floyd dying under Chauvin's knee. The defense has tried to raise reasonable doubt by suggesting something else killed Floyd. They also called an expert who said that Chauvin's actions were reasonable. In a couple minutes, NPR's Juana Summers will look at President Biden's promises to change policing in communities of color. But first, NPR's Leila Fadel is in Minneapolis covering the trial.

Good morning, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What do we expect over the next few days?

FADEL: So first, closing arguments today. The prosecution then gets a rebuttal, and then the jury will receive instructions from the judge and be sequestered as they deliberate on the two murder charges and the manslaughter charge Chauvin is facing.

Now, this jury is very aware they're deliberating on a verdict under intense public scrutiny. We heard those concerns during jury selection as people expressed some trepidation about what may happen, depending on the decision they make. As far as how long it will take to get a verdict, that could be hours, or it could be weeks.

KING: And the intense public scrutiny is on account of the fact that there is more at stake here than just what happens to Derek Chauvin.

FADEL: Right. I mean, a lot of people see this verdict as a referendum on race, policing and accountability. It's very rare in this country for a police officer to get convicted for the killing of an unarmed person. Here in Minnesota, only one police officer has ever been convicted for killing someone. In that case, it was a Black police officer that shot and killed a white woman.

But this case has been unusual, most notably because we saw police officers testify against one of their own. From the witness stand, we heard police officers call Chauvin pinning Floyd's neck to the ground for so long totally unnecessary, excessive and a violation of police department policies. Among those who testified was the police chief, Medaria Arradondo, which, as far as we know, is unprecedented. He said that Chauvin continuing to apply that level of force we watched in that video to a man that was handcuffed and on the ground was wrong.


MEDARIA ARRADONDO: That, in no way, shape or form, is anything that is by policy. It is not part of our training. And it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.

KING: Unprecedented testimony, as you said. What is it like in Minneapolis right now?

FADEL: Well, I mean, the courthouse is a fortress. Downtown Minneapolis is a maze of boarded-up buildings. There are military-style vehicles on downtown city corners. National Guard walk around with weapons out. You see the same thing in other parts of the Twin Cities. And a neighborhood security team of National Guard and police came under fire yesterday morning. No one was seriously injured. So the city is tense.

And not only is it dealing with what is arguably the most important criminal trial regarding race and policing of this moment. People are reeling after the killing of another Black man last week by police during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. That killing has prompted renewed protests. Law enforcement have made arrests, used force to disperse the crowds at night, including reports of hitting and macing journalists. Some people in the crowds have thrown fireworks, bottles and other objects at law enforcement.

KING: And so when you talk to people in Minneapolis about how they're feeling and what they're thinking, what are they telling you?

FADEL: I mean, when I speak to them, they use words like anxious, scared, nervous. And watching the trial, for a lot of people, has been too hard. I met Takyra Smith (ph) in George Floyd Square. And she was there with her niece, nephew and 4-year-old son to pay respects to Floyd at the site of his killing. She says she hasn't been able to watch much of this trial.

TAKYRA SMITH: To have to have that trial, like, live and on TV, to me, it's hurtful because you know what you did. And to have to sit there and have people think that you didn't do it, or you weren't trying to hurt anybody or for you to think that you weren't hurting anybody - you knew you were. Like, how could you not think you weren't hurting anybody? So to watch that is killing me.

FADEL: She says she's hoping for guilty on all charges.

KING: NPR's Leila Fadel in Minneapolis. Thank you, Leila.

FADEL: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.