With the trial of Derek Chauvin set to begin in Minneapolis today, security leaders must consider the potential for civil disorder in the weeks to come. Chauvin is charged in the death of George Floyd, an event which sparked national protests, riots, looting, and civil unrest throughout the summer of 2020. Tensions remain high and fallout from the trial may follow trends seen in the past surrounding the similar cases of Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and even dating back to Rodney King. Here are some trends we have investigated surrounding previous high profile trials of law enforcement.
Los Angeles, CA, 1991 – 1992
Four Los Angeles Police Department officers were charged with the felony assault of Rodney King. The trial lasted seven days and resulted in acquittal for all officers. Within three days of the verdict, residents of Los Angeles began rioting. Stores were burned and looted and over 1,000 properties were damaged in total. Non-black civilians were attacked, resulting in over 2,000 injuries and 63 deaths. The rioting lasted five days and produced an estimated $1 Billion in damages.
New York, NY, 2014
Protests began in the days following the death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold during an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. A grand jury did not indict the police officer involved, citing “no probable cause that a crime was committed.” The day after the grand jury result, protests resumed with over 223 protesters arrested on charges of disorderly conduct throughout New York City. Several hundred additional arrests were made as protests continued in the subsequent days.
Ferguson, MI, 2014 - 2015
Protests and riots began on August 10th, 2014, a day after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Violence resulted in 37 police officer injuries, 20 civilian hospitalizations, one shooting, 28 businesses looted, and several burned down.
A second wave of violence occurred beginning November 24, 2015 after a grand jury reached a decision not to indict the officer involved in the shooting. More than 25 buildings were burned, and the city saw mass gunfire, looting, vandalism, and destruction. Firefighters were forced to abandon response due to gunfire in multiple instances. Over 400 arrests were made before the violence subsided.
Finally, a third wave of violence occurred on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death on August 10th, 2015, resulting in 120 arrests. Events in Ferguson propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and rallied national attention and support, which would carry into subsequent events over the next several years.
Baltimore, MD, 2015
Protests in Baltimore erupted after the death of Freddie Gray, becoming violent on April 25th. Rioting and looting began after his funeral, causing the destruction of two patrol cars, 15 police officer injuries, and resulting in a state of emergency declaration. Protests spread to other cities across the United States, with hundreds of altercations with law enforcement and arrests reported in cities such as New York, Washington D.C., Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis, Miami, Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle.
By May 4th, protests and rioting began to subside, and by the 21st, a grand jury indicted six officers involved. May also saw a spike in homicides in Baltimore, making it the deadliest month in 40 years. Some officials reportedly attributed this to an increase in confidence among criminals following the protests and riots.
Trials against the officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray were subject to legal delays, including mistrials and appeals. As of July 27th, 2016, the prosecution had dropped all charges against the accused. Due to these delays, and other incidents arising in the interim, no significant protest or rioting activity was documented following these dismissals.
These four case studies demonstrate the ongoing trend of violent public reactions following high profile trials of law enforcement officers. Security leaders should anticipate that these trends will continue surrounding the trial of Derek Chauvin. With tensions high on both sides of this public debate, the potential for violence remains high. Events following this trial have the potential to be more disruptive and violent than prior case studies due to compounding factors such as the growing black lives matter movement, Covid-19 frustrations, economic uncertainty, and political agitation.
The trial is expected to last approximately four weeks, concluding by the end of April. Depending on the duration of jury deliberations, a verdict may be announced in the days or weeks leading up to the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, further amplifying the national temperature. Ample media coverage is expected and may contribute to a proliferation of protests and violence throughout the nation.
While we hope to see a peaceful response to the conclusion of these proceedings, it remains critical to prepare for all eventualities. Security departments must reassess their physical security infrastructure and staffing levels in preparation for potential violence. Access control and barricades should be evaluated, and additional personnel should be contemplated. In the event of violence, law enforcement may be strained and it is imperative that organizations maintain plans and processes to mitigate any security breaches while awaiting the arrival of law enforcement.