'We must show up no matter what': Foreboding air as people gather in George Floyd Square ahead of Chauvin closing arguments
MINNEAPOLIS — More than a hundred people gathered in George Floyd Square Sunday afternoon for a rally to show solidarity between the Black and Asian communities ahead of closing arguments in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Organizers advertised the event as “a safe space for sharing grief and also creating joy” during tense times in the city and dedicated it to Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in nearby Brooklyn Center last week.
Tri Vo, 25, said he usually visits George Floyd Square when there are no crowds so he can reflect and because he feels that space is reserved for Black and indigenous people. Vo, a digital organizer with Southeast Asian Diaspora Project, said he came Sunday to help educate southeast Asians about “what their stake is in this.”
“I just think Southeast Asians are very disconnected from the idea of race relations as well as the things that drive it,” he said. “We need to educate ourselves on that while not making us sidekicks. We need to be our own protagonists.”
Vo described the feeling ahead of the Chauvin verdict as “apprehensive, foreboding.”
“I’m just really apprehensive either way,” he said.
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Chavin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in George Floyd's death last Memorial Day. If convicted of the most serious charge, he could face 10½ to 15 years in prison under sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders. He could receive a lesser term.
The atmosphere in the squarewas almost like a music festival. As musicians and dancers performed for the crowd, people lined up around a barbecue grill, the smell of smoke heavy in the air. Others milled around tables set up by activists giving away signs, water, snacks and art.
As a singer performed for the crowd, Mynx Seibert watched her goddaughter, Aria, take a paper flower from one of the tables. Seibert, 31, was visiting from Wisconsin but decided to stop by the square on the way from the airport. Seibert went to protests in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but this was the first protest for her goddaughter, who was wearing a bright purple shirt emblazoned with the words “Black Girl Magic.”
“She needs a little bit of her heritage and she needs to know what’s going on.” Seibert added.
She also said it’s “heartbreaking” that there’s so much uncertainty around the outcome of the trial and she’s worried about what will happen to her friends living near the square if Chauvin is not found guilty.
“If he gets acquitted the city’s going to burn down,” Seibert said. “I have a feeling that the Rodney King riots are going to be like a food fight in high school in comparison to what’s going to happen. It’s dangerous.”
As a rapper took the stage, Tony Nhan wondered when it might rain. Nhan lives in Brooklyn Park, just 10 minutes from the police station where nightly protests have been taking place over the killing of Wright and decided to come to George Floyd Square as protests hit closer to home.
“It’s an emotional time for this city,” he said, adding that Wright’s death “just heightened everything.”
The crowd clapped and cheered as family and friends of people killed by the police in Minnesota, including Jamar Clark and Dolal Idd, delivered speeches. Toshira Garraway, leader of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, called on all minority communities to support one another in the wake of police violence.
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“We must show up no matter what,” she said. “If they take a human life on these streets we must show up and we must shut it down.”
It started to rain as more people spoke, including some in support of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police in Chicago last month. Nearby, Johnathan McClellan, of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, chatted with reporters.
McClellan, who is working with Garraway’s group to get nine police reform bills passed in the state legislature, said he is hoping for a guilty verdict on all charges but is prepared to be disappointed because “history has shown us that it’s hard for someone who’s been murdered by the police to get justice.”
“We expect the worst but hope for the best,” he said. “It’s a shame that we have to go to these lengths to get justice for a Black man who was lynched in the streets of Minneapolis.”
After dark, about 50 protesters gathered outside the Brooklyn Center police station for another night of demonstrations in the wake of Wright’s death. Speakers thanked the small crowd for coming out despite the rain and passed out glow sticks, which they raised during a moment of silence in between brief speeches.
Torrie Green, who works in a group home for people with disabilities, has come out to protest four times saying she wants to make a change.
“I know stuff’s not going to change overnight or next week but eventually I hope so,” she said.
Green said she’s protested after Floyd’s death and the death of Jamar Clark, and when she heard Wright was killed, she thought “when is it going to end?"
“What they’re doing is not right,” she said. “It could’ve been my dad, it could be my niece, nephew, you know anybody.”
She and her mother, Kristin Green, have been watching the Chauvin trial. Kristin Green thinks Chauvin will be found guilty but isn’t sure how much prison time he’ll be sentenced to.
As the crowd dances to a remix of ‘Every Breath You Take’ with glow sticks raised, Amanda Vo and Ashley Vee passed out chips and trail mix to demonstrators. Vee, 27, said just being present makes a difference, but she’s trying to find ways to serve the community’s needs.
“Contributing in whatever way I can is needed, it’s dire,” she said. “I’m not even focused on being cold or the rain, it’s like how can we help other people who are here, who are putting their bodies on the line for what is happening?”
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Vee, 27, said she has been keeping up with the livestream of the Chauvin trial, but it can be tiring.
“Day by day it just takes so much energy and then hearing about (Wright’s death) in the midst of it, it’s like what else?” she said. “It’s just hard for me to actually have hope that he’s going to be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Vo, 21, expressed frustration at the barricades and increased security erected in response to the protests.
“All of these structures to protect themselves and for what?” Vo said. "Because the community is angry because they’re not being heard?
She said what keeps her going is a desire to use her privilege to support Black and brown people who may face harsher repercussions from law enforcement for protesting.
“I know there are a lot of people that can’t protest that can’t be out here because they’re being killed,” Vo said.
Unlike recent nights of protest that ended in confrontations between police and demonstrators, much of the crowd dispersed around 9 p.m. well before the 11 p.m. curfew.
Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, Grace Hauck, Eric Ferkenhoff, Tami Abdollah and Kevin McCoy