At a disabled gas station in Minneapolis, Eliza Wesley improvised a lifeguard booth to try to protect her from grief and pain. Across the street, she sees the intersection where George Floyd was murdered a year ago, and screams when she realizes someone is disrespecting the tributes to the man who started the biggest wave of anti-racism protests in the United States since Martin Luther King. .
“It’s a sacred place,” says Eliza, who volunteered to guard the place daily with candles, flowers and colorful posters. “People come here and want to take videos, take photos. Okay, but that’s not all. It’s about the community, what it means to stay here, to think about what happened to a black man. “
Wearing aviator sunglasses, a flourishing yellow jacket and cap, the 52-year-old American claims to be in charge of the place created and maintained by locals in remembrance of what happened on May 25 of the year. last.
There, some relief is mingled with the recent conviction of ex-white cop Derek Chauvin – who suffocated Floyd with his knee for nearly ten minutes – and the grueling wait for police system reform, which seems far from happening.
As Minneapolis embraces the return to normalcy after protests and the end of pandemic restrictions, the memorial in front of Eliza’s eyes is unwilling to normalize anything. Right at the entrance of one of the four forbidden blocks, the sign announces that it is about a “Free State”, a sort of sanctuary guarded by blacks who take turns day and night, even in winter. extremely cold of the city, which can reach temperatures of – 15 ºC.
One of the warnings goes to white visitors: “Don’t worry about yourself. Come listen, learn, regret and testify. Remember you are here to support, not to be supported. “
There is no hate, said Eliza, but a demand for respect, as if this space is a way to remind everyone that the fight continues. “You can’t breathe, because it’s not over yet.”
During the 22-day trial that convicted Chauvin in three categories of homicide, at least 64 people were killed by police in the United States. Two of them were the young black man Daunte Wright, shot dead in an approach to traffic a few miles outside Minneapolis, and Ma’Khia Bryant, a black teenager shot dead in Ohio, an hour before the verdict was announced.
A year after Floyd’s assassination, little progress has been made in structural changes in the police not only in the city where the crime took place – and where the political promises were the boldest – but also in terms of federal legislation.
In March, the United States House of Representatives passed the so-called George Floyd Police Justice Act, which prohibits controversial police tactics, such as strangulation, and facilitates prosecution of officers who violate the rights of police officers. suspects. But the measure stopped in the Senate, where it needs 60 of the 100 votes in the House to take effect.
Senators are now split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans – with a tie in the hands of Vice President Kamala Harris – and analysts are skeptical of at least ten Republicans supporting a project like this. this.
In Minneapolis, city council last year promised to dismantle the police department and rebuild the security system with community help, but the proposal failed.
Mayor Jacob Frey, of the Democratic Party, is opposed to the idea, and councilors, who had previously championed the idea, withdrew under pressure from residents.
A survey conducted in August by the local Star Tribune shows that the downsizing of the police department is not enjoying overwhelming public support. About 40% of Minneapolis residents were in favor of the idea, and among black residents the rate was 35%.
So far, the city has passed a bill that outlaws bottlenecks and puts in place new requirements to reduce violence in police approaches, but activists and pundits want more.
Minneapolis Foundation vice president Chanda Smith Baker said the Floyd case was a historic milestone, but it is not yet possible to say that the protests have produced significant and permanent results in the police structure.
“It’s clear that due to the amount of attention and the way the world has been disturbed by Floyd’s death, something different has happened. But that will only matter if we keep pushing for changes at all levels, ”he says. “Just because there was victory in one place didn’t mean we changed the system.”
US police kill about 1,000 people a year, with blacks almost three times more likely to be the victims than whites. According to a Bowling Green State University investigation, 104 non-federal police officers were arrested for murder between early 2005 and June 2019. Of these, only 35 were convicted.
Chanda says that systemic racism, Americans’ lack of understanding of the issue, and lack of political will to drive change partly explain this difficult-to-reverse scenario.
“Communities are not naive. Have an officer [Chauvin] responsible does not indicate that others will as well. It is recognized that we cannot allow the trial and its verdict to be the end of the story. “
Damien Markham, a resident of Minneapolis, says Chauvin’s conviction came “just so that we don’t set the town on fire again.”
At 33, he helps maintain the place in Floyd’s honor and says the solution to ending the “never-ending cycle” of black police murders is economic inclusion. “They don’t kill black people with money, they kill poor black people. If we have the money, they’ll leave us alone. “
The Floyd Memorial has become a tourist spot and the center of a dispute between activists and Minneapolis City Hall, which wants to reopen the route for cars and buses at the intersection of bustling 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where the crime took place. Locals say that since the establishment of the square, with a sculpture with a closed fist in the middle – a symbol of solidarity and resistance – the police in the area have declined.
On Tuesday (11), Cory S. was showing the place to her mother, who lives in Texas. “There is less policing now, but also a greater awareness of racism and social inequalities.”
Specializing in working with marginalized populations, Chanda says that “there will always be a need for some level of policing”, but it is possible to reach a compromise between what exists today and the total dismantling of the company. “Traffic violations, mental health issues or drug addiction, for example, should not be tackled with police strategies.”
Lawmakers in Minnesota, where Minneapolis is located, are considering a proposal that would allow mental health teams to respond, in some cases, to emergency calls. But the Republican-controlled state Senate appears unwilling to approve the measure.
Political disagreements on the issue are widespread across the country. Lawmakers in all 50 US states introduced more than 2,000 law enforcement bills last year, and only 12 of them were able to seal more comprehensive measures.
President Joe Biden pressured parliamentarians to approve reform of the police system, and the Department of Justice decided to investigate whether the Minneapolis police have a “pattern or practice” of discrimination or excessive use of force in the proceedings, which was considered progress. .
Faced with a historically racist system, Biden must make race issues a priority if he is to move forward with changes that even Barack Obama, the first black American president, failed to implement.