If a city had a pulse, Minneapolis’ collective heart would have been racing.
Hours before the former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, public radio hosts spoke of a city that has already endured collective trauma. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, in a Monday press conference with the mayors of the state’s twin major cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, said that anxiety levels in the city were high—and should be, because the work necessary to create real equality and justice has not been done. In a downtown Minneapolis bar, a woman serving drinks pointed to the boards already covering every one of the business’ more than 7-ft.-tall plate glass windows. By Tuesday morning, almost everything in this city was boarded up, closed for business and, in some cases, behind temporary fences or razor wire.
“I keep hearing people say how stressed they are this week,” Walz said during the press conference, before contrasting that sentiment with those expressed in a conversation he had had with a Black mom. “She said she feels like this every time her son leaves the house.”
Even as celebrations blossomed outside the courthouse and beyond, where activists applauded the rare example of a white police officer held accountable for the murder of a Black civilian, the tension continued to simmer.
According to an analysis for TIME by Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, only 44 law-enforcement officers have been convicted of murder or manslaughter for an on-duty shooting from 2005 until this March. Stinson’s study identified at least ten more officers charged in choking deaths; none were convicted of murder or manslaughter. Chauvin, then, stands alone.
A few hours after the jury went to deliberations Monday afternoon, a crowd amassed outside the fenced perimeter of the Hennepin County Government Center, a building containing the courthouse where Chauvin was tried, and began to march.
There, in the assembly, were people carrying signs representing a seemingly innumerable series of causes. The text ranged from Justice for George Floyd and Daunte Wright, Rest In Power to Please Vaccinate, Please Wear a Mask and the hook of an iconic 1988 N.W.A. song. But one now-ubiquitous phrase was among the most common: Black Lives Matter.
In the crowd were men like Frederick King, 64, who migrated from Chicago for a job and has now lived for 25 years in Minneapolis, a city to which his own ancestors also moved, for the very same reasons, from the Deep South.
“I’m here,” King said, “because this is not my first rodeo. What happened to George Floyd has happened so many times it is a wonder, although I do thank God, that I am here. I’m out here today trying to make things better for my children and my grandchildren.”
The message on King’s mask: I Love Black People.
When the march came to a halt, activists, many of whom have marched and organized and protested and demanded the conviction that they could not yet know would come, began to speak through a bull horn and microphone brought to the street. Among them was Nekima Levy Armstrong, a Minneapolis attorney, activist and former city council candidate, who echoed the governor’s assessment that all fear, all anxiety, all worry in this city is not, indeed, equal.
“White people’s trauma is real, but it is related to the uprising and property damage, fear that more is to come,” she said. “But there are only some of us, Black people in this community, who have been living in a perpetual state of trauma. This is Minnesota, Jim Crow North, where we have been living under siege without so much as comfort that justice will prevail.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who traveled unexpectedly to Minneapolis this week, arrived in a Black SUV, exited with the help of aides and addressed the marchers. He spoke of Floyd’s death as a potentially transformative moment for America and the trial, if Chauvin is convicted, as the beginning of a possible redemption.
“There is power in death,” Jackson said. “Never forget that. I once asked Rosa Parks why she did not just get up and move [to the back of the bus]. She said she considered it and then, she thought about Emmett Till.”
On Tuesday night, as people in Minneapolis and cities across the country prepared to take to the streets, once again, citizens could only hope that whatever demonstrations followed the guilty verdict would be met not with force, but with peace.
The verdict had released some of the pressure that had permeated the Minnesota city, but even such momentous news would not relieve it entirely, not after it had spent so long building up. For that, more work remained to be done.
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