The Slatest

In Minneapolis, a Decision Haunts Every Corner of the City

A defunct gas station sign reads JUSTICE FOR GEORGE TRIAL DAY 28.
A defunct gas station not far from where George Floyd was killed. Aymann Ismail

Update, April 20, 2021, 5:11 p.m.: Chauvin was found guilty on all counts Tuesday afternoon.

Minneapolis is eerily quiet right now. With Derek Chauvin’s fate handed over to the jury in the trial for George Floyd’s killing, the city is collectively hushed. The last time I spoke to Minneapolis residents as the trial began, they told me they were almost certain that finding a white cop in this city guilty of murder was impossible—even this cop, even with that video. But now, no one seems able to make predictions out loud anymore.

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The city’s stillness is partly by design. It is essentially locked down. The National Guard has made its presence overwhelming. Humvees and soldiers dot Lake Street, where most of the rioting happened in the recent past. They’ve been here since the start of the trial almost a month ago. They stand in silence. Try to talk to any them about where they’re from or what they’ve seen this month, it’s a chorus of “no comment”—no doubt an official instruction.

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Businesses are still boarded up all across the city. Store owners seem prepared for the worst. The owner of a pawn shop on Lake Street was in the middle of covering the windows of his shop with wooden planks on Tuesday, a decision he made later than most. “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said. He had his windows smashed last year in the aftermath of Floyd’s death; the local Home Depot was sold out of wooden panels that week, so he risked it. Like others, he didn’t want to speculate about what would happen in the trial: “That’s up to the jury.”

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Not far away, what remains of the Minneapolis police precinct that famously burned last May had workers toiling away on it, adding barbed wire. It’s charred black and smells like ash, but the city is apparently worried about something worse.

Works put up barbed wire outside a burned police precicnt.
The burned police precinct on Tuesday. Aymann Ismail
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Despite this pervasive, tangible anxiety, many residents are trying to go on like normal. In observance of Ramadan, restaurants were packed across the city with Muslims celebrating at sundown with iftar on Monday, shortly after the jury was sequestered. I joined them, but even that felt fleeting and tense with soldiers parked nearby.  Whispers about the trial weren’t hard to overhear.

The intersection now dubbed George Floyd Square is the only area of the city that I’ve seen that seemed somewhat jubilant. Familiar faces that I’ve come to recognize after many trips to the autonomous zone were up bright and early Tuesday, cleaning up and adding some new decorations. Marcia Howard, who’s become an unofficial guardian of the space, just concluded her daily 8 a.m. meeting when she explained to me how tired and depleted she was from the past 11 months. “I didn’t save any oxygen for the swim back,” she told me. “I’m all in.”

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If Chauvin is found guilty, some people have told me they hope it will pave way for a new understanding between the police and the neighborhood. Some also are excited by that possibility, hoping it could bring new life, a clear victory, into their exhausting movement. But Howard reaffirmed to me that no matter what the outcome, a Chauvin guilty verdict is part of only one of the community’s demands. “There’s so much to do,” she said.

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A man stands in George Floyd Square on Tuesday.
George Floyd Square on Tuesday morning. Aymann Ismail
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