Chauvin Trial Verdict: All Roads Lead to 38th & Chicago

Chauvin Trial Verdict: All Roads Lead to 38th & Chicago

Chauvin Trial Verdict: All Roads Lead to 38th & Chicago

After 10 hours of deliberation, the jury found the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd guilty of murder. But the fight for justice is not over.


Minneapolis, Minn.—When the verdict is announced in the Derek Chauvin trial, George Floyd Square is full. The air has a slight nip to it, a stark contrast to the weekend’s warmth, and the official workday is not yet over. Still, on Tuesday afternoon, people continue to trickle in. Some shout. Some cry. Some hug.

Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, had his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes. To decide if it was murder, the jury deliberated for nearly 10 hours. After the verdict is announced, the crowd begins to chant Floyd’s name.

Chauvin, one of four officers charged for Floyd’s death, was the first to face the state. He was found guilty on all charges: second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder. The verdict comes about six weeks after jury selection began and three weeks after opening arguments.

Throughout the trial, the prosecution told the jury to believe their eyes, referencing the numerous videos and graphics presented as evidence. The prosecution called 38 witnesses, including several police officers who condemned the murder. Sgt. Jody Stiger, for one, said the force applied by Chauvin “was not objectively reasonable.” Other witnesses included Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist, who insisted that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen.

Last week, Chauvin declined to testify. The defense called just six witnesses before, on Monday, delivering a rambling closing argument—one that lasted so long Judge Peter Cahill had to call a lunch break in the middle. The defense’s arguments included allegations that Floyd died of cardiac arrest or a drug overdose. In his rebuttal, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said, “George Floyd did not die because his heart was too big, but because Chauvin’s heart was too small.” He added that Chauvin “knew better, but didn’t do better.”

The defense also noted there was methamphetamine and fentanyl in Floyd’s system at the time of his death, arguing that people on drugs “become stronger than they normally would.” This failed attempt to paint George Floyd as a drug-addled Black man and super predator harkens back to the Nixon and Reagan eras. The drugs have changed, but their use has not: an excuse to demonize Black communities, thus justifying the aggressive over-policing of them.

When the jury was sent to deliberate on Monday, Nelson called for a mistrial, citing widespread media attention to the case. Cahill denied the motion but said recent comments from a member of Congress regarding the trial may give Chauvin grounds for an appeal.

Last week, Representative Maxine Waters spoke to protesters in Brooklyn Center—a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis. Outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department HQ, she urged them to “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin were found not guilty. Since Floyd was murdered last May, there has been a steady drumbeat of protests in and around the Twin Cities. Most recently, large crowds have gathered outside the BCPD to protest the death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man killed during a traffic stop. Wright called his mother when he got pulled over; she says officers stopped him because he had an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.

The officer who killed Wright was a 26-year veteran. She has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and is out on bail. Chauvin, meanwhile, murdered George Floyd over an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill. Aggressively policing minor offenses is a staple of broken windows policing, which was first touted as a response to rising crime in a 1982 article in the Atlantic. Academics George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson argued for a zero-tolerance approach to low-level disorder on the grounds that it foretold more serious criminal activity.

If broken windows policing worked, we would be the safest country in the world. But as University of Washington professor Steve Herbert wrote, “there is little reason to accept the confident claims of broken windows advocates.” Yet the logic of broken windows policing has been used ever since to justify the aggressive over-policing of Black communities.

Instead of relying on such broken logic, George Floyd Square embodies the vision of abolition. Abolitionists argue crime is best prevented by investments in community as opposed to investments in law enforcement. This approach does not claim to end violence overnight. It’s a vision for the future—a future that does not assume the need for police.

George Floyd Square is not just an intersection. It’s a seed—one that law enforcement leaders would like to rip out of the ground. Before opening arguments, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced that he was teaming up with federal agents to surveil the space. Meanwhile, the mayor of Minneapolis has said he plans to “reopen” the zone after the trial.

Even when police are the ones creating disorder, they use the logic of broken windows policing to claim something they can never prove: that it prevented future violence. This backwards conception of “safety” has been used to justify everything from bulldozing housing encampments to shooting rubber bullets at protesters in Minneapolis.

Outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, there has been no shortage of rubber bullets fired. Last week, police and the National Guard forcefully removed a large mass of protesters in Brooklyn Center, causing countless injuries and making more than 100 arrests.

In a press conference about the blitz, law enforcement leaders asked community members for assistance in keeping the peace. For many, the statement was reminiscent of Trump telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” just months before the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, which left multiple people dead.

White teenager Kyle Rittenhouse also claimed to be offering community protection during protests in Kenosha, Wis., last year. People took to the streets after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot eight times in the back by a white cop. Amid the unrest, Rittenhouse donned surgical gloves and carried a large rifle. Fifteen minutes before he killed two protesters, police thanked him and gave him water. Afterward, he walked right past police, then turned himself in the next day.

For some, the inherent racism of policing is illustrated most clearly by the fact that heavily armed white killers are taken alive while unarmed Black people continue to be gunned down in the streets. Dylan Roof, for instance, killed nine people at a Black church in 2015. After he was arrested, police took him to Burger King.

Earlier this month, Fred Hampton Jr., chairman of the Black Panther Party Cubs, visited George Floyd Square to meet with local organizers. As he stood beneath the metal Black Power fist in its center, lightning streaked across a purple sky. His father, Fred Hampton, was chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party. In 1969, when he was just 21, Hampton was murdered during a police raid at his house in Chicago. His girlfriend was eight months pregnant with Hampton Jr. at the time.

The original Black Panther Party gained international attention in the 1960s as a revolutionary Black liberation movement, with armed citizen patrols to challenge police brutality. The Black Panther Party’s focus on social programming and work to build safer and healthier communities was routinely omitted in the government’s representations of it. In 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Black Panther Party as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” That same year, the Black Panthers were the target of the first major SWAT raid.

When Hampton Jr. visited the square, photographer Brandon Bell captured the moment. Bell has been a leading documentarian of the uprising that followed Floyd’s death. He snapped a stunning photo of the fist sculpture when it was still made of wood. The photo features a similar streak of lightning, another purple sky.

For 10 months now, George Floyd Square has stood as an example of what divesting from police to invest in community could look like. At the Square, the Speedway has been reclaimed as the Peoples’ Way. The bus stop has become the Peoples’ Library. The Peoples’ Closet stands just feet away. The space is secured and tended to 24/7 by the community, many of whom live at or around the intersection of 38th & Chicago. A free health care clinic called 612 M*A*S*H will treat anyone who needs it.

Organizers have presented the city with 24 demands (Justice Resolution 001) that must be met for the square to reopen. While the trial factors into a few demands, most are far broader, end qualified immunity, invest in local businesses, give 612 M*A*S*H a bus, and so on. Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, but for now, George Floyd Square lives on.

At the Peoples’ Way, the tall gas station sign that used to announce the price of a gallon has instead been used first, to countdown to the trial and then to tally its duration. Immediately after the verdict is announced, George Floyd Square is filled with news cameras and celebratory shouts. People honk as they drive by. But the crowd falls silent as organizer Billy Briggs begins to update the sign. Standing atop a small stepladder, he holds a question mark up to the audience before adding it to board. It now reads:

justice served?

Organizer Marcia Howard films the moment before leading the crowd in chants. Her voice is passionate and hoarse. She is wearing her signature yellow beanie. The crowd calls back to her. Together, they remind the world:

no justice. no streets.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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