MINNEAPOLIS — Lavish Metger had to be here. The 28-year-old had spent the past two months vacationing in Colombia, far from the bitter cold weather and the unease stemming from the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died just a few blocks from where Metger grew up.
As the trial got underway, guilt began to gnaw at the Minneapolis native.
“Like, how out of touch, how grossly irresponsible do you have to be to be in Colombia, posting vacation vibes, while this s--- is happening?” he said Tuesday afternoon outside the Hennepin County Government Center. “It didn’t sit right with me at all for me not to be here.”
So he cut his vacation short and returned to his city. He came to the courthouse building, along with activists carrying signs and banners in remembrance of Floyd, members of the press hauling cameras and microphones and wearing media badges. They also had to be here.
As the crowd awaited Chauvin’s fate, Metger buzzed with nervous energy, hopping up and down and letting out an occasional “Whoo boy!” as he talked, but his mind was heavy with pessimism and gloom. Even if Chauvin was convicted of murder, he said, it would lull the country into thinking that the justice system was fair. Too many times, he added, police had killed with no conviction. There was Philando Castile, shot dead in his car by an officer who was later acquitted by a jury. And Jamar Clark, shot in the head during an arrest; the officers were cleared by a state investigation.
And if the jury did not convict Chauvin, whose killing of Floyd was captured on camera with painful clarity? Whose actions other police officers condemned in court?
“Y’all will think you’re in Afghanistan in 2006,” said Metger.
But as a man standing on a concrete bollard nearby began reading the verdict, Metger’s pessimism gave way to hope and joy.
“George! Floyd!” he chanted with his fist raised to the gray overcast sky. He hopped atop a bollard, a smile beaming live on his Instagram page for his 16,000 followers.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”
We were not in Afghanistan in 2006. We were in Minneapolis in 2021, where a 12-person jury — a Black woman, three Black men, two multiracial women, two White men and four White women — had determined that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in the video that sparked outrage and protests all over the world. Not Fentanyl or high blood pressure, or exhaust fumes from a nearby vehicle. No, it was the police officer.
The unbearable tension of the trial was replaced with a mix of release, shock, ecstasy, optimism, joy, caution and schadenfreude. The smell of hamburger patties wafted from a grill. Car horns blared, along with music from the Notorious B.I.G. (“It was all a dream …”) Dance parties broke out.
“He got exactly what he was supposed to get,” said Juan Gillenwater, a middle-aged Black man, of Chauvin’s conviction. He was still taking in the scene while most of the courthouse crowd had dissipated. “And I hope when he gets to the penitentiary or whatever correctional facility he gets to, I hope someone puts their knee on his neck and lets him scream, ‘Mama, Mama, Mama, I can’t breathe,’ and see how he likes it.”
Tears of relief streamed down Calvin George’s face. Though overcome with emotion, he was not surprised. “I expected justice,” he said. “No normal person could see that video and think he’s not wrong.”
“I can’t remember the last time that a police officer was convicted for killing an unarmed Black man, so I was very excited,” said Shad Kebaso. “If we didn’t get the conviction, it was going to be a pretty rough day here in Minneapolis,” he said, evoking the 1992 Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict.
As people hugged and cried, there was a sense of “yes, but …” Their work remains unfinished, but there is momentum.
“Today it has set precedent and is game-changing,” said Metger. “If we never stop, we can win.”