The widespread civil unrest many feared in the wake of a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial seemed to have been largely averted, at least in the late-afternoon daylight hours, after Tuesday’s news that the former police officer had been found guilty on all charges connected to the death of George Floyd.
In Minneapolis, where the Chauvin trial took place, the atmosphere outside the courthouse was jubilant. Those who gathered in front of the courthouse hugged, danced in the streets and even barbecued after the verdict was read.
Whether the peace would hold through the night or the celebrations in big cities would devolve into chaos was unclear. In the past, nationwide racial justice protests have frequently escalated into violence and looting.
Minneapolis and cities across the U.S. have been wracked by violent protests against police brutality since Floyd died on May 25, 2020, facedown on the pavement with Chauvin kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Moments before Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill read the verdict, Minneapolis office buildings emptied and workers fled downtown to avoid possible demonstrations, local media reports said.
But fears of mass chaos appeared to be unfounded by early evening.
Demonstrators in Minneapolis told reporters that they wouldn’t be looting. They said it was a time to celebrate.
“This is our Super Bowl,” Jeff Compton of Louisville, Kentucky, told Minnesota’s National Public Radio station outside the courthouse.
At the site of the killing, now a shrine to Floyd, a celebratory crowd chanted, “One down, three to go!” They were referring to the three other fired Minneapolis officers accused of aiding and abetting their colleague’s crime.
Still, cities remained on edge even as fears of violence and vandalism eased.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison called for crowds to remain peaceful after the verdict was read.
“In the coming days more [protesters] may seek to express themselves through petition and demonstration,” Mr. Ellis said. “I urge everyone to honor the legacy of George Floyd by doing so calmly, legally, and peacefully.”
More protests were scheduled for later in the evening.
Several demonstrations were planned in New York, including gatherings at the Barclays Center, Times Square and Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, the New York Post reported.
The New York Police Department spread officers across the city, and more than 300 were deployed to Barclays Center, according to the report.
Recent high-profile police shootings and heated rhetoric from politicians also fanned fears of violence and vandalism regardless of the verdict in the Chauvin trial.
Earlier this month, Daunte Wright was killed by a police officer who allegedly mistook her gun for a stun gun in suburban Minneapolis, not far from where the Chauvin trial took place. That death followed the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago.
President Biden and Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, stoked tensions with demands for a guilty verdict for Chauvin.
Mr. Biden said the evidence against Chauvin is “overwhelming,” making it clear he thought a guilty verdict was the right call. Ms. Waters urged protesters “to get more confrontational” with police officers.
One former law enforcement official said all of those events created a powder keg in American cities.
“All of the cities where we saw this happen last year could see something, but in some areas, we have compounding events that could make it greater in those areas,” said Randy Petersen, a former police officer and now a senior researcher for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“Some of the areas might only see rocks being thrown at police, but others may have a reenactment or something worse than last year,” he said.
Law enforcement in cities and towns across the country prepared for the worst.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, declared a disaster emergency in Philadelphia and deployed 1,000 National Guard troops to the city, where scores of downtown businesses were boarded up in case of rioting.
The National Guard was activated in Chicago, where the city positioned 300 garbage trucks, salt spreaders, snowplows and water trucks to protect the city’s commercial buildings.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, activated 125 members of the Illinois National Guard to support the Chicago Police Department.
Civil rights leaders in Los Angeles took to the streets ahead of the verdict to call for calm.
Police along Los Angeles’ ritzy Rodeo Drive set up a surveillance system to monitor for unrest and let the public know they are prepared.
“Police have to prepare for the worst,” said James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “It would be prudent to plan for violence.”
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