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Illustration by Security Management

Swift Verdict in Chauvin Case Breaks Tension Over Potential Unrest

Security personnel and law enforcement agencies across the United States had planned for a long stretch of tension and the potential for civil unrest in the aftermath of the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

The Associated Press reported that the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota—where the trial was held—was fortified in preparation for the verdict. More than 3,000 National Guard soldiers plus police officers, state police, sheriffs deputies, and other law enforcement personnel flooded the city, and some parts of downtown Minneapolis were barricaded with concrete barriers, chain-link fences, and barbed wire. Hundreds of stores and other buildings were boarded up across the city to mitigate risks of looting or property damage.

The Minneapolis Public School District announced late last week that students would return to all-remote learning starting today, 21 April, in the expectation of congestion and crowds throughout the city during the deliberation. The speedy verdict did not change the plan to remain remote throughout this week, as “time does not allow for a quick switch back to in-person learning,” according to the district’s website.

Police in other cities, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City, ramped up their street presence in preparation for a long wait or mass protests, as were seen in the aftermath of court decisions on police brutality ever since 1992—when the four police officers who beat Black man Rodney King were not charged for the use of excessive force, sparking six days of rioting in Los Angeles.

After Floyd’s death in May 2020, widespread protests and civil unrest—the largest mass protest movement in American history—resulted in approximately $350 million in damage, mostly to commercial properties. In confrontations with protesters, police responded with pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets.

However, the speedy resolution of the three-week trial—which found Chauvin guilty on three counts: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter—appears to have changed the emotionally charged atmosphere around the country.

As reported in The Washington Post, a nation that braced for unrest now experienced a celebration. Hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse to hear the verdict, erupting into cheers when the convictions were announced, according to the Star Tribune. In George Floyd Square—the intersection at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue where George Floyd was arrested, pinned to the ground, and killed—hundreds of people wept, cheered, and applauded the verdict. More than a thousand people peacefully marched through the streets of downtown Minneapolis, carrying signs in memory of other Black people killed by police in Minneapolis and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, civil rights advocates, politicians across the political spectrum, and police chiefs praised the decision.

“Chauvin’s conviction is a reminder to all who wear a badge that we are not above the laws which we swore to protect,” said Sheriff Gregory Tony from Broward County, Florida. “Chauvin’s lack of empathy and compassion and his brutality set off a firestorm across the world but moved the consciousness of America like never before.”

So what’s next? According to the New York Times, scores of policing reform laws have been introduced in U.S. states and corporations pledged billions of dollars to support racial equity. However, many activists and lawmakers say there is significant work to be done around police violence, racial equality, and structural racism.

President Joe Biden promised in a speech on 20 April that his administration would continue to pursue racial justice and police accountability. “’I can’t breathe.’ Those were George Floyd’s last words,” Biden said. “We can’t let those words die with him. We have to keep hearing those words. We must not turn away. We can’t turn away.”

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is expected to announce later today that the Justice Department is opening an investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis, including whether Chauvin and other officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights, The Associated Press reported. The investigation will examine police practices, including use of force, whether the department engages in discriminatory practices, and the department’s handling of misconduct allegations.

George Floyd Mural-Megan Gates credit.jpg
Murals, memorials, and mementos have filled George Floyd Square, the site of Floyd's May 2020 murder, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On Tuesday, 20 April, 2021, hundreds of people gathered here to listen to the verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd's neck for nine and a half minutes. Photo courtesy of Megan Gates, Security Management