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Minneapolis activists, community leaders say Chauvin's conviction hasn't altered their missions

"When the cameras and everybody leave, we're not leaving," one activist said. "We believe in this work and we also believe this is a sprint not a marathon. We need to focus on solutions."
Image: Demonstrators confront police following an officer-involved killing in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Executive Director of CAIR-Minnesota, Jaylani Hussein, addresses the media outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 12, 2021.Nicholas Pfosi / Reuters

MINNEAPOLIS — One landmark court victory won't be enough to slow the movement of civil rights activists in Minneapolis who vow to remain focused on reaching their larger goal.

Derek Chauvin's convictions of two counts of murder and one of manslaughter are not an end to the ongoing fight for racial justice and police accountability, they say. They're a start.

"We need enough momentum from this moment to propel us to reimagining what public safety will look like in the future and to give the community enough power to hold police accountable," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Hussein was at the forefront of the protests in Brooklyn Center last week where Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop April 11.

Now that Chauvin has been convicted, Hussein said his top priority is ending racial profiling, reforming sentencing guidelines and pushing prosecutors to charge officers.

"This issue of police brutality impacts all of us. It may appear that the only people talking about it are people of color, but really this is an issue that impacts all communities," Hussein said. "There's just so much work to do."

Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted Tuesday of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for causing the death of George Floyd. It is extremely rare for police officers to be convicted of murder.

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced it is launching a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis to determine whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.

The Justice Department is already investigating whether Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd's arrest violated his civil rights.

Some local activists, who last week called on assistance from the DOJ, say they want the investigation expanded to include St. Paul, Brooklyn Center and other cities.

Black Visions Collective, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, has set course on a more abrupt path, one entailing a police-free society.

Citing police attacking protesters in Brooklyn Center, the organization said in a news release after Chauvin's conviction that this is “why we must divest from policing and invest in real safety, driven by the community to truly protect Black life.”

Hussein said his organization plans to tackle the education gap, housing disparities and a lack of economic support for minorities, poverty, mental health and drug addiction.

“It’s all interconnected,” Hussein said. “These are issues that produce a high number of arrests and problems and intercommunity violence.”

Ben Feist, chief programs officer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said he is already working with state lawmakers to draft bills regarding policing suspended licenses.

"Your license gets suspended for something very minor on the front end, but then it ultimately ties into a suspension that gets you pulled over," which sometimes leads to escalated circumstances, he said.

He also recommends removing armed police from low-level enforcement duties, such as traffic stops, unless it involves a felony, and divesting funds from traditional police practices.

It tends to be low-level enforcement issues that start these police interactions with communities of color that lead to unnecessary death, Feist said.

"For us, true justice would be for George Floyd to be alive today. But if we really want to work on finding justice going forward, we really need to end police targeting and violence against communities of color," Feist said. "We have to remember that this is just one moment in accountability in the police killing of George Floyd and so many others. But we have known for years in Minnesota that we have had terrible racial disparities in policing and the outcomes of police stops."

Trahern Pollard, 48, has lost track of how many protests he’s attended since Floyd's death.

"Lord have mercy," Pollard said. "I can't even count. Hundreds."

Pollard founded the nonprofit We Push for Peace in 2002 for at-risk youth and young adults.

Pollard's nonprofit, which tries to prevent recidivism and provides free mental health screenings, was among those solicited by the city of Minneapolis to be part of a coalition to advocate for peaceful protesting, in light of last year's civil unrest after Floyd's death. The city has said that unrest led to $350 million in losses and more than a thousand buildings were destroyed or damaged.

He said he will continue to call for police reforms such as programs to incentivize or require officers to live in the communities they police and for officers accused of misconduct to face swifter punishments, as was the case for Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd's arrest in May. They were fired the day after Floyd died. His death touched off international protests.

Moving ahead, all four groups say their mission is to make life better for minorities.

"When the cameras and everybody leave, we're not leaving," Hussein said. "We believe in this work and we also believe this is a sprint not a marathon. We need to focus on solutions."