MINNEAPOLIS — When Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd last year, cries of joy erupted outside the courthouse where the former Minneapolis police officer stood trial. Many greeted the rare conviction in a police brutality case with a collective exhale of relief, optimistic that the historic moment for racial justice would help heal a city still on edge from the trauma of Floyd’s killing and the fiery unrest that followed.
But as residents here gathered Wednesday to mark the second anniversary of Floyd’s death, that sense of hope has been replaced by disappointment that the demand for police reform that sent millions of protesters into the streets two summers ago is fading.
At the makeshift memorial marking the south Minneapolis intersection where Floyd died, a 25-year-old Black woman who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing concerns about her safety lamented that police across the country continue to go unpunished for killing people of color.
“Enough is enough,” the woman said as a steady stream of people stopped to pay respects at the painting of an angel on the asphalt where Floyd took his final breaths. “I can’t even say it’s time that we get justice because I know we’ll never get it.”
That sense of futility has only grown in Minneapolis, where residents remain deeply divided over the future of public safety despite widespread calls for police reform in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D), who holds administrative control over the police, has enacted numerous reforms to rein in a department long accused of racism and excessive force against people of color — including a ban on chokeholds and limits on traffic stops that predominantly targeted Black residents. He also promised tougher discipline for bad officers.
But a recent state investigation found the Minneapolis police continued to engage in “discriminatory, race-based policing” — targeting and using force on Black people at a higher rate than Whites. The report said the department routinely failed to hold its officers accountable for bad behavior, despite the mayor’s promised reforms.
Minneapolis voters last fall rejected a ballot initiative that would have replaced the police department with a new department of public safety — a vote deeply influenced by rising crime in the city and fears that the department, which has struggled to respond to basic 911 calls due to hundreds of officer departures, could plunge further into crisis.
Since Floyd’s death, two other Black men have been killed by Minneapolis police — adding to the list of Black men, including Daunte Wright and Winston Smith, killed by other law enforcement in the Twin Cities in the last two years.
That includes the fatal shooting of Amir Locke, who was killed in February as officers executed a no-knock warrant inside a downtown Minneapolis apartment even though Frey claimed to have banned no-knock warrants in the city.
Locke was not the target of the warrant, even though police initially described him as a “suspect.” Locke’s death, which resulted in no charges against the officers involved, sparked fresh protests in the city. One demonstrator carried a sign that read: “What changed after George Floyd? NOTHING.”
A similar sense of dismay played out this week in other parts of the country, where protests fueling the nation’s racial reckoning two years ago have been followed by headlines of other fatal police encounters involving people of color.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., where tens of thousands of people took to the streets after Floyd’s death, tensions remain high after the fatal police shooting of Patrick Lyoya during an April traffic stop.
A prosecutor is still determining whether to charge Grand Rapids Police Officer Christopher Schurr, who remains on paid leave. Schurr allegedly shot Lyoya in the back of the head during a struggle after he pulled the man over for a license plate violation. Lyoya’s death has revived complaints of a history of harassment and racist behavior from Grand Rapids officers toward Black residents.
On Tuesday, “Justice for Patrick Lyoya” demonstrators for the third time in a month interrupted a city commission meeting, pressing the mayor and other city officials on why charges have not yet been filed in the case. Some highlighted the speed with which Chauvin was charged with murder and jailed less than a week after Floyd’s killing.
John Williamson, a White man who lives in the same neighborhood where Lyoya lived and has helped organize protests over his death, called the evidence against Schurr “indisputable.”
“It feels like our voices are falling on deaf ears,” Williamson said. “The police are bringing violence into our community. If they will not be held accountable for the most egregious execution by a police officer — if Derek Chauvin will get arrested, but Christopher Schurr will not — the city will crack in half.”
In New York City, where police came under fire for their brutal tactics toward racial justice demonstrators in 2020, many of the promised reforms in response to Floyd’s death have not come to pass — including increased transparency about officer misconduct. Meanwhile, many of the colorful murals of Floyd that once dotted the city have been painted over.
“It’s been two years, and nothing has changed,” said Terrell Harper, a Brooklyn activist and one of the organizers of a Wednesday protest in Floyd’s memory.
In Minneapolis, the city prepared to unveil a sign renaming the block along Chicago Avenue where Floyd was killed as George Perry Floyd Square — a move that city officials have described as the beginning of an effort to not only memorialize Floyd’s death but revitalize an area that has become the emotional epicenter of the nation’s reckoning on race and justice.
Throughout the day, people shed tears at the spot where Floyd was killed, including Larisa Gehmie, who said she came to 38th and Chicago to reflect on Floyd’s life as “a father, a community member and a friend” but found herself also thinking of others killed by police in the last two years, including Locke and Wright.
“It’s important that as a community, especially here in Minnesota, that we continue to remember what happened here and not just continue to go on with the flow as usual,” said Gehmie, an executive assistant at the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a nonprofit that operates a bail fund for people it believes have been unjustly arrested.
“Unfortunately since George Floyd was murdered two years ago, the city and the state has not stopped killing Black people,” she said. “Until we really decide to grapple with this issue of white supremacy, the killings and murders of Black people will just continue to happen in this country.”
Andy Balaskovitz in Grand Rapids, Jack Wright in New York and Grant Stringer in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.