Minneapolis Braces For The Trial Of Derek Chauvin

By Aymann Ismail

Around the city, many Black res­i­dents had a grim pre­dic­tion for the out­come of the George Floyd case — but also some hope.

In Minneapolis, few can get any­where near the Hennepin County District Court. It looks more like a bar­racks than a cour­t­house now. The build­ing, where open­ing argu­ments begin on Monday for Derek Chauvin’s tri­al in the death of George Floyd, has been sur­round­ed by mil­i­tary-grade barbed wire and fenc­ing, and it’s guard­ed by National Guard sol­diers scat­tered across the perime­ter. Dozens of cam­era crews are posi­tioned out­side. Recently, as jury selec­tion in the case began, there was an eerie qui­et all around. People on both sides of the bar­ri­cades stared at one anoth­er warily.

Three National Guard members standing next to an armored vehicle outside the courthouse.

Inside the mil­i­tary fortress around the Minneapolis court. Aymann Ismail

The only sounds in the area came from the occa­sion­al light rail and, on that day, the dis­tant howls of about 300 pro­test­ers who marched near­by, fol­lowed by dozens of pho­tog­ra­phers and jour­nal­ists. I fol­lowed the echoes of peo­ple chant­i­ng “Do the right thing!” to find them. Local orga­niz­er Toussaint Morrison was at the helm. “Let me tell you some­thing about this build­ing right here. It is undoubt­ed­ly going to affect every sin­gle Black youth in this state,” he said when they made it to the court. “What’s on tri­al is the val­ue of a Black man’s life, and I don’t need the Hennepin County gov­ern­ment to let me know if I’m valu­able or not. The ver­dict can go either way.”

Morrison wasn’t the only one who seemed to be gird­ing him­self for the even­tu­al ver­dict. As I spoke to Black res­i­dents around Minneapolis, they all had one pre­dic­tion. “He ain’t going nowhere,” one man, Jaleel, told me about Derek Chauvin. “And I hate to say this in front of all these peo­ple out here protest­ing, but they’re not going to get him.”
Jaleel, who asked not to use his last name, was born in Minneapolis and has nev­er lived any­where else. (“It’s not a bad place. It’s a good place to live. It might get cold as shit, but it’s a good place to live,” he said.) He said he knew George Floyd well — and he can’t con­vince him­self that Chauvin will be held respon­si­ble for Floyd’s death. He’s espe­cial­ly wor­ried about what could hap­pen in that event. “They’re going to find some way to get a hung jury, and they’re going to tear this moth­er up again,” he said.

Nearby, Katina, who stood with fel­low pub­lic school teach­ers behind a ban­ner for the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, told me she’s not espe­cial­ly polit­i­cal­ly active, but came to the ral­ly to set an exam­ple for her stu­dents. “We want to make sure that they keep hope in their mind. And that maybe jus­tice just might be served, pos­si­bly?” She didn’t sound so sure her­self. When I asked the out­come she was expect­ing at the tri­al, she gave me a care­ful look and said, “Just hav­ing hope is a good thing.”
Like many oth­er teach­ers across the coun­try, Katina said she wor­ries about the men­tal health of her stu­dents, but is espe­cial­ly wor­ried for kids in Minneapolis, who are expe­ri­enc­ing “com­pound­ed stress” due to the tri­al. She’s low­ered her expec­ta­tions for her stu­dents’ abil­i­ty to stick to the cur­ricu­lum vir­tu­al­ly and is hope­ful that a year of protests like this one is teach­ing them in anoth­er way. “Even if they’re not learn­ing English or social stud­ies, they’re learn­ing the his­to­ry of America, and watch­ing things change,” she said.

A man wearing a Black Lives Matter mask holds up a poster with photos of Dolal Idd surrounded by the words "Justice for Dolal"

Bayle Adod Gelle. Aymann Ismail 

Inside the Hennepin County court, he told me he noticed some­thing pecu­liar. “I was there in the media room watch­ing the tri­al. One of the things that I noticed is that the pros­e­cu­tor, the pros­e­cu­tor attor­ney, and the defense attor­ney share sim­i­lar con­cerns,” he said. “They want to impress upon peo­ple that the sys­tem works. They want peo­ple to accept the real­i­ty of the sys­tem, that a per­son isn’t guilty until the sys­tem says he’s guilty. You can see him com­mit a crime, but there’s a sep­a­rate set of rules here. We also know that that’s not true. When you talk to Black peo­ple, that only holds true for wealthy peo­ple and the police.”At George Floyd Square that week, locals mourned the death of anoth­er man who was shot only steps from where Floyd died. Tommy McBrayer, a com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er, was resigned when we spoke. “It’s trag­ic. I’m still feel­ing that trau­ma in my body. It’s been a roller coast­er, men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly,” he said of the past nine months, adding that the death of his friend recent­ly and Floyd’s death are intrin­si­cal­ly tied. “I think Black folks will nev­er get jus­tice. We’re liv­ing in a white America where noth­ing has ever been jus­ti­fied. Even if you think I’m wrong, the proof is every­where. We’re still only three-fifths of a per­son.” I asked if he wor­ried about the trial’s out­come. “You can only con­trol so much,” he said. “Of course I wor­ry.” But if there is anoth­er upris­ing, he said he still felt con­flict­ed about the last one: “I don’t think we got any­thing out of it, because we were just mess­ing up our own neigh­bor­hood, but doing noth­ing is eas­i­er. It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly better.”

Carmen Means, anoth­er local orga­niz­er, told me she’s also expect­ing a “not guilty” ver­dict, but she’s think­ing of the tri­al and ver­dict from anoth­er per­spec­tive. “I’m a mama, so the jus­tice isn’t just for me. I have sons, and when you have chil­dren, your stance has to be dif­fer­ent. Will it be heart­break­ing beyond belief? Absolutely. But I have to remain hope­ful.” Even so, she said she couldn’t say for sure how she’ll react. “I’ve nev­er watched that tape in its entire­ty, the 8 min­utes, 46 sec­onds — I couldn’t, and I can’t. But sec­ond­hand trau­ma is real, and I don’t know how my body will respond. And what­ev­er way my body responds, I’ll give it space for that.”

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