‘It’s not over, but it’s a beginning’: In George Floyd Square, verdict met with a lone cry, and then a roar

Andrew Buncombe
·5 min read
News spread fast and wide (Getty Images)
News spread fast and wide (Getty Images)

It started with a cry, a solitary woman shrieking with emotion and racing to press her face towards the nearest wall. “Yes!”

And then came more shouts and yells — “Yes!” — and others — “Arghh”.

Was it true, had it been confirmed? Had Derek Chauvin actually been convicted. Had he been found guilty on each count?

The crowd of people, their faces slicked with tears as they stared intently into their cellphones, provided the answer. “Yes. Guilty on all three counts!”

Pretty soon, that lone yell had become a roar.

There were many places across the United States, and around the world, that celebrated the conviction of Chauvin, the 45-year-old former officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, who was found guilty of the murder and manslaughter of George Floyd on a hot day last May.

Outside the Hennepin County Courthouse in central Minneapolis, surrounded by razor wire and watchful members of the National Guard, the civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton gave a prayer of thanks for the lawyers, and prosecutors, and for the family of Floyd, who had stood strong over the past 11 months.

He thanked too, the panel of six white jurors and six people of colour, who had delivered a unanimous verdict on all three charges, after little more than 10 hours of deliberation. It was a historic conviction, made all the more momentous because such events happened so rarely.

Yet, if there was any place that reacted most singularly to the news of the verdict, it was surely at the intersection of two Minneapolis streets where Floyd’s life was squeezed out of him, even as he warned that he “could not breathe”.

“It’s a good feeling, but it is just one case,” said Sanjeev Mishra, a 27-year-old healthcare worker who was among the crowds filling what has been named George Floyd Square. “The prosecution may have said this was only about one case, but the community sees this as a broader problem.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In some respects the intersection East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in the Powderhorn Park neighbourhood bears little resemblance to how it looked before the 46-year-old was murdered.

In addition to the name change, there is a large striking memorial in the shape of a fist, a mural of the man who was murdered, and a busy hive of activity of residents, activists, arts and tourists. Every day people leave flowers. Every day people come and stand and pause. There are coffee shops, and art stores.

In other ways it feels remarkably unchanged to how it did last year. The road surface, into which Chauvin pressed Floyd’s face, is as harsh and unyielding. The yellow street divider which came, unknowingly, to indicate a crime scene is the same deep rich yellow.

And the hoarding of Cup Foods, the food store where Floyd allegedly tried to use a counterfeit $20, and which led someone to call the police, is the same deep hue of sanguineous red it was when Floyd died within its view. On Tuesday afternoon, the shop was shut, as were many across the city.

“I feel good,” said Martin Wani, a 28-year-old student. “It’s beautiful news. I hope it is a step forward.”

Yet, it would be wrong to describe the scenes at the junction that also marks the location where four city neighbourhoods collide — Powderhorn Park, Central, Bryant and Bancroft — as a simple celebration.

While people applauded the news of Chauvin’s conviction — only the second such decision against a Minnesota police officer in the state — people stressed it was impossible and wrong to cheer too loudly, or for too long.

Derek Chauvin was just one police officer, and George Floyd was just one Black man killed at the hands of the police. It may have been true that the savage murder last Memorial Day, jolted some white Americans out of their centuries of stupor, and forced them to look inwards.

But the killing did not stop the killings. Barely a week ago — even as Chauvin’s trial was coming towards a conclusion — another African American man, more than two decades younger than George Floyd, lost his life at the hands of the police in an adjoining city. How could you think about a party, when Daunte Wright’s funeral was just two days away?

“People are tired, specifically Black people, and if it’s not one thing it’s another,” said a 28-year-old woman, Cristina. She said Chauvin’s conviction was a positive step, but it had come from the work of the “people from this community”.

One man said while the news had not fully sunk in, he was smiling.

Leon Lyons, 60, who has lived in the neighbourhood for more than 50 years, last year painted a mural of Floyd on the wall of Cup Foods. He was wearing a sweatshirt from the University of Minnesota.

“It’s hasn’t even really sunk in right now, I’m just celebrating. I’m just celebrating that I’ve been out here with 11 months in the cold, fighting for justice for somebody I didn’t know,” he said. “But what’s right is right.”

Kaylee Emo, a 23-year-old banker, removed her mask to reveal a smile, but said she was crying “happy tears”.

“It’s a happy smile because as terrible as it is, we’re finally getting what we deserve. You know ‘No justice, no peace’? We finally have the justice, we can hopefully start feeling the peace,” she said.

“So, it’s not over now. But this is the beginning. [Police killings] happen all the time. Usually, it doesn’t even make the news. It usually doesn’t. It’s just the fact that we have cameras now, that it’s seen more. But it’s still not being seen every time.

She added: “Yeah, it’s still a lot to face, but we can get there eventually.”