On Tuesday afternoon, the grassy promenade outside the heavily fortified Hennepin County Government Center was a hive of milling demonstrators, gawkers and press zig-zagging about the knoll, all surrounded by barbed-wire fences and under the watch of National Guard members.
If the fences and armed military forces sent a strong message, activists returned one in kind: “If George Floyd doesn’t get [justice] …” a man in a bullhorn bellowed to the amassed crowd. “Shut it down,” the crowd shouted back.
“If he [Derek Chauvin] is not found guilty on all charges, my city will burn again, even with the National Guard,” said 46-year-old Minneapolis native Eddie Austin, gesturing toward the guard presence. “I don’t want it to happen, but what do you expect?”
“I’ve been texting people, asking them that women and children stay home,” said another activist, who wouldn’t give his name. “Because we don’t know what we are going to do.”
But just after 4 p.m., as the news came down from Judge Peter Cahill, through livestreams, social media feeds and text inboxes, people started to scream:
Former Minneapolis Police officer Chauvin was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. Chauvin now faces up to 40 years in prison.
It was an outcome that spurred outbursts of joy and celebration — and action. After a few moments of cheering and flag-waving, the crowd migrated from the green space in front of the Hennepin County Government Center onto the surrounding streets, halting traffic that had, until that point, been passing unimpeded.
A DJ set up a turntable on top of a car outfitted with huge speakers as chants became accompanied by thumping hip hop and people dancing in the street. An Indigenous group circled up to perform a dance.
Someone with a bullhorn announced: “We got justice, but we are still in the street because this is about Black people having a voice.”
“It just shows you how abnormal it is,” Danny Alex, 40, said of the rare conviction of a white police officer for killing a Black man. “It happened because of the protests.”
“I still can’t believe it,” said Nupol Kiazolu, an activist who made the trip to Minneapolis from New York City for the trial after having first visited the city during the unrest last summer.
“I’m just so proud of my generation,” said the 20-year-old. “So many people doubted us. We rose up and led this movement,” she said, tears streaming from her eyes. “And this is the result.”
A group meandered from near the government center, up 6th Street and to Marquette Avenue, passing blocks of still-boarded-up buildings — a reminder of the residual tension from last summer’s unrest as well as the ongoing demonstrations over the killing of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police officer just nine days prior to the Chauvin verdict.
“I want to stay,” a boy told his mother as she grabbed his arm before they turned against the flow of the march to leave.
But the march continued, without intervention from law enforcement, turning down streets seemingly at random. Some in the group decided to head toward George Floyd Square, at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, to join others who had gathered there to hear the verdict.
At the square, a woman cried, “Le, le, le, le!” into a microphone, letting loose the high-pitched, warbling East African call known as ululation. She asked everyone to join her. “This is what community looks like,” she said, echoing the refrain adopted by many speakers.
Another theme in the post-verdict scene, both in front of the courthouse and at Floyd Square, was the sense of optimism measured by a sense of history.
“I feel like it’s a moderate amount of celebration,” said Unny Nambudiripad.
The 44-year-old Minneapolis resident said he came to Floyd Square with his friends to memorialize the justice he believes Floyd received, but also to make the statement that more work needs to be done to thwart police brutality and injustices in the legal system for people of color. “We’re here to say, ‘Hey, we still care, and we’re still going to do something about this.’”