Tears and relief sweep intersection where George Floyd died

People celebrate outside.
A crowd of people celebrates the guilty verdicts in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd, at the George Floyd Square in south Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

There was quiet, just for a moment, as hundreds of people standing in the intersection at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue crowded in to listen to the news.

“They’re announcing the verdict!” someone shouted, calling for silence.

Then thunderous cheering filled the place where George Floyd was pinned beneath a police officer's knee nearly a year ago, begging for air and his mother. Many people wept. Some sobbed.

They were cheering the first guilty verdicts for the fired officer, Derek Chauvin, who was charged with murder and manslaughter. Moments later, another wave of cheers swept the crowd as the other two verdicts — both guilty — were announced. Moments after that, Chauvin put his hands behind his back and was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

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In the place now known as George Floyd Square, a spot that millions around the world have seen in videos shot by bystanders during Floyd's arrest, there was relief.

Venisha Johnson jumped for joy when she heard the verdicts. Minutes later she could barely speak, she was weeping so hard.

“It means so much to me,” said Johnson, who was wearing a mask that memorialized some of Floyd’s final words: “I can’t breathe.”

“I’ve been praying for George every day, every morning at 6 a.m. I’m just so happy. The way he was murdered was terrible, but thank you, Jesus,” she said.

Some 300 people gathered in the intersection, home to Cup Foods, the corner convenience store where employees had called police on the evening of May 25, saying Floyd had paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. It was Memorial Day.

Since then, thousands have come to lay flowers at the site where Floyd had the air choked out of him. Or they came to stand beside the sculpture that now fills the middle of the street, a huge metal fist raised as a cry for justice. Or they look at the now-closed gas station, where the sign had been covered long ago with a demand: “Justice for George Floyd.”

People celebrate outside.
People celebrate at George Floyd Square after hearing of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin's guilty verdicts in his murder and manslaughter case on Tuesday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

On Tuesday, a protester climbed onto the sign to add two more words: “Justice Served?”

For those gathered on Tuesday, they had seen at least the beginning of justice.

“Let the healing work begin,” said Jennifer Starr Dodd, a Minneapolis woman, speaking through her tears. “Repentance, accountability, respect. You can’t have healing without repentance.”

By early evening, the square was a scene of celebration, prayer and community relief. More and more people streamed in. Parents brought children, showing them that, at least sometimes, a Black man could get justice.

At one point, someone began throwing $1 bills in the air to symbolize the alleged counterfeit bill that led to Floyd’s death, and other people quickly followed. The money was soon collected in glass jars to become a donation — though it wasn’t really clear for what — and laid beside the flowers that now mark the spot where Floyd stopped breathing.

Eliza Wesley has been a near-constant presence at the square since Floyd’s death. She calls herself the Gatekeeper. Before the verdict was announced, she led the crowd in prayer.

“I don’t have any doubt in you, God,” she said. “We’ve been here for 11 months.”

“This is the day the Lord has made.”