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George Floyd Anniversary Commemorations Begin With Minneapolis March

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This Tuesday marks a year since George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, a year since a video of then-police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck went viral. That ignited a week of unrest in the city and a nationwide examination of the many issues around racial justice and law enforcement that continues to this day. Today, civil rights leaders and members of Floyd's family are marking the anniversary with a rally and march in Minneapolis.

Joining us now is reporter Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio, who is at the rally. Matt, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Sure. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: Could you just describe where you are and what you're seeing?

SEPIC: Well, I'm in Government Plaza here in downtown Minneapolis. It's between City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center and Courthouse. A rally honoring George Floyd and other Black people killed by police has just started. There are several hundred people spread out around the plaza. Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton is among the speakers. So are members of George Floyd's family, including his sister, Bridgett, who started a foundation in his memory. The weather here is just beautiful. It's cooled down a bit, sunny, a little breezy, many people out wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, others with pictures of George Floyd.

MARTIN: So, you know, last year, a few days after Floyd's killing, nine Minneapolis City council members famously stood on a stage at a park, and they pledged to defund the police department. Could you just tell us a bit more about how that effort has unfolded?

SEPIC: Well, first of all, the Minneapolis Police Department certainly still exists. But council members and even many activists have evolved in their thinking in the last year and say what they really want to do is just have a more holistic approach to public safety in the city. This includes crime prevention and getting medical help, not necessarily police, to people suffering mental health crises.

But making any really big changes to the department, including its funding, requires the approval of Minneapolis voters. And a measure that's likely headed to the ballot this fall would eliminate a longstanding requirement for a minimum number of officers based on the number of city residents. This proposal would also give the council more oversight of police. A leader of this effort was quick to point out to me last week when we spoke that there are many situations where armed officers are essential and the plan would not eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department.

That said, though, morale is low. And a quarter of the force has left or taken medical leave. The number of officers available to work today is just 645. That's down from 873 at the start of 2020.

MARTIN: As I think most people remember, last month, a jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of Floyd's death. But there's a trial ahead for the other three former police officers who were with Chauvin that evening. So could you just bring us up to speed on how that stands?

SEPIC: Yes. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are all charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter. Their trial on those charges had been scheduled for August, but Judge Peter Cahill moved it to next March. Chauvin is due to be sentenced for murder on June 25. And Cahill ruled that he's eligible for more prison time than state guidelines called for because aggravating factors apply. That's because children saw what happened, and Chauvin treated Floyd, quote, "with particular cruelty." And besides the state charges, all four men are also charged separately in federal court with violating George Floyd's civil rights. The judge in that case, though, has not set a trial date.

MARTIN: That was Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio speaking to us from Minneapolis. Matt, thank you so much for joining us.

SEPIC: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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