Marcia Howard looks up at the sky during a street festival at George Floyd Square on April 4, 2021. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

International media attention has flocked to Minneapolis for the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Yet away from the press scrum outside the courthouse, residents and activists at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue continue to demand justice from the city.

Since May of last year, the intersection has remained closed to traffic and holds a memorial built around the spot where George Floyd took his last breaths beneath Chauvin’s knee. A makeshift garden lined with cinder blocks encircles a 10’x10’ platform, on which sits a large raised fist sculpture, designed by a local artist and constructed entirely from weathered steel. 

But during the trial, a daily trickle of photojournalists and reporters turn up, searching for reactions to the latest pieces of witness testimony and courtroom developments. George Floyd Square has also seen an increased number of visitors coming to pay their respects at the memorial—some from the Twin Cities and some from out of state. 

The media attention and constant visitors comes with a cost. Watching the evidence has retraumatized some people in the Powderhorn neighborhood and others grapple with explaining the trial to their children. 

How are the activists on the ground actually feeling as the trial grinds on?

On Sunday, April 4, Sahan Journal checked in with several community members who have been involved with the protest and memorial at 38th and Chicago since last May. Standing in this complicated space, they talked about Black liberation, “vulturistic” visitors, and why there’s not a TV here showing the trial. 

Here are their words. 

Kia Bible stands at the west barricade at the edge of George Floyd Square. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Kia Bible: ‘You need to come and visit this space without a camera in your hand.’

Kia Bible is the founder of 612 MASH (Minneapolis All Shall Heal), a nonprofit organization that began during the unrest last summer to provide volunteer medical assistance to protestors at 38th and Chicago. Bible is also a single mother of five and spends her time providing care for people in the neighborhood. 

How are you feeling about the trial? 

I was not prepared to watch it day one, and I attempted to watch it day two. I couldn’t do it. It’s frustrating to watch, and it definitely brings up more emotions. I really have to stay as focused as I can on this space and make sure that my mental health is prepared to deal with what may arise here.

Why might it be traumatizing to watch the trial?

It’s really traumatizing to watch the trial, because we’re reliving the situation which has been kind of laid at the wayside. And now you want to break apart bits and pieces of this man’s life and try to belittle and undermine and degrade his character as a Black man. That’s hard to watch. Because these men deal with this when they’re alive.

I’m not gonna hope for the trial. My hope is that we receive Black liberation in the end of all of it. Because the trial is only one thing, but what his death brought to this world is so much more than what that trial is going to even give anyone, whether it’s his family or the community.

How are you taking care of your mental health during the trial?

For me, it’s been family. Spending quality time with my family. You know, the trial is about losing a family member, technically speaking, right? [Floyd’s family] lost a family member. And I want to make sure that my kids know, every day I love them, regardless of what we’re dealing with.

Have you talked much with your kids about the trial?

They completely understand. I mean, my kids have been heavily involved in all of this. Just knowing that the community supports them and what we’re fighting for. They understand that there are going to be things that are said and talked about on there that they may not understand or that might aggravate them. 

And if they don’t want to watch it, and I let them know that. By all means—that’s why TV has an on and off switch.

How do you feel about the mass influx of press to 38th and Chicago?

You need to come and visit this space without a camera in your hand. Without a recorder in your hand. I want you to come in and experience the emotion behind this. I want you to experience this community. I want you to experience the people. I want you to experience the actual value that you will take away from this. 

And then you will know what to come in here and photograph, then you will know what to come in here and ask. Don’t come looking behind that lens because you’re not gonna see it as clear.

Jeanelle Austin, one of the caretakers of George Floyd’s memorial, installs artwork at a pop-up gallery inside the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Jeanelle Austin: ‘I have to watch the video. Because if I were to die, I would want someone to bear witness to how I die.’

Jeanelle Austin is a caretaker at George Floyd’s memorial and sits with Floyd’s family on the board of directors for the George Floyd Global Memorial organization. Recently, Austin helped install a pop-up exhibit in the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center that features offerings left at George Floyd Square during the past 10 months. 

How are you feeling about the trial?

I’m watching the trial because when Ahmaud Arbery was killed [in Georgia], I didn’t watch the video. Later I was talking to a friend of mine in Philly, and she said to me, ‘Jeanelle, I have to watch the video. Because if I were to die, I would want someone to bear witness to how I die.’ 

I think with the trial, part of the work of actually pursuing a more just society is to bear witness on how the trial process actually treats Black people.

It’s not just about watching the videos of how George Floyd died and acknowledging that that creates a kind of secondhand trauma. But it’s also about the witnesses: How are they being treated on the stand? As we go through this process, where do we see the racial bias and the injustices, whether coming from the prosecution or the defense? 

We need to be able to bear witness to that. Because when the trial is over, we need to be able to call our justice system to account.

How have you seen the trial impact the community here at 38th & Chicago?

The witnesses are coming back to George Floyd Square. This is their community. They were the witnesses because this is their community. This whole battle of George Floyd Square has centered the question of safety. How do we look at the trial and the whole process as a potential unsafe space for Black bodies?

Why might it be traumatizing to watch the trial?

I came here one morning and was weeping as I was tending to the place where George Floyd took his last breath, because I had watched the full video for the first time because of the trial. 

Not everybody’s in a space where they can actually watch it without triggering their trauma. Some of us are called to watch. We have to be careful with the assumption that everybody’s going to be watching the trial. Because that is not true. It is triggering, it is re-traumatizing.

How are you taking care of your mental health during the trial?

I was sweeping the streets this morning. That helps.

The pop-up gallery centers me when there’s nobody else in there. When I’m closing and it’s all quiet, sometimes I’ll just lay on the kid mats and decompress. Laying on the words “Black Joy.” It’s kind of symbolic, you know, just to remind us of what’s here. 

It’s hard to practice self care when you’re trying to care for the community as well. And it really takes the community to remind us to actually practice self care.

Jay Webb raises his fist while tending to the garden in the center of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Jay Webb: ‘Two or three days ago, this garden wasn’t here. We’re just going to keep making it prettier and more beautiful.’

Jay Webb is an outdoor caretaker at George Floyd’s memorial and helps tend the garden surrounding the iconic raised fist statue at the square. 

How have you seen the trial impact the community here at 38th & Chicago?

They took our fist in ‘68 and our gold medal [following the ‘68 Mexico City Olympics], but they can’t take our fist in 2021.

All the plants here are rescues—they were going to be thrown out or were already in the garbage. A lot of the time that’s what happens with us in life. Something was once getting ready to die. Then you put it into soil and water, it starts to heal. 

Two or three days ago, this garden wasn’t here. We’re just going to keep making it prettier and more beautiful. It’s going to keep expanding. As long as the butterflies keep coming, we’ll keep going here.

Butchy Austin plays his flugelhorn during an Easter Sunday worship service put on by the Worldwide Outreach for Christ. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Butchy Austin: ‘I don’t watch the trial straight through. I watch bits and parts of it as my body can handle.’

Butchy Austin lives a block away from 38th Street and Chicago Avenue with his wife and four kids. On Sundays, he regularly plays trumpet with the Worldwide Outreach for Christ, a non-denominational church located at the intersection.

How are you feeling about the trial?

We’re still going to be here after the trial. It’s not just, ‘Okay, what’s the verdict?’

Right now, I think most people believe everyone here is a bunch of rebels, a bunch of anarchists, a bunch of anti-cop, anti-government, anti-everything. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. 

There are people here all over the spectrum. We still work together because we all see wrong happening in the case of George Floyd and want to come together and help make that right.

How are you taking care of your mental health throughout the trial?

I’ve always been of this mentality, We are mind, body, and spirit. I don’t look at this like I’m hyper focusing on one versus the other. So from a mind perspective, I take time to be in the community and I pray for the spiritual and mental side of things. I connect every morning with other community members. We talk and process. I have to also check myself on how much I’m taking in, because it can be too much trauma.

I don’t watch the trial straight through. I’ll record it. I watch bits and parts of it as my body can handle. I take breaks. Like I said, mind, body and spirit. 

Have you talked much with your kids about the trial?

We do, and it’s not been easy. They have an understanding of what’s happening and why it’s happening. As parents, we also have to help. My wife and I do see a mental health professional every week. And we’ve been able to get knowledge to help recognize trauma in our kids—like when it’s coming out sideways, and how to respond to it in a loving and healthy way.

I don’t want them to live in fear. I know that much. As they watch, the questions that keep getting asked is: ‘Are those police officers? Are they killing him?’ And those are tough questions to answer. 

If the people who are here to serve and protect are doing their job correctly, then I want my kids to grow up with trust that they’re doing their job correctly. But also, I want them to have discernment and understand that they are still young Black men and women in this community.

Billy Briggs photographs George Floyd Square from atop the abandoned Speedway gas station overhang. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Billy Briggs: ‘The media—they’re actually getting paid when they walk in here. None of us here are getting paid.’

Billy Briggs is an outdoor caretaker at George Floyd’s memorial and a community photographer. He lives “175 footsteps” away from where Floyd was killed, and helps maintain a timer that counts the number of days the trial has lasted on the abandoned Speedway gas station sign. 

How are you feeling about the trial?

I chose to watch part of the trial, and it just broke my heart—listening to what the folks had to say who were there. I’m 175 footsteps away from where George was killed. And obviously, I couldn’t do anything. You know, I wasn’t out there. But to know that those people, the witnesses, were pleading for his life that close. The children having to witness it. It’s a lot.

I don’t think people realize what really happened until they saw all the angles. Wasn’t it enough that we saw an eight minute video? But no, we got to see three different body cameras, we got to see two other cameras. It was too much.

How do you feel about the press visiting 38th and Chicago?

It’s a little intrusive, but I understand it.

Now it feels a little vulturistic. I see some familiar faces that I’ve met in the last year, but I’ve seen stories on YouTube about this area that would make you think you’re walking into a war zone. That’s why a lot of people are apprehensive with the cameras. Like, ‘What are you doing with the footage?’ 

Another thing is the media, they’re actually getting paid when they walk in here. None of us here are getting paid. We’re all volunteers–and we live here!

White people with cameras—they walk around with so much privilege. But I’ve had to learn myself, too. I never thought I would be in the middle of such history. 

How are you taking care of your mental health throughout the trial?

That’s been difficult to be honest. I live alone. But it’s been really heavy. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, flashbacks of last summer. It’s hard to sleep. Yesterday I left the square for the first time in a few weeks and went to the dog park at Minnehaha Falls. So that felt good.

Being here is community, that’s really what I’ve learned. This has brought our community together in ways I wouldn’t have ever imagined. I think people don’t realize how heavy it is, just living here.

Marcia Howard speaks during a morning meeting at George Floyd Square. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

Marcia Howard: ‘Our reaction to our living trauma may be different than even we plan.’

Marcia Howard lives near 38th and Chicago and taught at Roosevelt High School before taking time off to volunteer and protest at the intersection. Howard says she was the teacher of Darnella Frazier, one of the underage witnesses who filmed former officer Chauvin pressing his knee on George Floyd’s neck. 

How are you feeling about the trial?

To be honest, we had a screen and a projector and we originally planned to have watch parties. But we had a death two days before the trial that affected our mood and our willingness to be emotional for journalists’ content.

It’s important that we take it day by day. Because we’re a community, we actually gauge people’s mood and their willingness to even discuss the trial. 

How do you feel about the press visiting 38th and Chicago?

I think it’s really important for journalists to understand that when they come and ask us about our reaction to the trial, or are we live streaming the trial itself or having watch parties, the witness pool is from this neighborhood. So after they come from the witness stand, they’re back on 38th Street. 

They need to understand that our reaction to our living trauma may be different than even we plan. 

To be honest, most journalists are doing it precisely in the posture that they should. They do it cautiously. They are kind. They ask. It’s important that they understand we’re people first and a story second.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Ben Hovland is a Korean Adoptee and is the multimedia producer for Sahan Journal. His photo and video reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, Agence France-Presse, BBC, and Minnesota Public Radio.