Ten months ago, an uprising erupted in Minneapolis following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. This March, the officer charged in that murder, former Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) Officer Derek Chauvin, will stand trial. In preparation for that moment, downtown Minneapolis is awash in new fencing; city leaders are deep in discussion about public safety and community anger, and state legislators are playing “keep away” with funding for the state’s National Guard that dates back to the original uprising in May 2020. The National Guard will be present throughout the trial, but the state is not yet sure how related costs will be covered.
At this moment, at George Floyd Square, at the intersection of East 38th St. and Chicago Ave. in South Minneapolis, people are continuing to gather to mourn the life of George Floyd and every Black person killed at the hands of the Minneapolis Police. That living memorial, erected after Floyd’s death, is a community gathering space for sharing resources like food, art, movement trainings and books—for memory, and for healing. The city, in part due to community objections, has yet to open that intersection to any vehicular traffic.
Yet the violence of this moment has breached the square’s walls too. On March 6 an Agape volunteer was murdered in a shooting, and a second person at the square was shot. Agape is a community protection movement for George Floyd Square. Additional details are not yet known and the square was shut down to the public on March 7 so that the injured and deceased’s friends and family could gather to mourn.
There are obviously high, conflicting emotions around this trial. Organizers are trying to imagine a new future for the city and public safety at the same time the city has faced a reported uptick in crime this year. For many, the trial may be re-traumatizing. Still, many see transformation on the horizon.
“I feel hopeful in the people from this community in Minneapolis right now,” said Kevin Reese, a Prison Justice Organizer with Voices for Racial Justice. I got a glimpse of what transformational community efforts looked like last year, during the uprising here. Some of the places that I was at, I was exposed to some of the best parts of humans. And I was also seeing some of the ugliest parts of mankind as well. But right now, I feel optimistically hopeful in the people, but there’s a dreadful sense of sending high hopes to the justice system again.”
The timeline for the trial is currently unknown. On March 6, a Minnesota Appeals Court panel ruled that a lower court judge, Peter Cahill, should reconsider his decision to not allow a charge of third-degree murder for former MPD Officer Chauvin. The impact of that decision on the trial timeline is not yet known.
“I call it a weird sense of calm because even though the city and the state has responded in a militarized fashion towards the trial, our communities have spent several weeks now organizing, figuring out what non-violent community defense looks like,” said Robin Wonsley Worbolah, a labor organizer with Education Minnesota, who is also running for City Council in Minneapolis’ Ward 2.
Community defense has meant everything from a round-the-clock presence at George Floyd Square, organized protests and rallies, healing circles and a push at the city, state, and county levels for more equitable funding for public safety and a new model for policing.
This month’s trial and last year’s tribulations are—in many ways—new, but this moment is also built on decades of systemic injustice and the deaths of so many other Black men and women by the state.
“One of the things I think is highly important for people outside of Minnesota to understand is what’s happening on the ground here is the historical context. Much like a lot of cities across America, most of our systems have been built on institutional and structural racism,” said Adair Mosley, the President of Pillsbury United Communities. “I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to really get that deep understanding and education. Oftentimes, I think we’re getting surface level reactions, surface level responses and initiatives, rather than the things that are deep and structural to bring about change.”
Mosley, like many others, believes that we need to listen to and understand Black leaders, as part of our communal response to this moment and this uprising.
“There are people in Minneapolis who are fighting tooth and nail for each other, we have communities who have been intentional about building community power with each other to say, ‘Enough is enough;” said Brian Fullman, a lead organizer with the Barbershops and Black Congregation Cooperative of Isaiah. What I want people to know about Minnesota, and Minneapolis specifically, is that first, there’s Black people here. Not only are there Black people here, but we have stepped up in our leadership to say, ‘You know what? We’re going to lead this fight,’ and that our white brothers and sisters have made a collective decision to support us in our leadership.”
Jury selection for the Derek Chauvin trial began on March 8, but was paused, and re-started on March 9. The trial timeline is on hold as lawyers and Judge Peter Cahill wait to hear from he Minnesota Supreme Court and whether or not they will take up an appeal from Chauvin’s lawyers. Despite the possible delay, however, community members have continued to rally. A “silent march” for George Floyd was held on March 7 and, on March 8, young people from across Minneapolis held a “walkout” on the same day that K-12 students across the State were meant to go back to in-person learning.
As the trial unfolds in Minneapolis, community members are feeling the tension of the moment and hoping that they have reason to hope for justice. Despite the fencing, the National Guard, the funding back-and-forth, Minneapolis community members are looking to this moment and holding its weight even as they continue moving forward.