As the murder trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged with the killing of George Floyd continues, San Francisco police are preparing for potential protests at the local level depending on the outcome of the case.
The trial of Derek Chauvin began March 29 and is expected to enter its fourth week next Monday, when the prosecution and defense are set to make closing arguments, according to the New York Times. The jury would then begin deliberations and could reach a verdict at any time.
While no protests have manifested in San Francisco thus far, Police Chief Bill Scott said at the last Police Commission meeting that his department is “keeping an eye” on the trial and preparing for possible unrest.
“We have been in touch on a national level with other cities, including Minneapolis, and they are keeping us posted with what is happening with the trial and what is happening there,” Scott said. “Whatever happens there will be a good indication of what is going to happen in other parts of the country.”
Scott made his comments last Wednesday before protests broke out near Minneapolis over the fatal police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man on Sunday by a Brooklyn Center officer who police have said mistakenly drew her pistol instead of a stun gun.
The killing of Daunte Wright could add to tensions in the Bay Area. The shooting has already spurred protests in other parts of the country including Portland, Oregon, where police declared a riot Monday night after a large crowd smashed windows and threw projectiles, according to the Oregonian.
The shooting bears similarities to the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland by a then-BART police officer whose attorneys later argued meant to draw a Taser instead of his gun.
Scott said police are providing officers with crowd management training and planning to schedule community meetings for members of the public to “voice their opinions and vent in a constructive way.”
“There’s a lot of people that are very concerned with what they are seeing in these trials and it is our duty to make sure we work with the public to keep our city as safe as we can and also give people an opportunity to express themselves,” Scott said.
The San Francisco Police Department has also cancelled discretionary days off for officers and plans to have additional officers working in response to the Chauvin trial.
The department is “committed to facilitating the public’s right to peaceful First Amendment expressions of free speech,” a police spokesperson said in a statement. “We ask that everyone exercising their First Amendment rights be considerate, respectful and mindful of the safety of others.”
“Officers will be vigilant for unlawful or unsafe activity and will respond as appropriate,” the spokesperson said.
The Minneapolis killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 prompted protests across the nation last summer after cellphone video emerged of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Protests were largely peaceful in San Francisco but took a destructive turn on the weekend of May 30, 2020, when vandalism and looting in Union Square prompted Mayor London Breed to enact a rare nighttime curfew.
Phelicia Jones, the leader of a local police reform group called Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community, said there could be protests in San Francisco again if Chauvin is acquitted.
“If he is not convicted, I really do believe it is going to be a national outcry because it was a national outcry when [Floyd] was murdered,” Jones told the San Francisco Examiner. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that.”
Police have not said when the community meetings would be scheduled over the Chauvin trial and did not provide details when asked by the Examiner.
Jones said the chief had not reached out to her about holding a community meeting. She said any meeting should be focused not just on the Chauvin case but on problems facing the SFPD.
Her group has been pushing for the department to stop disproportionately using force against Black people and complete the 272 recommendations for reform given to the SFPD by the U.S. Department of Justice more than four years ago in 2016.
“The George Floyd case is very important,” Jones said. “But we also have officer-involved shootings right here in San Francisco.”
While overall reports of officers using force have gone down since 2016, police data shows disparities persist for Black and Latino people in San Francisco.
Thirty-eight percent of the individuals police used force against in the last quarter of 2020 were Black, while 27 percent were Latino. The most recent census data available shows San Francisco is about 5 percent Black and 15 percent Latino.
The chief has committed to completing 94 percent, or 257, of the 272 federal recommendations for reform by the end of spring.
San Francisco police have shot and killed or injured suspects in recent months, but the shootings have not been as contentious as past incidents like the killings of Mario Woods in 2015 or Luis Gongora-Pat in 2016, which ultimately led to the ouster of a police chief and kicked off local reform efforts.
The most recent fatal shooting happened last October, when police say a 21-year-old carjacking suspect, Cesar Vargas, rushed an officer with a knife.