Wednesday April 21, 2021
By ANDREW HAZZARD, LOGAN CARROLL, BEN HOVLAND and BECKY Z. DERNBACH
Crowds celebrated outside the Hennepin County courthouse and in George Floyd Square. Politicians praised the verdict and repeated their commitment to racial justice.
Butchy and Rachel Austin react to the Chauvin trial verdict at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal
A few minutes after hearing the Derek Chauvin verdict, Ronnie Guy fired up the grill in the park in front of the Hennepin County Government Center. The jury had just found former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder. Some in the crowd were crying; others were calling out George Floyd’s name. Guy took this as a cue to start getting people fed.
“Calories don’t count today,” said a nearby volunteer from the community group Twin Cities Relief. Last summer, Guy and Twin Cities Relief started grilling for protesters and mourners at the corner of 38th and Chicago: the site that would soon turn into George Floyd Square. “We went 200 days straight,” Guy said.
Since then, some 150 volunteers have turned up to share hot meals at homeless encampments in Minneapolis; the group was back on the ground in Brooklyn Center last week after the police killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Guy focuses on the community, he said, and tries to avoid politics.
But today was a different scene–and a celebratory one. “Black lives matter,” he said. “Hearing the verdict, we’re getting somewhere.”
The law enforcement presence was different, too. Governor Tim Walz deployed the National Guard ahead of the verdict. After a Brooklyn Center police officer killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright last week, Twin Cities residents started to see military tanks parked everywhere from a boarded up Walmart in Brooklyn Center to a community garden in northeast Minneapolis.
But as the streets erupted in jubilation, those deployments were nowhere to be found.
Outside the courthouse and in George Floyd Square, crowds gathered, spoke out, wept, and danced. An older man downtown grooved to James Brown’s “The Payback.”
Alma Lora, a member of the Kalpulli Yaocenxli dance group performed in a spectacular embroidered black dress dress with an eruption of green plumage and then spoke to the crowd.
“We freaking won!” Lora said.
‘I feel like we’ve made some progress’
As a chilly evening set in, crowds migrated south to George Floyd Square. There was a celebratory atmosphere as hundreds of people passed through the community space. At its peak, the crowd reached more than 1,000 people.
A brass band played, a group of Buddhists meditated behind a community garden in the street, and people grilled food and passed pizzas through the crowd. Faith leaders held a prayer vigil, and led the crowd in “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Among the crowd were the crew of neighbors, caretakers, and volunteers who’d taken up a kind of second residence in George Floyd Square: tending to memorials, guiding visitors, and protecting Floyd’s memory. The verdict was especially emotional for some of them.
Butchy Austin, a neighbor, saw progress in the Chauvin verdict. “I grew up in this community; I live here still,” Austin said. Now, he said “My kids can be part of a community, or be part of a world that holds people accountable on both sides of the badge. I feel like we’ve made some progress.”
Despite the overall celebratory mood, many also noted the need for further progress.
Aki Abdi, 21, carried a “Justice for Dolal Idd” sign. During Ramadan, he has stayed at home, focusing on his prayers, he said. As Ramadan is a time to enjoin good and forbid evil–a passage from the Qu’ran, Aki said—he came to celebrate a good day. He called it a “step toward justice.”
Aki also came to “mention some unnamed names,” he said. When Dolal Idd and Isak Aden, both young Somali men, were killed by police officers in Minneapolis and Eagan, their deaths attracted more limited protests than those for George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Jamar Clark.
“It hurts that these brothers were never given the opportunity to be protested for,” he said. “The Somali community here has been a very big part of the George Floyd protests. Being viral on social media, organizing things, even using Cedar Riverside area as a base for community gatherings of support. We just ask that we get that same energy.”
He doesn’t want to compare one injustice to another, Aki said. “But when you’re Somali, you’re going to feel a type of way when your people are being prosecuted and killed, and nothing’s being said.”
At the Say Their Names Cemetery, an art installation depicting graves of people killed by police, the mood was quiet and somber. People walked among the gravestones to read the different names.
One African American man walked past, seeming to reflect on the verdict in Floyd’s case. “They know your name now,” he said.
Politicians praise the verdict: ‘A major step on the path towards justice and accountability’
Minnesota officials at every level of government were quick to react to the verdict.
Many praised it, while acknowledging that more work is needed to reform a law enforcement system that too frequently uses deadly force on Black men and other people of color.
“Today’s verdict is an important step forward for justice in Minnesota. The trial is over but our work has only begun,” Governor Tim Walz said in a statement. “True justice for George only comes through real, systemic change to prevent this from happening again. And the tragic death of Daunte Wright serves as a heartbreaking reminder that we still have so much more work to do to get there.”
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, whose 5th congressional district includes Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, where Daunte Wright died, said the conviction represents “a major step on the path towards justice and accountability.”
“While today’s conviction is a necessary condition of justice, it is not sufficient,” Ilhan said in a statement. “For centuries, Black people have faced violence at the hands of the state in our country. For centuries, systemic inequalities in the form of housing, income, education, and criminal justice have plagued our country—holding us back from our creed of liberty and justice for all. Let this be a turning point, where we finally create a society that reflects the belief that all men and women are created equal.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey drew criticism on social media for his tweet about the conviction. “George Floyd came to Minneapolis to better his life,” Frey wrote. “But ultimately his life will have bettered our city.”
Some felt that the statement implied Floyd sacrificed himself for the improvement of the city.
“Justice has been rendered in this case but we still have a long way to go to achieve true justice in our city and in our country,” Frey said at a press conference following the convictions.
Frey has been under scrutiny from those in the “Defund the Police” movement for pushing back on major staff cuts to the department. While he supported diverting about $8 million in police funding toward social services, the mayor has been steadfast in his support for Police Chief Medaria Arrodondo. He is seeking reelection in November.
He was joined by city council Vice President Andrea Jenkins (Ward 8), who represents the area where Floyd was killed. She said the verdict was a step toward justice and equality.
“It’s about accountability and it has illuminated the inequities in our public safety system in this country, the inequities our Black citizens have been talking about for a very, very long time,” Jenkins said.
Council Member Alondra Cano (Ward 9) said the community needed “this sliver of justice.”
“We are standing here to say that we are committed to not losing one more life under these circumstances,” Cano said.
Minnesota legislators from immigrant backgrounds praised the verdict while calling for more police reforms statewide. Several of them have made reforming law enforcement a priority in the current legislative session, but say they’ve been stymied by the Republican-controlled Senate.
“May this moment of catharsis provide peace to the family of George Floyd and to our community tonight,” State Senator Omar Fateh (DFL-Minneapolis) tweeted.
“We must now get to work in changing our laws and reforming our systems of policing,” State Representative Jay Xiong (DFL-St. Paul) wrote.
Representative Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center) has seen her hometown become a center for protest and calls for police reform since Daunte Wright was shot and killed on April 11.
“We saw justice served, but it does not relieve the fact that George Floyd died,” Vang tweeted.
U.S. Representative Pete Stauber, a Republican who represents northeast Minnesota, thanked the jurors in a statement on Twitter.
“These are not easy times, and it is my greatest hope that we all now find the strength to unify our communities and move forward together. Our nation’s leaders especially have an obligation to turn down the temperature and reject rhetoric that might incite violence,” Stauber wrote.
Minnesota’s U.S. senators both called for national police reform in statements marking the verdict. Last summer, after Floyd was murdered, the two Democrats sent a formal request to the then-Trump Administration Department of Justice to investigate the Minneapolis Police Department.
“Convicting Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd is a moment of accountability, and also a moment to recommit ourselves to the movement for racial justice his tragic murder sparked,” Senator Tina Smith said in a statement.
Her colleague, Senator Amy Klobuchar, said the conviction was right, and urged passage of a federal bill mandating police reforms.
“It’s long past time the Senate moves forward and passes police reform to hold officers accountable for misconduct, increase transparency in policing practices, and improve police conduct and training, including banning chokeholds. This is the urgent task before us—not for tomorrow, not for next year, but for now,” Klobuchar said.