Hundreds of people poured into 38th St. and Chicago Ave. anxiously awaiting the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial with the whole world watching. As Mileesha Smith, standing in front of Peyton Scott Russell’s large portrait of George Floyd, spoke to the growing crowd, Eliza Wesley, aka the Gatekeeper, called out “Mileesha” from across the street and started a chant that carried across the Square: “Black lives they matter here,” “Black lives they matter now,” and “No justice, no peace!”
“And we gonna prosecute the police,” Smith added, to applause.
Moments later, cheers and shouts of joy erupted in waves as three guilty verdicts were read and heard in intervals on mobile devices throughout the crowd.
“We changed the world on 4/20,” shouted Leon Lyons.
Billy Briggs, who had been tracking the number of days until and through the trial on the former Speedway sign, replaced those letters with: JUSTICE SERVED? Marcia Howard led the crowd in a chant “One Down, Three to Go” – referring to Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, the former officers who were charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. People shared tears and long hugs, restrained over the past year due to COVID-19, as chants of “Say His Name: George Floyd!” echoed across the intersection. The crowd grew larger and after a sound truck pulled up, it became a dance party.
Here’s what these community members at George Floyd Square had to say about the verdict and this moment:
“Y’all keep on yellin’ out justice. But everybody’s yellin’ out somethin’ they don’t even know what they yellin’ about. How are we asking for something we ain’t never experienced? We ain’t never saw, we ain’t never tasted, we don’t know what it is. So that’s why justice is in the eye of the beholder, because everybody’s answer will always change.
“You have to ask the collective people. You have to ask the people. What is the change? Then bring that all to one pot. It’s like makin’ stew. We need this, we need a little bit of this, we need this seasonings, this meat, we need this vegetable. We need a whole group of different things to determine on what justice looks like. It’s not just stoppin’ the police.
“The verdict today - now we can start holding people accountable. We can start holding the police accountable to what it is that they doin’. Like surgeons. If a surgeon does wrong, they’re held accountable. So why is it any different when it comes to the police?
“Everything that we been doin’ holdin’ down this street. All this stuff. It was worth it.” Smith, with others in the community, have been holding space in the Square in an active protest, calling on city and state leaders to meet 24 demands for justice, as cited in Resolution 001 (bit.ly/georgefloydsquare-a).
“We thought numerous times that we crazy, and I’m glad that we did this as a collective so that we could check one another… we have one another to lean on. That’s why we call it a collective PTSD. It’s not just individuals, something I’m just going through… Everybody else around the neighborhood holdin’ down the space, it’s a collective thing. We’re not even standing just for us out here. We’re standing for everybody else, too. That’s why I’m glad the verdict is here, ‘cause now we can really talk about what needs to be talked about.”
Holding up an East 38th and Chicago lawn sign, Jay T. said the verdict meant a “future for my kids, change, hopefully my life can start being positive and not bein’ so negative all the time.”
The signs reads, “No Justice, No Streets,” the revised chant of the Square that calls for demands to be met before streets are reopened. Demand #24: Continue the closure of the intersection of 38th Street East and Chicago Avenue South until after trial of the four officers charged for the murder of George Floyd.
“I really would like to be stoic because we’re holding the line for justice. And that means all four officers convicted for the murder of George Floyd. But right now in this moment, I have to be honest, I am gratified that at least Derek Chauvin is feeling the brunt of our justice system in a way that we all see is fit. He murdered that man. And he will be held accountable. And that’s a start. That’s a start.”
“Emotional, I guess. Relieved a little bit. Frustrated, cuz it took so long, you know? I feel like they tried the other police [Mohammed Noor] so quick. But then it took a year for us to get here. And then we still have to wait. You know? Just a lot of emotions, lot of emotions.”
“It’s the people. It’s not where we from, it’s the people. that put their time and effort. The individuals that are part of [the community.] And because we took time to do that we actually got justice for a man that we watched being lynched, modern-day lynched, in front of our youth, in front of our community, in front of our world.
“And because we took the initiative, to stand out here and pull out garbage bins and set up medical equipment and make sure that we got people who know what we’re doing, like Square baby here,” she said, pointing to a young toddler, also nicknamed “Block baby,” who learned to walk and talk in this movement and who now raises a fist in the air and says ‘Justice!'
“Real talk, it’s important! We actually made it somewhere today. It’s far from over. We still have a long marathon ahead of us. But we laid that first stone down now. We did. And I’m gonna take that grand step and smile with my fist held high.
“And say ‘thank you’ to those who have been out here with us. Thank you to those of you who are continuing to take the time to learn and educate yourself on why we’re out here. But don’t stop today. There’s so many other voices that need to be heard. There’s so many other people that have lost their life in an unjust way. And they deserve justice, and we gonna keep talkin’ for ‘em.”