MINNEAPOLIS — Rawan Abdalla protested almost every day last summer after George Floyd’s death. So when the verdict was set to be announced, the 18-year-old anticipated the worst, even urging her father to close his convenience story early in case violence broke out.
Like many people, she felt shock and happiness when the guilty verdict was read. She went straight to Hennepin County Government Center with her younger sister to celebrate the historic moment. But it wasn’t long before she found herself thinking, so that’s it?
“I just expected more,” she said. “It’s kind of like frustrating when I hear people say justice has been served because we’re so far from justice.”
She’s quick to point out three other officers still have to stand trial in Floyd’s death. And then there’s the officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in nearby Brooklyn Center. Not to mention the other families in Minnesota who have lost loved ones to police — people whose names aren’t known across the country.
“It gets to the point where you’re kind of desensitized to it, where it’s like you’re not even surprised anymore when you see another name,” she said.
Mental health experts warned that Chauvin’s trial could retraumatize teenagers who are learning what it means to be Black in America and are developing an understanding of the legal system, policing and justice. Some teenagers were anxious about the outcome of the trial and the potential for more violence if Chauvin was acquitted.
Now, for Abdalla and other Black teenagers living in the city where Floyd was murdered, Chauvin’s conviction feels like long overdue accountability, but not justice. After enduring a trial that ripped opened old wounds, many are demanding substantial change.
Teen hopes to rally the same ‘passion and anger’ from Floyd protest
Nearly 24 hours after the verdict, Abdalla was on her way to a free acupuncture treatment offered in northeast Minneapolis for injured protesters.
She rolled up the leg of her jeans to reveal a nasty wound on her knee from being shot with a rubber bullet during protests over Wright’s death. At first, she could hardly walk and had to sit down while she was training for her new job at Starbucks.
Her knee is starting to heal, but she told the acupuncturist that lately she’s been having trouble sleeping and eating, even before she started fasting for Ramadan. Her shoulders are “like rocks” and she’s been clenching her jaw.
Abdalla said she couldn’t watch most of the trial, particularly previously unseen body camera footage, because it was “too triggering.”
“I don’t want to sit down and hear people bicker back and forth, that George Floyd ‘deserved’ his death because it’s ridiculous,” she said. “I care about this trial, but my mental health also matters.”
Instead, the college student skipped class to go to protests, often emailing her professors for extensions on assignments during the trial. Not all of them have been understanding, but Abdalla believes sustained protests, and even looting and property destruction, are necessary to get justice.
When asked what justice means to her, she rattled off a list of ideas: abolish the police, end mass incarceration, create universal health care, cancel student debt.
“We’re not making any progress,” she said. She hopes for “as much momentum and as much passion and anger as we (had) for Floyd over the summer. … We should be there all night, we should be there all day until we are literally forced to leave.”
If other officers aren’t convicted, ‘we’re back at square one’
Across the river, Marcus Hunter, 17, updated his guardian Don Samuels on the latest post-verdict news. Hunter heard Chauvin’s third-degree murder conviction could be reversed on appeal; Samuels wondered if the judge will give him a longer sentence due to aggravating factors.
Hunter said he felt confused, frustrated and angry, so he didn’t watch the start of the trial. But he felt compelled to tune in later.
Watching the body camera footage in particular was “super traumatizing,” he said, because it resurfaced his own fear about interactions with police.
“It was pretty hard to escape it because it was the subject of all conversation, all over social media,” he said. “Watching so many Black people die, a part of us dies with them.”
Like Abdalla, he has found it hard to focus in school.
Hunter also plays football and said his workouts have been horrible. He had to walk past members of the National Guard to get to the gym during the trial, and he would lose motivation by the time he arrived.
“It was definitely overwhelming,” he said. “Things like that, that keep me balanced in my life are imbalanced.”
When the verdict came so quickly, Samuels told Hunter that likely meant Chauvin had been found guilty. Still, Hunter decided not to join him at George Floyd Square for the announcement, fearing if Samuels were wrong, “it would be worse than anything imaginable.”
But while people celebrated, Hunter said his attention shifted to the fate of the other three officers because “that still can go wrong.”
Legal experts say the case against former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, who were involved in Floyd’s arrest, will be harder to prove.
“If accountability is not given to those three officers, then we’re back at square one,” he said. “25% is a failing grade.”
Justice would be police ‘doing their jobs correctly’
After Emo Ismail, 18, finished his workout for the day, he recalled waiting in anticipation for the verdict, with his family gathered around the television in the living room of their Richfield home. Ismail said he felt hopeful.
Watching the trial wasn’t necessarily traumatizing, but “still felt really heavy.”
His family let out a sigh of relief after Chauvin was found guilty of the first count. By the time Judge Peter Cahill read the third guilty charge, they didn’t feel the joy many people expressed.
“We all smiled, but it wasn’t like, ‘Yeah!'” he said. “It was more like, ‘Finally.'”
Afterward, they went to George Floyd Square for the first time as a family and listened to the speakers.
The verdict left Ismail with mixed emotions. He felt like the youth-led protests had finally “paid off,” but he said Chauvin being found guilty is not good enough. For him, the verdict was not justice, but mere accountability.
“Justice would be George Floyd being with his family right now,” he said. “Justice would look like (police) doing their jobs correctly.”
If police have been able to apprehend white mass shooters without incident, young Black people including Wright and Ma’Khia Bryant, who was recently killed in Columbus, Ohio, should still be alive, he said. Bryant, 16, was shot by a police officer 20 minutes before Chauvin’s verdict was announced.
“We felt relief for only so long before there was another victim,” he said. “It’s been excruciating.”
Ismail said the verdict hasn’t made him feel safer because police may still view him as a threat. Still, he’s hopeful after the protests spurred by Wright’s death.
“The best we can keep doing is just keep our foot on their necks, just keep applying that pressure,” he said. “One thing I do know for sure, we’re headed in the right direction.”
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg