As George Floyd’s girlfriend waited for a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with murdering Floyd, one of the journalists crowded around her asked what being present outside the Minneapolis courthouse meant to her.
Courteney Ross, 45, who had given emotional testimony about her and Floyd’s struggle with opioid addiction, was candid: the courthouse was “not a comfortable place for many of us.”
“So many of us have a lot of negative experiences with the government,” she said. “I have had many bad encounters here.”
But that was the point of her being at the courthouse, Ross said: “I think it’s time we show what this building is supposed to be about, and it’s supposed to be about justice.”
“It needs to come back with that guilty verdict,” Ross said, “so we can start to believe again.”
Ross, who was wearing a cloth face mask printed with an image of Floyd’s face, waited outside the courthouse on Tuesday shoulder to shoulder with Toshira Garraway, a Black woman whose fiance, Justin Teigen, was found dead in a recycling truck in 2009 after fleeing from the St Paul police.
A guilty verdict in Floyd’s case would only be the beginning, Garraway said: there were hundreds more victims of police violence in Minnesota. “We need to reopen these cases, and [get] justice for the rest of these families,” she said.
“We want to up the charges for Daunte Wright’s killer, as well,” Ross added.
Ross, a former educator, had been one of Wright’s teachers at Edison high school. Wright, a 20-year-old Black father, was shot to death by a white police officer in a Minneapolis suburb on 11 April, as jurors in the Floyd murder trial were still hearing testimony.
In the last weeks of Chauvin’s trial, national guard troops patrolled downtown Minneapolis, government buildings were shielded behind layers of security fencing, and local businesses boarded up.
The security measures reflected Americans’ low expectations of justice from their country’s criminal justice system. Many simply did not believe that a jury would convict a white police officer for killing a Black man, even if the killing was brutal and widely condemned and captured on a video shared around the world. If Chauvin was acquitted, or convicted only of manslaughter, authorities clearly expected Minneapolis to erupt again, a repeat of last summer’s furious nationwide uprisings against police violence.
But after weeks of nationwide anxiety, the jury in Chauvin’s trial made a decision quickly. By early afternoon on their first full day of deliberations, they had reached a verdict. Hundreds of journalists, activists and bystanders packed into the park in front of the fortified courthouse.
When the news that the verdict was about to be read rippled through the crowd, many people turned towards the courthouse, confused about which direction to face.
The decision came to them on their phones. “Guilty!” people started shouting. “Yes! Yes!” People cheered. People cried. In a few moments, a new chant started up: “All three counts! All three counts!”
“I just can’t believe we got this verdict,” said Mike Griffin, a Minneapolis organizer with the advocacy group Community Change.
“We’re going to celebrate tonight, I will make that completely clear,” he added. “And tomorrow we get back to work.”
At the center of a scrum of journalists in the minutes after the verdict Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend, made a prayer of thanks, the sounds of cars honking in celebration echoing behind her, a drone buzzing overhead.
“Thank God for giving us this moment,” Ross said. “We needed it. This city needed it.”
“His spirit is here with you all,” she said of Floyd.
There were so many other families of police killing victims who still needed justice, she said. “Floyd was one man,” she said. “George Floyd is a movement.”
But it was all right to appreciate this moment, she said. “Take tonight just to be glad that we have one day of victory, she said. “This battle is going to continue.”
“Hug a stranger!” she called out, and then corrected herself, laughing and tearful. “Oh, no, we are in an epidemic. I’m sorry.”
The crowd in front of the courthouse started moving into the street, ready to march.
Activists had repeatedly reminded the crowd in the moments before the verdict that their movement had to continue, whatever the result of Floyd’s case.
Daunte Wright’s brother was in the crowd. “Y’all keep the same energy ya’ll kept for George Floyd for that man,” Frank Nitty, an activist from Wisconsin, had said.
“We get justice for George Floyd, and they’ll try to kill another one of us tomorrow,” Nitty said.
Later on Tuesday, authorities in Columbus, Ohio, said police officers fatally shot a 15-year-old girl in an encounter that occurred just moments before the verdict in the Floyd trial was read.
But in the street, for a few minutes after a verdict, grief was mixed with something else. In a city filled with government troops, the people, against all expectation, were holding a victory march.
“This is a warning for all killer cops: we are coming for you!” someone called. Young people danced in the street, chanting, “Black Lives Matter!”
“I am so excited and filled with joy,” Janiya Edwards, 18, said. The moment of the verdict felt like a holiday, she said.
“Over the last year, I’d lost hope. I didn’t think they were going to convict him,” she said.
Now, she added, “I do feel a little more confidence in the justice system.”