Questions about the city’s future hung in the air Tuesday, but for one night many Minneapolis residents let the weight off their shoulders.
MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The area around the Hennepin County Courthouse erupted in cheers, honks and music Tuesday after the announcement that fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had been found guilty of all charges for the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man in his custody.
Around the Twin Cities, residents from all walks of life breathed a sigh of relief.
Chauvin’s second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter convictions represent only the second occasion in American history of a police officer being convicted for the on-duty murder of a Black civilian.
The first stemmed from Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke’s 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Chauvin is also the second officer ever to be convicted of murder for a killing in the line of duty in Minnesota history, preceded only by Minneapolis Police Department colleague Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of third-degree murder in 2019 for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszcyk Damond, a white woman.
The city was tense in the lead-up to that rare verdict, as activists hoped for the nearly unheard-of and other residents worried that a not-guilty verdict would spark riots like those seen in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
Public officials from Attorney General Keith Ellison, who prosecuted the case, to President Joe Biden expressed relief at the verdict.
“We can’t stop here,” Biden said. He called for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would end qualified immunity for police officers, outlaw racial profiling in law enforcement, ban no-knock warrants and chokeholds and institute a national police misconduct registry.
A couple of miles southwest of the courthouse at George Floyd Square, the semi-autonomous zone put in place at the site of the murder, a party quickly got underway. With music, fireworks and a large television camera presence, the mood was cheery but a little muted as compared to the block-party-like celebration that followed an announcement by city council members that they would “dismantle” the Minneapolis Police Department.
Visitors paid respect to memorials for Floyd and hundreds of others killed by police, including a few public figures. The Reverend Jesse Jackson made a visit to the square, leading revelers in a call-and-response. “Don’t give up. Keep hope alive. Long live George Floyd.”
As night fell, the party revved up, starting with a brass band and eventually progressing to fireworks and a dance party. Neighbors brought babies and young children to see the giant raised-fist memorial that sits at the center of the square and to mingle, but the celebrations were accompanied by a sense of mourning.
TV cameras surrounded the site, and several reporters did stand-ups around the fist, but most of the mourners and revelers were wary of talking to press. As Floyd’s place of death, the square has developed a reverence around it; some of the square’s keepers made it clear at an earlier visit that while press is welcome, they should treat it as a sacred spot.
Mayor Jacob Frey gave a press conference elsewhere in the city, praising the verdict and confirming that while there was no curfew in the city that night, he’d leave the option on the table. He also pushed forward his long-stated goal of reopening the square to traffic. Frey has said that the conclusion of the Chauvin trial would be the city’s cue to re-open the square, though with a curb bump-out to prevent vehicles from rolling over the spot of Floyd’s murder.
The Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, which funded Chauvin’s defense and has habitually stoked racial tension in the city, deferred to the jury’s verdict.
“There are no winners in this case, and we respect the jury’s decision. We need the political pandering to stop and the race-baiting of elected officials to stop,” the federation said in a statement. “In addition, we need to stop the divisive comments, and we all need to do better to create a Minneapolis we all love.”
The federation then addressed Minneapolis residents directly, saying that it “stands with you and not against you.”
North of Minneapolis in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, Mayor Mike Elliott announced an 11 p.m. curfew. Several protesters went from the courthouse to the Brooklyn Center Police Department to continue protests of the April 11 killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by the head of the city’s police union, 26-year force veteran Kimberly Potter. Potter faces a second-degree manslaughter charge in Wright’s death, but activists have called on the charging attorney, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, to add a murder charge.
Protests in Brooklyn Center were muted Tuesday night, possibly in part because of the party at George Floyd Square. 11 p.m. came and went without much fanfare.