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News Brief: Derek Chauvin Trial, Suez Canal Blocked, Gun Violence

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today begins the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ten months ago, Chauvin, who is white, was filmed with his knee on the neck of a Black man, George Floyd, who died. That killing set off months of protests around this country, around the world. Last night, Floyd's brother Philonise spoke at a vigil in Minneapolis.

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PHILONISE FLOYD: The officer who had his knee on my brother's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, he had a smirk on his face as he tortured my brother to death as his soul left his body.

KING: NPR's Adrian Florido is in Minneapolis covering the trial this week. Good morning, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What is the mood like there?

FLORIDO: It can only be described as tense, I think. Everyone here understands the magnitude of this moment. I went to that vigil with the Floyd family last night at a church about a mile from where Floyd was killed and the Reverend Al Sharpton was also there. And he said that this trial is so important because until now, it's been so rare for police to be tried and convicted for killing Black people. Here's Sharpton last night.

AL SHARPTON: So tomorrow begins the trial for not only Chauvin but the trial of the ability of the criminal justice system in this country to hold police accountable. Chauvin is in the courtroom, but America's on trial.

(CHEERING)

FLORIDO: He also warned, Noel, that, you know, he expects during this trial for Chauvin's attorney to blame George Floyd for his own death as part of the defense. So this morning, Sharpton and the Floyd family and other leaders are going to be gathering outside of the downtown courthouse where Chauvin will be on trial, and they're going to take a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that Chauvin was seen kneeling into Floyd's neck on that video.

KING: OK, so that's what it's going to look like outside of the courthouse. What do we expect inside the courtroom?

FLORIDO: Well, today will be the first time that Derek Chauvin sits before the jury that will decide his fate on the three charges he faces - second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. We also expect the prosecution and the defense to offer their opening statements today, previewing the arguments they're going to make over the next four or so weeks of trial. The opening statement for the prosecution is going to be delivered by a lawyer named Jerry Blackwell. He founded the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers and is one of several private attorneys that the state attorney general, Keith Ellison, brought on to help prosecute this case. Derek Chauvin's attorney is named Eric Nelson. He's an attorney known for his representation of police officers.

KING: And, Adrian, what do we know about the arguments that the prosecution and the defense will make?

FLORIDO: Well, there are at least two major questions at the center of this case. The first one is what killed George Floyd? Was it Derek Chauvin's knee or was it something else? And the second question is, was there improper use of force during Floyd's arrest? So the prosecution is expected to argue that Chauvin's knee did kill George Floyd and that there was improper use of force. And as far as the defense, we expect, based on court filings and pretrial hearings that Chauvin's attorney is going to argue that Floyd's medical history and the drugs that an autopsy found in his system were to blame for his death.

KING: OK, and so after the first day, how does the rest of the week unfold?

FLORIDO: Well, the prosecution presents its case first. That could take about two weeks. And the defense will get to present its case for about two weeks. There's a long list of potential witnesses, medical experts, pathologists, psychiatrists, bystanders. That's inside the courtroom. And outside the courtroom, we expect protests and demonstrations, people watching this historic trial very closely.

KING: NPR's Adrian Florido in Minneapolis. Thank you, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Noel.

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KING: All right. The Ever Given is partially afloat this morning.

MARTIN: The Ever Given, of course, is that giant container ship that had been blocking the Suez Canal for almost a week, disrupting traffic in what is one of the world's most important shipping lanes.

KING: NPR's Jackie Northam has been following this removal operation from the start, and she's with us now. Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What happened?

NORTHAM: Well, tugboats and dredgers worked throughout the weekend, you know, moving millions of tons of sand and mud to try to dislodge the ship from the canal bank. And on Saturday, they were able to move the rudder and start the engine. But, you know, a lot of hope was placed on a high tide yesterday, that it would help lift and partially float this enormous ship. And that's exactly what happened. You can see on social media, salvage crews cheering and tugboats blasting their horns when the Ever Given began to move. The Suez Canal Authority says the ship has been refloated by about 80% and that its stern has been moved to more than 300 feet from the shore. So instead of sitting sideways across the canal, the ship is more parallel with the bank. And salvage crews and tugboats will be back again today when the next high tide peaks this morning. And it's due to reach more than six feet, and hopefully at that point, the ship can be positioned in the middle of the narrow waterway.

KING: OK, so it's looking good. Now, in the meantime, there are all of these other ships - 350 NPR is reporting as of this moment - that have just been logjammed behind it. Can they move now?

NORTHAM: No, not yet. The ship is still not floating on its own. And the Canal Authority says it needs to be completely freed first. And again, hopefully that will happen with this next high tide. But even at that point, salvage crews are going to come in again and they're going to have to take a closer look at the ship and particularly its bow to see if there's any damage. So traffic is not going to resume right away. And as you say, there are well over 300 ships waiting to pass through the canal. And many have been there sitting idle for the better part of a week. And, you know, time truly is money in the shipping industry. And over the past few days, some ship owners have had to make the decision, do they wait it out or do they reroute and go around South Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, which means a two to four week delay and also adds massive cost to the journey. But at least they would be moving. And some ships have done that. You know, and again, there's no indication when the Suez Canal will actually open again. And there is this huge backlog of ships waiting to go through.

KING: The money here is significant, as you pointed out. You've been reporting on how the shipping industry was already in a really tight spot because of the pandemic and the economic slowdown that accompanied it. How important or consequential have these six days of a stuck Suez Canal actually been?

NORTHAM: Well, as you mentioned earlier, the Suez Canal is really one of the world's busiest trade routes. And normally $9 billion of trade goes through it every day. So the math on that is pretty significant.

KING: Sure.

NORTHAM: And it's been completely shut down. You know, global trade was already disrupted because of the pandemic. You had congestion at major ports, shortage of containers and now this. The other thing, too, is over the past week, there have been questions about just the sheer size of these ships. The Ever Given is enormous. And there are even bigger ships than the Ever Given being built right now. And they're going to have to navigate these narrow waters of the canal in the future.

KING: NPR's Jackie Northam. Thank you, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

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KING: When President Biden was campaigning for office, he said that he was going to make gun violence one of his top priorities.

MARTIN: Yeah. Back in February of 2020, Biden spoke to a group of gun control activists in Las Vegas.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As president, I promise you, I will get these weapons of war off the street again and out of our communities.

MARTIN: And yet there have been two high-profile mass shootings this month in the U.S. and some people, including victims' families, wonder why this doesn't seem to be higher on President Biden's agenda.

KING: NPR political reporter Juana Summers has been looking into this. Good morning, Juana.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: OK, so we are coming off a week in which we had a very high-profile mass shooting. And yet the president says his focus this week will be infrastructure. How's that being received by proponents of gun control?

SUMMERS: Yeah, frankly, it's being met with just a lot of impatience and frustration because, as a candidate, Joe Biden is someone who described the rates of gun violence in this country as an epidemic. And he does have this long history of pushing for changes to the nation's gun laws. So these groups saw him as an ally, and now they feel like the urgency that they felt from candidate Biden has been missing from President Biden. Last week at a press conference, a number of advocates called on Biden to act now. One of them was Manny Oliver. His son, Joaquin, was killed in that deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Oliver said he remembered meeting with Biden. And in that conversation, they talked about the grief that one experiences when a loved one dies. And then he addressed Biden directly.

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MANNY OLIVER: I will be the father of Joaquin regardless who is the president of the United States. But as long as you are inside the White House, I need to go to you and ask you to go back to that conversation that we had and start doing something.

KING: Biden has called on the Senate to pass two gun control bills that passed the House earlier this month. Could that lead to change in the real world?

SUMMERS: Yeah, so the House did pass two bills aimed at strengthening and expanding background checks for gun buyers. These bills are both very popular with voters across the political spectrum, but they're not likely to pass the Senate. But what's more, I want to add here that I have been talking to people who are focused on community violence prevention efforts for weeks before these mass shootings. And they say that measures like these or even the assault weapons ban that President Biden is calling for, while well-intended, would not meaningfully impact the kind of violence their communities deal with every single day. They instead point to this campaign promise that Biden made. He said he wanted to dedicate as much as $900 million to community violence prevention programs in a number of cities with high rates of gun violence. And advocates have met with Susan Rice, who heads up the Domestic Policy Council, and Cedric Richmond from the White House Office of Public Engagement about that promise. And they are calling for scores more money to go to those kinds of initiatives to try to solve this problem.

KING: And how is the White House responding to this criticism that it's not doing enough at this moment?

SUMMERS: Yeah. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said the president really understands why these people are so frustrated and that that frustration should be directed at the members of Congress who do not support bills like the ones we are just talking about. She also said last week that there would be more efforts by Biden and the administration, including in the form of immediate executive actions, but she didn't provide any sort of timetable.

KING: OK. NPR's Juana Summers. Thanks for your reporting, Juana.

SUMMERS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "FEELINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.