MINNEAPOLIS – George Floyd Square, the memorial at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue named for the Black man who died there, was eerily quiet Tuesday morning. Balloons and brightly colored signs, paintings and dead and artificial flowers glistened in the rising sun. Dirty and weather-worn stuffed animals, still grinning, stood guard. Everywhere I looked, I saw Floyd’s face.
Just three miles down the road at the Hennepin County Government Center, National Guard troops stood behind concrete blockades and a gargantuan chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. As jury selection began for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing Floyd, a handful of protesters gathered across the street, eyes locked on the building as if they could witness the court proceedings from the outside.
I feel so much sadness here, such profound anxiety. I didn’t think it would hit me as hard as it did. But standing in front of the Cup Foods neighborhood market where Floyd lay with a knee on his neck and begging for his life, images broadcast around the world of that sorrowful May day came flooding back.
I came to Minneapolis to write about the people who live here. I came because this historic trial means so much to this community and this country. Will this be the one? Will Americans, particularly Black people, finally experience even a modicum of the justice and peace they spent a summer – or a lifetime – seeking?
Chauvin, 44, is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. An appeal on whether to add a third-degree murder charge is pending. Last Memorial Day, Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes after officers were called to the Cup Foods. Floyd had been accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
“We all saw the video. He was murdered.”
“The whole world is watching this case.”
“Say his name! GEORGE FLOYD.”
“We are watching and we are fighting for him.”
Protesters outside the courthouse took turns on a portable microphone sharing their thoughts, their frustrations. Not one witness has even taken the stand, yet they’re already preparing for an acquittal.
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“I have very little faith in a system that’s obviously broken, that continues to make excuses for itself and that continues to assess its own issues and say everything is fine,” Minneapolis resident Jo Quinones, 25, told me. “I just don’t have much faith.”
For Quinones, the fight for accountability when police use lethal force, is personal. Her cousin, Brian Quinones, was fatally shot in September 2019 after leading Minneapolis-area officers on a chase while streaming it live on Facebook. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to charge the officers.
“I have to stand up,” said Quinones, who works in medical administration for a hospital.
Emily McGuire, 24, moved to Minneapolis from Iowa to pursue a master’s degree in public health. She decided to live downtown, as protesters took to the street every night. She joined in from time to time.
In the past few weeks, as concrete barriers were erected and buildings boarded up, McGuire found all the activity “daunting.” She’s worried for her adopted city, what an acquittal could bring, but she believes there is power in fighting for what you believe.
George Floyd’s death, a great Minneapolis tragedy, has forced conversations about systemic racism and sweeping police reform. The video of his death opened eyes and broke hearts. Every protester I spoke to Tuesday said there’s a need for seismic change. And it can start in the building where Derek Chauvin will sit for weeks during trial.
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“There’s justice versus accountability,” McGuire said. “There’s no justice in the system. I think a lot of people have come to realize that from the past year of protests and social movements. I think there’s accountability and it can be reached. But in terms of justice, I think the system can’t really give out justice.
“The system gives us what we think is justice – what we’ve been told is justice,” she continued. “And I think we’re to a point where we realized that that’s not the truth.”
What is justice? Will it be served inside Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill’s courtroom? Can this city, so weary, find some peace?