Chauvin Is Sentenced to 22.5 Years. But Who Killed Winston Smith?

Chauvin Is Sentenced to 22.5 Years. But Who Killed Winston Smith?

Chauvin Is Sentenced to 22.5 Years. But Who Killed Winston Smith?

In early June, law enforcement in Minneapolis killed a 32-year-old Black man named Winston Smith, three miles from where George Floyd was murdered.


Minneapolis, Minn.—Hours before Derek Chauvin is set to be sentenced, George Floyd Square is filled with families. More than two months have passed since a crowd gathered in the protest zone for Chauvin’s guilty verdict—a court ruling that, despite a staggering amount of video footage and personal and expert testimony, was far from a given. The square was held as a pedestrian-only space until recently.

During the year that George Floyd Square had formal barricades, organizers sought to create a semiautonomous zone that centered Black liberation and employed a different approach to concepts like community and safety. They’ve never seen the court of law as the exclusive, much less primary, avenue for justice. Hence their occupation of the space. Hence their presentation of Justice Resolution 001 to the city—24 demands far more wide-ranging than putting a single officer behind bars.

On Friday morning, a steady stream of cars enters the traffic roundabout in George Floyd Square. In the center of the roundabout, a tall Black Power fist still stands, surrounded by a garden. A small Black boy walks around the garden with his family. “Police kill kids too?” he asks.

During Derek Chauvin’s trial in the spring, which began 10 months after George Floyd’s death, the Hennepin County Government Center was barricaded, guarded by chain link and barbed wire that has since been taken down. Still, the building was closed to the public today, given the occasion. Judge Peter Cahill was tasked, some believe, with administering the proper level of justice for the lynching of George Floyd, which Chauvin led.

Cahill, a 62-year-old former prosecutor and public defender, was asked by the defense to sentence Chauvin to probation. The prosecution asked for 30 years. Only one other police officer has been convicted of an on-duty murder in the state of Minnesota. Mohamed Noor, a Black officer who killed a white woman in 2017, was sentenced to 12.5 years. Nationally, just 10 officers besides Chauvin have been convicted of murder while on duty since 2005.

Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. While state guidelines for second-degree murder recommend a prison sentence of between 12 and 15 years, the prosecution sought a longer one given numerous aggravating factors: Chauvin had a badge. He was “particularly cruel.” The crime involved a group. Children were present.

In the weeks following George Floyd’s murder, local organizers asked community members what justice looks like to them. Their responses were turned into the 24 demands in Justice Resolution 001, all of which were to be met before the streets saw anything other than foot traffic. One of the demands: Leave the barricades up until all four officers involved in Floyd’s murder had seen their day in court. That’s almost a year off. Jury selection for the trial of the three remaining officers is scheduled to begin on March 8, 2022—one year to the day after Chauvin’s trial began.

The demands were not met before the bulldozers were brought in. They came before dawn. On June 3, city workers and a community outreach group removed the barricades and some memorials to open George Floyd Square to car traffic. The outreach group, called Agape, has a contract with the Office of Violence Prevention, which received an additional $1.1 million in funding, diverted from police, in the last budget cycle—the closest thing to “defunding” that Minneapolis has experienced.

As word spread of the forced reopening, a crowd of community defenders emerged. Some organizers began to add new plants to the garden in the roundabout. Others constructed makeshift barricades from any materials they could find: old appliances, lawn chairs, plastic tables, a fire pit. At 8 am, the group migrated to the Peoples’ Way, a gas station turned organizing hub. There was a morning meeting to be held—business as usual.

Hours later, about three miles away, a Black man named Winston Smith was killed by police in Minneapolis. He was 32 years old.

Shortly after 1 pm that day, Smith posted a photo of his drinks on Instagram, tagging his location: Stella’s Fish Cafe in Uptown, one of Minneapolis’s more bustling areas. One hour later, he was dead. At least seven unmarked police cars cornered Smith in his vehicle on the top floor of the parking garage across from Stella’s. Smith died from multiple gunshot wounds at 2:11 pm, according to the Hennepin County medical examiner. A homicide.

Smith, a father of three, was killed by undercover agents with a task force led by US Marshals. When he was first killed, the Star Tribune falsely reported he was a murder suspect, then apologized. His warrant was for a gun possession charge. Law enforcement claimed they recovered a handgun in his car, but a woman with Smith said she never saw one in the vehicle. Officials say there is no body cam footage and have refused to release names of the officers involved. No names, no trial.

At Derek Chauvin’s sentencing, the first victim-impact statement comes by video from George Floyd’s daughter. Gianna is 7 years old; she wears a headband with a bow on top. Her face fills the whole frame. She says she misses her father.

Next, George Floyd’s nephew takes the stand, wearing a jacket and a red tie. “You may see us cry, but the full extent of our pain and trauma will never be seen with the naked eye,” he tells the judge. George Floyd’s brothers each cry on the stand.

The sentencing is being livestreamed, as the trial was, by the Star Tribune and Court TV. The latter’s tagline: “Your front row seat to justice.”

During the hearing, Chauvin wears a gray tie and jacket, a light blue surgical mask. His head is shaved. His lawyer reminds the judge to consider mitigating factors as well as aggravating ones. Chauvin declines to give a formal statement to the court, foreshadowing an appeal, though he briefly offers condolences to Floyd’s family.

The court takes a 15-minute recess before the judge announces Chauvin’s fate. The whole hearing lasts less than 90 minutes. Cahill keeps his comments brief, citing his 22-page memo and reminding people that a sentence is a legal decision, not an emotional one.

Chauvin is sentenced to 22 and a half years.

When George Floyd was murdered, Derek Chauvin faced immediate international scrutiny. In the wake of Winston Smith’s death, activists are fighting for local attention. A small group of protesters covered the sidewalks and side street leading to the parking garage with bright red paint. Nearby, they started a community space, centered around a garden.

For several nights, some have blocked traffic from passing through the intersection near Stella’s Fish Cafe, creating barricades with whatever they could find. Often, they have been met by militarized police. Last night, officers knelt on the neck of a Black man while arresting him.

Two days after Smith’s death, a white supremacist barreled through the barricades in his Jeep, smashing the skull of Deona Marie Erickson, a 31-year-old mother of two. Just before she was killed, protesters had started a game of Red Light, Green Light. The driver has been charged with murder.

At George Floyd Square, smaller Black Power fists have been erected where each barricade used to be. In the garden, between plants, are signs—commemorations, in various colors. A red one for Daunte Wright, a Black 20-year-old killed by local police during the Chauvin trial. A pink sign for Ma’Khia Bryant, a Black girl, a child, killed by Columbus police the day of the guilty verdict. Yellow for George Floyd. Red for Winston Smith.

The same signs hang on the fence around the garden near the parking garage where Smith died. The top floor of the garage is a memorial; flowers have been laid on the concrete and dried by the sun. Messages decorate the space, including stickers that read:

Winston Smith Was Assassinated

In the grassy space off the street below, the garden is growing—herbs and plants sprouting from newly built flower beds. This week, the red paint on the streets was removed, the ground literally whitewashed. By the time Chauvin is sentenced, though, the street is red again. Against the blood-red background, hand-painted letters say:


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