About 30 minutes before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was announced, I stood steps from where George Floyd was murdered. I looked at the ground. I was with Marcia Howard, the unofficial guardian of the square that now bears Floyd’s name. “Today we get to see whether or not the people of Minneapolis can look at something with their bare eyes and not get gaslit into thinking that they didn’t see what they saw,” she said.
I had never seen Howard, a former Marine who lives a couple hundred steps from this spot, very excited before. But she was now. This was the most crowded the intersection has been since last summer. The crowd swelled to hundreds gathered to listen to the verdict together. There were the usual chants: “Say his name! George Floyd!” But others, I noticed, stood silently. The events of the past year here were slowly coming to a head. One woman nearby simply sobbed. The anticipation overwhelmed her with anxiety. “I want to be hopeful. It’s got to be justice this time because I can’t take another one,” she said. She said she’d been coming to the square to share hope, but in that moment, she was the one who needed consoling. “My heart can’t take it,” she said. “I need justice.”
As the time inched closer to the planned announcement for the verdict, the square got busier and louder. A car parked in the abandoned Speedway station at the intersection streamed the audio from the courtroom loud enough for everyone to hear.
Then the judge began reading the verdict. It was sudden. I could barely hear it over the shrieks and cheers coming from all around me: Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts. In a space where I’ve come to witness so much pain, it was overcome with bliss. It was a mass wave of catharsis. The woman I had been speaking to burst into tears again, this time of joy. “We matter!” she shouted over and over in a hoarse voice.
“This is the first deep breath I’ve been able to take in months,” said Anthony Galloway, who grew up in the Twin Cities and was there as a chaplain. “Time to take care of all these folks who have been holding their breath all this time, too,” he said as he walked off.
Cup Foods, where a teenage clerk called 911 after an encounter with Floyd before his murder, shut down for a few hours today to give visitors space to witness the verdict. Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, one of the co-owners of Cup, told me he was overjoyed. “We can finally say that justice has been served. George Floyd and his family can now have peace of mind,” he said.
Alicia Smith, a community organizer who lives near the intersection, was also in an exalted mood, but seemed less certain what the moment meant. “I’m still unsure of what to make of it,” she told me. “It’s a hydration break, that’s what I’m going to call it.” The last time we spoke, she told me she had little faith the verdict would come back guilty. “This is something we’ve never seen in the history of this state,” she said. “Today, I feel optimistic about the future of our quest for justice.”
Nearby, Howard began to lead a chant, referring to the three other officers who will be tried this summer: “One down! Three to go!”
In one of the more surreal sights of the afternoon, someone brought stacks of cash and made it rain on the people gathered: first $20s, then $1s. Bills were everywhere. I asked the woman with the tote bag of money what she was doing. She told me she worked for Sabri Properties, a property management group in Minneapolis, and she called it a “gift to the community.”
The stewards of the square were not pleased. One activist who’s lived in Minneapolis since the ’90s yelled for it to stop. “Donate this money to the family,” he shouted. People started to gather the cash and stack it together near the memorial.
As the time passed, more sobriety set in. “There’s the illusion that George Floyd got justice,” said Link, an organizer who has been in the intersection since the Floyd died. He didn’t begrudge the infectious joy spreading in the square: “I like to see everybody happy out here and whatnot,” he said, but “I just hope people don’t get complacent. We got a guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin, but there’s still so much stuff left to do. It’s a battle won in the war.”
Howard held back some joy too. She tried to stay composed for the community she’d help foster over the last year. “There’s so much work that we’ve done, but there’s so much work that’s left to do. It is only a first step,” she said.
She stood and watched as someone changed the marquee on the abandoned Speedway. It now read, “JUSTICE SERVED?”