The former police officer charged with killing George Floyd and three others accused of abetting the African American's murder were to appear in court Monday, in a case that has touched off a global reckoning over racial inequality.
Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old white officer who was filmed pressing his knee into Floyd's neck, was scheduled to be the first to appear at 1715 GMT by videolink from the high security prison where he is being held.
Chauvin, whose bail has been set at a million dollars, is charged with second degree murder for the death of 46-year-old Floyd, who was unarmed and handcuffed as Chauvin kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and will appear in person in court.
The first two were released on a bail of $750,000.
The four former police officers, who face up to 40 years behind bars, will have the chance to plead guilty or not guilty at the hearing.
The court could also rule on whether they will stand trial separately or together.
The four men detained Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis on suspicion of trying to use a fake $20 bill in a store.
"I can't breathe," Floyd said on several occasions before losing consciousness.
Chauvin ignored bystanders who begged him to remove his knee, while one of them filmed the incident on a cell phone. The footage went viral, triggering the largest wave of protests demanding racial equality and police reform in decades.
- Police reforms -
Anger exploded in the streets of major cities across the United States as the justice system was seen as slow to react to the killing.
The police department sacked the four officers but the Minneapolis attorney general's office waited four days before charging Chauvin with manslaughter, and did not initially charge his three colleagues.
The case was then reassigned to the Minnesota state attorney general's office.
An independent autopsy later revealed that Floyd died of suffocation due to the police officer's pressure on his neck and cited the cause of death as "homicide."
The charges against Chauvin were increased to second-degree homicide and his three colleagues were also charged with "aiding and abetting" the murder.
Although Floyd's family welcomed the new charges, protests and clashes with the police continued to rock the country.
The demands of the protesters grew from mere justice for Floyd to calls for sweeping reform of law enforcement, an end to racial inequality and for the US to acknowledge its history of slavery and racial injustice.
The demands bore fruit when some police departments banned "choke hold" restraints during arrests, while others pledged to allow access to records of previous complaints against officers who find themselves accused of abuse of power.
The Minneapolis city council even decided to disband its troubled force and rebuild its law enforcement from scratch.
Progress on the federal level has been far more halting, however.
President Donald Trump, in his campaign for re-election, has focused on the violent fringes of the protests, and on damage caused by demonstrators who have at times torn down statues of Confederate generals who fought for the slave-holding South in America's Civil War.
The president has frequently made calls on social media for "law and order."
© 2020 AFP