TOM LEONARD: Murder lit a touchpaper… now can the verdict end America’s race turmoil?

Long before the verdict came through, Minneapolis was already a fortress city, battened down and steeling itself for the storm.

Public buildings are isolated behind concrete barricades, high steel fences, barbed wire and moats filled with razor wire.

Streets full of boarded-up offices and shopfronts are patrolled by 3,000 heavily armed National Guard troops in full combat gear and Humvee armoured cars, their war-zone precautions borne out when a patrol was shot at over the weekend.

And Minneapolis, already ravaged last year by the fury over George Floyd‘s death, is hardly alone – America has been on edge for days as cities across the country hunkered down for the violence to come as soon as the verdict on the trial of Derek Chauvin was finally delivered. The police chief of Detroit warned he was expecting serious trouble whatever the verdict. In New York, police leave has been cancelled.

Long before the verdict came through, Minneapolis was already a fortress city, battened down and steeling itself for the storm

With a senior White House official describing the situation as a ‘tinderbox’, no wonder Joe Biden breached presidential precedent yesterday when, with the jury sequestered and theoretically immune to his remarks, he publicly expressed his hope they would reach the ‘right decision’ – a comment that was widely assumed to mean a guilty verdict.

On Monday the President had phoned Mr Floyd’s family and said he was praying for them.

Pictured: Derek Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd's neck on May 25 last year

Pictured: Derek Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd’s neck on May 25 last year 

They’re hardly the only ones he’s praying for. No trial in recent US history has had so much hanging on it as the prosecution of this white police officer for killing African-American man Mr Floyd, a gruesome death that sent shockwaves around the world.

The 46-year-old, who had a criminal record for offences including aggravated robbery but had since turned his life around, had been arrested for using an allegedly fake $20 note in a shop. Chauvin, one of four police officers who arrived on the scene, knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck and back for nine minutes and 29 seconds as he was held handcuffed and face-down on the street.

The incident was filmed by witnesses who captured Mr Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe and appealed to the officers to let him up. Though the officers called for medical assistance, they took no action to treat him and Chauvin kept his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck even as an ambulance crew arrived.

When a Los Angeles jury in 1992 acquitted the white police officers who were filmed viciously beating up black motorist Rodney King, the ferocious rioting that followed lasted six days and left 63 dead.

Derek Chauvin's mugshot

George Floyd

The 46-year-old (right), who had a criminal record for offences including aggravated robbery but had since turned his life around, had been arrested for using an allegedly fake $20 note in a shop. Chauvin (left), one of four police officers who arrived on the scene, knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck and back for nine minutes and 29 seconds as he was held handcuffed and face-down on the street

That’s nothing to the anticipated response to a Floyd verdict that is anything other than ‘guilty’ on second-degree murder, the most serious of the three charges he faced. And even then, it’s clear this won’t be the end of it.

As the protesters outside the Minneapolis court building during the trial have made clear, victory here will only embolden them to demand justice for the many other innocent African-Americans they say have been murdered by an institutionally racist justice system.

Some fear it’s become the ‘new normal’ for every police shooting of a black person to be followed by rioting, even when the details of what happened aren’t clear.

The last few days have seen protesters clash nightly with police in the suburb of Brooklyn Center – 20 miles outside Minneapolis – over the death of mixed race 20-year-old Daunte Wright in what few dispute was a terrible accident.

Pictured: Still from footage of George Floyd's arrest last year

Pictured: Still from footage of George Floyd’s arrest last year 

He died after officer Kim Potter shot him as he fled in his car when police tried to hold him over an outstanding arrest warrant.

She has now been charged with second-degree manslaughter, an offence for which she would have to have consciously imperilled his life. And yet, body camera footage makes clear she had been intending only to stun him with a Taser but mistakenly pulled out the wrong weapon. A dreadful mistake, certainly, but hardly an example of white police going out to murder young black men.

According to a Harvard law professor: ‘The crowds demanding justice for Daunte Wright have put a heavy thumb on the scales.

‘This is a charge based not on the rule of law, but on the demands of the crowd.’

And the crowd has been demanding racial justice since last May when video footage of Mr Floyd’s slow death was condemned as a modern-day lynching.

Although racial equality campaigners stress that he’s hardly the only black victim of police violence, the Floyd death – perhaps because the graphic video footage of it was so upsetting and perhaps because it came in a world already on edge due to the pandemic and lockdown – lit a touchpaper that other misdeeds hadn’t.

It galvanised the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked months of protests, riots and looting in cities across the world.

However, while Democrats and their allies in the US media portray America as a country united by a burning desire to reform their racist cops, facts suggest otherwise.

A few days ago, a report by the respected pollster Rasmussen found three quarters of US voters support their local police and don’t consider them racist. Just 8 per cent gave their cops poor marks.

Some Democrat politicians in swing states insist their party’s failure to condemn the violence almost lost them the election as many voters admitted they were impressed by Donald Trump’s claim to be the champion of law and order.

A new, even worse wave of nationwide violence may provoke a law-and-order backlash that could jeopardise Mr Biden’s plans to make police more accountable for their actions and to push through tougher gun laws.

Americans got a timely reminder of how irresponsibly Democrats can behave at the weekend when US congresswoman Maxine Waters told anti-police protesters in Minneapolis to ‘stay on the streets’ and ‘get more confrontational’ if a not-guilty verdict came.

The trial judge said the Democrat’s comments were ‘abhorrent’, and could lead to ‘this whole trial being overturned’.

Republicans called for a congressional censure of Mrs Waters, but Democrats insisted she had no reason to apologise.

For the Left and particularly the progressive wing – and not just in the US – the Floyd tragedy has provided a perfect opportunity to push through root-and-branch racial justice reforms and instil an intense sensitivity to racism that, despite claims that it is ‘woke’ hysteria, has spread into every area of society.

From English football players ‘taking a knee’ before kick-off and the National Trust ordering volunteers to undergo ‘diversity training’ through to a forthcoming Oscars awards this weekend that is heaving with black nominees, the ramifications of Mr Floyd’s death have been astonishing.

It’s hardly surprising then that the anxiety over the consequences of Chauvin escaping justice has stretched all the way up to the White House.

In Minneapolis, sympathy with the protests over Mr Floyd’s plight have been dampened by the ferocity of the wave of arson, looting and general destruction they unleashed on the city.

The city of 425,000 that prides itself on being one of the most liberal in the US has an affluent, left-leaning white majority and a small and particularly poor and disadvantaged black minority.

Across a five-mile stretch of devastation at least a thousand buildings were destroyed or badly damaged – including the police station where Chauvin was based – at a cost of £250million.

Much as they might have shared in the outrage over the death of Mr Floyd, many city residents and business owners watched in horror as overwhelmed police and fire crews left neighbourhoods at the mercy of rioters.

Ironically, much of the devastation was in poorer areas where the victims were hard-working immigrants who say their pleas for help from the city and police went unanswered.

Many say they have given up relying on Minneapolis’s left-wing leaders to protect them as crime has soared in the city.

Meanwhile Mr Biden faces a dilemma – black voters pushed him into office but white voters may decide if he serves only one term in the White House. The radical wing of the Democrats want radical police reform while moderates fear it will badly alienate swing voters.

‘I want to make it clear again, there is absolutely no justification – none – for looting,’ he said this week. ‘No justification for violence. Peaceful protest? Understandable.’

The events of the next few days and weeks will show whether Americans have listened to him and may well decide the future of his presidency.

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