Guilty, yes, but it’s only the start

A crowd gathered at George Floyd Square after the verdict.

Hennepin County jurors today found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder in the death of George Floyd, along with two lesser counts.

It was the first time in state history that a white police officer was held accountable for killing a Black man, according the Minnesota ACLU.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors stressed to the jury that Chauvin’s trial was a pro-police prosecution, not an anti-police prosecution. They knew that some jurors had a favorable opinion of police and didn’t want to lose any a vote by suggesting this was an indictment of the police in general.

Yet this moment calls for an overhaul of our system of public safety. The push will come from many organizations and from across the city, including those people currently occupying George Floyd Square.

Earlier this year, city leaders announced their intentions to reopen the intersection of 38th and Chicago — George Floyd Square — after the verdict came in.

The verdict is in; a new conflict is looming.

A loose coalition of neighbors strongly opposes reopening the Square. They have occupied the area since last summer as a protest against Floyd’s murder. They have barricades to block traffic from coming through the intersection and have erected a sculpture of a giant fist, a memorial to Floyd. They are trying to create a small space with alternatives to policing.

Last year, these neighbors issued a series of 24 demands before the intersection should be reopened. Those demands are far from being met.

Written on the street of George Floyd Square.

For instance, Demand #5 says: “Establish an office of independent investigation and prosecution for Minneapolis law enforcement, appointed by the Governor of Minnesota.”

Stronger investigation into police misconduct could have saved Floyd’s life. Chauvin had 18 complaints against him, including two disciplinary actions, Wikipedia said.

In addition, Chauvin had worked off-duty security for El Nuevo Restauant and the owner has spoken out against him since his arrest, it said. The owner said “Chauvin was unnecessarily aggressive on nights when the club had a black clientele, quelling fights by dousing the crowd with pepper spray and calling in several police squad cars as backup.'”

While the police department wouldn’t necessarily have known about Chauvin off-duty behavior, surely he would have exhibited similar behavior while on duty. His temper problems seemed knowable and yet went unaddressed.

In announcing their plans to reopen traffic through George Floyd Square, city leaders made a disingenuous offer. They pledged more than $10.5 million for “racial healing” in the area, yet the projects they proposed have little to do “racial healing.”

Here’s the breakdown of the $10.5 million:

  • $4.75 million to reconstruct the 38th and Chicago intersection for planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) improvements
  • $5.5 million for the Commercial Property Redevelopment Fund for the area.
  • $300,000 to work towards reconciliation, economic inclusion, and transformational racial healing (split with the neighborhood near 27th Avenue South and East Lake Street that experienced heavy damage during the uprising over Floyd’s death.)

What does reconstructing an intersection have to do with racial healing? Besides, the city committed to building the new BRT line well before Floyd’s murder. This is old money getting packaged as something new, which it isn’t.

We will see how the conflict around reopening the Square unfolds in the coming weeks.

If you would would like to learn more about George Floyd Square and some on-the-ground organizations there, here are links:

Local groups working on systemic change in Minneapolis policing and alternative public safety models are:

  • Reclaim the Block: Organizing Minneapolis community and city council members to move money from the police department into other areas of the city’s budget that truly promote community health and safety.
  • Black Visions: An organization committed to the liberation of all Black people, whose goals include defunding the police.
  • MPD150: A participatory, horizontally-organized effort by local organizers, researchers, artists, and activists who are working to set in motion a process for dissolving the Minneapolis Police Department.
  • Yes4Minneapolis: A Black-led campaign organizing a people’s petition to replace the Minneapolis Police Department.
Post verdict gathering at the Square.

Many organizations issued statements following today’s verdict, speaking for the need for radical change:

While the decision to convict George Floyd’s murderer was just, it does not remedy the undeniable fact that policing in America is fundamentally broken.

The United States’ system of law enforcement, which was built on the legacy of slavery and racism, has stolen the lives of Black and brown Americans for centuries, almost completely unchecked. 

League of Women Voters (LWV) and LWV-Minnesota

While today’s verdict is encouraging, it does not diminish the urgency with which we must continue our efforts to combat the epidemic of police violence in our communities.

CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein

We must re-examine our entire system of public safety and public health, and root out the racism that pervades law enforcement. We must prohibit police mistreatment of communities of color, which leads to people being both underserved and overpoliced. We must divert funding from traditional policing toward community-based services, such as crisis teams, so all communities are truly safe.

John Gordon, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota

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