Standing at the intersection where his brother was pinned to the street by Minneapolis police more than a week ago, Milton Carney spoke with a quiet intensity about the death of George Floyd.
Behind him, hundreds of people had gathered outside Cup Foods to celebrate the news Wednesday afternoon that three former Minneapolis police officers had been charged with aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death. Charges against a fourth, Derek Chauvin, were upgraded to second-degree murder in the Memorial Day incident, in which Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, leading to his death.
“We are glad the system is starting to work for the righteous,” said Carney, 45, of Houston. “But this is just the first step. The journey is not over; the fight is not over.
“If y’all want the violence to stop, you got to give them something to make it stop.”
For more than a week, the intersection of 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue has been a place of intense passion and somber reflection. But Wednesday, as news of the charges against all four ex-police officers made its way through the crowd, the scene took on an air of hope and celebration.
Music blared, hot dogs and hamburgers sizzled on grills, and people mingled in the sunshine at the spot that’s become a sacred shrine to many across the globe. After days of tragedy, terror and overwhelming grief, people were feeling some joy again.
“This is a moment of change that I didn’t think I’d live to see,” said Rod Adams, a Minneapolis native who now lives in Detroit, speaking to the day. “This is one of those moments in this country when we can do real structural change.”
“I think it’s about time,” said Caroline Njogu of St. Paul, reacting to the charges against the former officers. “This is why we’ve been here. Today we’re celebrating.”
‘We deserve justice’
Shortly after Attorney General Keith Ellison announced the new charges, George Floyd’s son, 27-year-old Quincy Mason, stood outside a downtown Minneapolis hotel with family attorney Benjamin Crump and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“I am happy that all the officers have been arrested,” Mason said. “My father should not have been killed like this. We deserve justice.”
Crump said the family wanted a first-degree murder charge filed against Chauvin but has faith in Ellison’s pledge to investigate and prosecute the former officers.
“We believe it was torture,” Crump said, adding that Chauvin’s continued application of pressure on Floyd’s neck despite another officer questioning him amounted to “intent,” an element of first-degree murder.
Sharpton, who will deliver the eulogy at Floyd’s funeral Thursday, said he plans to call for a national act akin to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that protects citizens from police.
“It’s not about piecemeal,” he said. “We need fundamental federal laws.”
Both Sharpton and Crump said they were hopeful, given the outrage. Since Floyd’s death, demonstrations for justice have spread to all 50 states and many nations.
“I’ve always believed you need to fight in the court of public opinion before you can get to the court of law,” Crump said.
Added Sharpton, “When I see young white kids out there marching … I know that change is possible.”
Nearby, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died in police custody in New York six years ago while also gasping that he couldn’t breathe, said Floyd’s pleas felt like “my son’s voice echoing from the grave.”
Although she expressed relief that the firings of the officers and criminal charges came swiftly in Minneapolis, Carr urged everyone to prepare for the long haul.
“We gonna fight,” she said. “We gonna win.”
Earlier Wednesday, Crump and Mason visited the intersection of 38th and Chicago. Crump’s voice boomed as he spoke, rising above the hundreds of supporters and dozens of media members encircling the site.
“We are demanding justice … [for] what the entire world has seen with their eyes and cannot unsee,” he said. “We cannot have two justice systems in America — one for black Americans and one for white Americans.”
Throughout the week, activists have circulated at the Cup Foods site, gathering support for their causes.
On Wednesday, a group seeking to recall Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman launched a petition drive, sending out volunteers with clipboards and signature sheets. Chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team also were circulating through the crowd.
Ann Boekhoff of St. Paul left a gift of fruit and bars outside Cup Foods, and she also brought her 2-year-old granddaughter. “I’m here to honor George Floyd,” she said. “This is a very sacred place. I wanted her to be exposed to what’s going on in the world.”
Carmilla Peterson of Minneapolis echoed the thoughts of many.
“I think people are happy that some justice has been served, but it’s not enough,” she said. “There’s a lingering anger, because it took the destruction of our town to get some justice.”
Larry Cregg, who lives a block from Cup Foods, said the events reminded him of the 1960s, when massive protests resulted in civil rights laws being passed. But those laws haven’t been enough, he said.
“This says that black people in America haven’t made any progress,” he said. Gesturing at the crowd, he added, “If all these people don’t go out and vote, all this is for nothing.”