were fired by the Police Department shortly after Mr. Floyd’s death, and the other three face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

“There’s more to the scene than just what the officers see in front of them,” he said. “There are people behind them. There are people across the street. There are cars stopping, people yelling.”

The chaotic surroundings caused “the officers to divert their attention from the care of Mr. Floyd to the threat that was growing in front of them,” Mr. Nelson continued, suggesting that those dynamics played a factor in how his client treated Mr. Floyd.

As the trial began in Hennepin County District Court on Monday, a nervous energy pervaded downtown Minneapolis, where several government buildings, including the courthouse, were encased with concrete slabs and metal fencing. A helicopter whirred overhead for much of the sunny, windswept day.

Reporters gathered on a lawn just south of the courthouse, where members of Mr. Floyd’s family and their lawyers held a news conference before the trial started.

“They say trust the system,” said Terrence Floyd, one of Mr. Floyd’s brothers. “Well, this is your chance to show us we can trust you.”

Many supporters of the Floyd family said they had seen earlier cases in which video evidence was not enough to secure a conviction against the police. Law enforcement officers have recently killed about 1,000 people a year, experts say, but fewer than 200 officers have been charged over the past 15 years; fewer than 50 have been convicted.

“Let us be clear that it is not just Chauvin on trial,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been working with the Floyd family. “The United States’ ability to deal with police accountability is on trial.”

John Eligon, Tim Arango and Shaila Dewan reported from Minneapolis, and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York.

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