The Minneapolis intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Ave., where just under a year ago George Floyd had gasped his last breath under the knees of a while police officer, was transformed Tuesday night into a scene of celebration and community relief.
Some set off firecrackers, others danced, jumped and sang in unison. Those who gathered at what is now known as George Floyd Square were rejoicing in the guilty verdict of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Hours earlier, Chauvin had been convicted of all charges in connection to the death of Floyd: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
WATCH | Verdict brings relief, calls for justice
On a brisk spring evening Tuesday, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off the shoulders of a tense city. Some residents had braced for violence in the event Chauvin was found not guilty.
“I’m really happy to see the city come together and I’m happy that we’re getting the peace that we deserve and the justice that black bodies deserve,” said Maryan Adan, one of the hundreds at the square Tuesday night.
“I don’t know what would happen to the city, but I’ll tell you this, we wouldn’t be standing here in harmony if it was a not-guilty verdict.”
Earlier in the day, Mike Abumayyaleh, owner of the now infamous Cup Foods convenience store where Floyd had been just moments before his death, expressed concern Chauvin might be acquitted.
Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pressed his knees on his neck and back for more than nine minutes as two other officers held him face-down on the pavement while he was handcuffed. He had been detained outside Cup Foods on suspicion of paying with a counterfeit bill.
“It could be a mess if he doesn’t get convicted at least of one of the charges. The whole city I think is going to be a mess.”
Grocery and bakery store owner Nur Ahmed had boarded up the windows of his Lake Street store., about a seven minute drive to George Floyd Square.
Ahmed feared a repeat of nearly a year ago when his shop — along with many other businesses — were damaged in the riots sparked by Floyd’s death.
The state has assembled what it calls the largest security presence in Minnesota’s history, comprising police and National Guard troops. Fencing and barbed wire surrounded many of the public buildings, including the courthouse where the verdict was delivered.
Ahmed said the guilty verdicts provided two important things: justice for Floyd and a measure of relief for the city.
“The temperature of the city went down,” he said. “Let’s just say I feel a lot better tonight than I did last night,” he said.
Still, out of caution, Ahmed said he wasn’t planning on removing the boards from the windows just yet, wanting to see how things play out over the next few days.
Crowd gathered at courthouse
Joe Nixon, a community volunteer, said a not-guilty verdict would have spurred more unrest.
“Any other verdict and “the world would have exploded, not just Minnesota,” Nixon said. He had been one of the hundreds who had gathered outside the courthouse to wait for the verdict.
As word came down that a verdict was imminent, someone on a megaphone asked for “quiet please” as people there turned around to look at the courthouse.
About 20 seconds later, in a relatively hushed crowd, a man shouted on a megaphone, “Guilty!” The words unleashed jubilation among the crowd, some of whom chanted, “Say his name, George Floyd. Say his name, George Floyd.”
Then another voice boomed on the megaphone, “Guilty on all three!’ and the celebration was in full gear. People cried, jumped and pumped their fists in the air as the crowd burst into chants of “all three counts.”
On nearby streets, cars honked their horns in support.
This is a major moment for Minnesota,” said Jonathan Mason, in tears after hearing the verdict.
“Minnesota is going to be the beacon for America,” Mason added.
Nixon, the community volunteer, said he came to the courthouse for one reason: “Because I’m a Black man and that could have been me.”
P.J. Hill, vice president of the Minneapolis National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said he felt liberated by the verdict.
“What we witnessed was a slow nine minute murder of a man,” he said. “America said enough is enough. This city said enough is enough. So it’s a watershed moment for us.”
From outside the courthouse, many eventually made their way to George Floyd Square, joined by others, packing in an intersection which has been converted into a makeshift memorial, with flowers, drawings, candles — all in tribute of Floyd.
One important figure from the trial had also returned to the area following the verdict: Charles McMillan, the first bystander on the scene as police struggled with Floyd.
McMillan was a witness for the prosecution at Chauvin’s trial and had testified that he told Floyd not to fight while Chauvin was arresting him the night of May 25, 2021, that he “can’t win.”
On the witness stand, McMillan broke down after having to watch video of Floyd’s death. But here, in George Floyd Square, he was in a celebratory mood, addressing the crowd about his testimony and his trademark white glasses, the same glasses he was wearing when he witnessed Floyd’s arrest and killing.
“Those white glasses made the world see what I see,” he said.
Adan said despite the verdict, there is much more to do, a reference to Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by a white Minnesota police officer earlier this month.
“Today’s been a victory moment, but it doesn’t mean that the fight ends just with the victory with the trial having a guilty verdict,” she said.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re just going to end right now.”