September 17, 2021

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After Chauvin’s verdict, what will happen to the racial justice movement?

After Chauvin's verdict, what will happen to the racial justice movement?

The screech of an electric screwdriver echoed from downtown skyscrapers as a man peeled plywood from a hotel main entrance. An unarmed and relaxed Minnesota National Guard soldier stood next to a Humvee.

The day after jurors convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, this city, who, like the rest of the nation, has spent weeks preparing for a verdict that could spark riots, eventually he exhaled. Open shops. The barricades were pulled down. It looked – from southern Minneapolis to the banks of the Mississippi River – as if justice were lived in another day.

But the feeling was fleeting. Lisa Cotton, who has been shining shoes in the lobby of a building here for years, said: “My white clients often ask how I feel, how I’m holding up,” she said of the last year of upheaval and marching to combat systemic racism and police brutality. “I often turn them around the question: ‘How do you feel? What are you going to do to inflict change right now? ‘”

Lisa Cotton has owned a shoe shine booth in downtown Minneapolis for nearly three decades.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The answers to those questions are quickly fraught and complicated even as news came on Wednesday that the Justice Department would investigate the training, tactics and discipline of a Minneapolis police force that is under increasing pressure for reform.

“Justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive, and sometimes it never comes,” US Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland said. “The challenges we face are deeply intertwined in our history.”

Such sentiments have meant that, despite Chauvin’s verdict – he was guilty on all three counts against him – this predominantly white city, where Midwestern progress collides with a troubled racial past, will remain a touchstone in the national debate. on the police and racial justice. The parameters of that debate extend from near and far, told in the footage of the police cameras and in the videos of bystanders that go viral.

Ten days ago in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, an officer, who according to authorities exchanged his gun for his Taser, shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright, an unarmed black man, during a traffic stop. He will be buried Thursday in a service that is expected to be attended by members of Floyd’s family, a relative of other victims killed by the police and by Rev. Al Sharpton, who was already in town for the Chauvin trial.

Twenty minutes before that trial ended on Tuesday, news broke that a police officer in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a black teenager later identified by officials as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant.

The Columbus Police Department quickly released the body camera video showing Ma’Khia brandishing a knife and threatening another teenager before the officer fired. But the department has come under scrutiny after several shootings of black residents by white officers in recent years, including the 2016 shooting of 13-year-old Tire King during a robbery investigation.

“It’s a tragedy, there’s no other way to put it,” interim police chief Mike Woods said of the most recent shooting. “I sure wish it hadn’t happened.”

But it often happens, causing many in Minneapolis to wonder if, despite Floyd’s murals and flowers and wreaths placed in his honor on the corner where he died, a verdict against a police officer, however rare it may be, is enough to bring lasting pass to law enforcement. Or will this city forever be synonymous with the 9 minutes and 29 seconds when a black man gasped and died face down on the sidewalk?

Two people lean against a rail in a park looking at the downtown skyline.

People watch the Minneapolis skyline from Prospect Park. City voters may soon take action on voting measures to redesign the police and public safety system in Minneapolis.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Activists and politicians here spent Wednesday raising awareness of a City Council-backed measure that could go ahead of voters this fall by calling on the city to create a Department of Public Safety, which would include a broader health and social approach to the fight. to crime.

A similar voting move that could go ahead of voters – a coalition-led effort of liberal groups and young activists that gained momentum after Floyd’s death – would also replace the Police Department with a newly created Public Security Department. . All of this has been taken into consideration as three other agents will be tried in August for their involvement in Floyd’s death.

Cotton spent the morning after Chauvin was taken away in handcuffs surveying her city from the same spot: her shoe shop on the ground floor of a skyscraper. He spends most of his time here and has seen peaceful protests and parts of his city burned over the past year. It has survived a pandemic and the strange ways history doesn’t always stay in the past.

Cotton has owned its shoe shine stand – two brown, raised leather chairs – for nearly three decades. She remembers the riot in Los Angeles after police officers were acquitted in the 1991 Rodney King beating, and her conversations with clients now remind her of the same ones she had back then.

But on Wednesday, he said, the response was toned down as if the city and the people were trying to move forward.

“Nobody mentioned it,” Cotton said, holding up a thick shoe brush. “I was waiting, but nobody said a word about the verdict.”

As with most of anyone who has seen Floyd take his last breath under Chauvin’s knee, the images from the video have gnawed at her soul for the past 11 months. But, Cotton said, this moment is far more than the two men whose lives crossed brutally that day outside a shop on the south corner of Minneapolis.

“We need to have more humanity for each other,” Cotton said. “Even before George Floyd’s death, we all lacked humanity and empathy for each other.”

Above, a steady stream of people walked through a maze of enclosed skyways that dissected the center, offering relief from the fragile Minnesota air. At lunchtime, the restaurants were nearly full as employees returned to their offices after working from home for months. Along Lake Street, where several businesses burned down last spring after Floyd’s death, people flocked to bus stops and headed for jobs across the city.

A few blocks from Cotton’s kiosk, Brennan Roby sipped coffee between bites and a cheese croissant. The 24-year-old graduated from the University of Minnesota last year. He saw the riots – the marches, the vandalism, the screams – and on Wednesday morning, he said, he felt a little relieved. Justice had been served, he said, but much more was needed to follow.

“The verdict was good progress,” said Roby. “I see hope for Minneapolis and the country.”

But, he said, the situation did not bring him happiness.

“This is not the time to celebrate,” he said. “The whole situation is tragic.”

Moments later, on a TV in the store, local news broke into a segment about Wright’s upcoming funeral.

The rolling chyron at the bottom of the screen noted that at that time the National Guard troops would still be deployed in the city.