“Justice Looks Like Abolition”: A Minneapolis Organizer on the Chauvin Verdict
While George Floyd’s killer was found guilty, Miski Noor of the Black Visions Collective says that true justice requires replacing policing with systems of care—and democratic control over public safety.
On Tuesday, April 20, jurors in Minnesota found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of all charges brought forward for the death of George Floyd: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin’s bail was also immediately revoked and he was taken into custody after the verdict was read.
The guilty verdicts represent a strong departure from the legal norm: between 2005 and 2019, only four police officers had been found guilty of murder in the United States, while an estimated 1,000 people have been shot and killed by cops every year since 2015. A breakdown of that five year study by the Washington Post shows that Black Americans were killed by police at more than double the rate of white people.
The verdicts come 11 months after Chauvin killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck while three other officers — who currently face charges for aiding and abetting in the murder — looked on.
In the week following Floyd’s May 25 murder, which was filmed and posted on the internet by a teenage witness, mass protests spread around the country, and world. In June, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to disband the city’s police department — a decision that reflected protesters’ and organizers’ calls to abolish the institution of policing. The city has since retreated on that proposal, even voting in February to allot $6.4 million in funding for dozens of new police officers.
In These Times spoke with Miski Noor, co-founder of Black Visions Collective — a Minneapolis-based abolitionist organization — about the significance of the Chauvin verdict in the fight for racial justice.
How does the verdict fit into the fight against racist policing?
Miski Noor: I hope that this ruling gives George Floyd’s family some peace, or space to rest. Our city has been in the middle of just so much pain since [his death]. And so it just feels like a chapter closing in a way — and it was really incredible to just see how many Black folks were celebrating or taking a sigh of relief. And so I’m appreciative of the fact that it gave folks hope and space. But you know, even as the verdict was being delivered, there was the police murder of a 16-year-old girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio.
We really have to look at why folks have been calling for police abolition, and why abolition is the only way forward — because even with Chauvin being convicted, George Floyd is not here. And real justice would be if Floyd were actually still here with his family, his loved ones in his community. While a conviction is something that may hopefully bring the family some peace, it still comes after the fact of the murder happening. We need to be moving towards a world in which the murders of Black people at the hands of police are not happening, and instead, build a world in which Black folks can live and thrive and not be targeted for murder and terrorized by the police.
Can you talk a bit more about what justice would look like going forward?
MN: I think justice looks like abolition. I think justice looks like building a world in which, you know, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Dolal Idd, Adam Toledo, and so many other folks would have had the opportunity to live full lives; had the opportunity not to be criminalized because they’re young, or Black, or drug users or anything else. A world in which folks are actually able to receive the help and support that they need when they’re asking for support, and they’re asking for help.
I think justice looks like a world in which somebody who’s having a mental health crisis has a mental health professional show up. I think it looks like when somebody is in the middle of an overdose, that they have somebody there who is a trained healthcare professional, or a first responder that can actually provide the care they need in that moment. I think it looks like all of our folks having access to clean water, because that’s not guaranteed, right? I think justice looks like a world in which Black folks are actually able to thrive, and that we’re able to actually care for our people. I think that’s what justice would be — it would be a world that is based on systems of care, and not systems of exploitation or extraction.
The police are just the most violent illustration of the state, and they exist in order to protect property and profit over people. And so what does it mean to actually reverse that? What does it mean to actually have systems that are about the care of our people? I think that’s what justice would actually look like.
In June of last year, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to dismantle the city’s police department, but they later retracted that promise. Is Black Visions still pushing for the City Council to dismantle the police, or have your tactics changed after they pivoted?
MN: In 2018, the first time we ran a campaign inside of the budget cycles to try to get money out of the police department, we were trying to get 5% out. And we were like, “Wow, it would be amazing if we even got a little bit of this.” What we were actually able to win was $1.1 million out of the police department, which is not a lot out of their budget — which was at that time about $193 million — but that’s a huge amount to win when we hadn’t ever won anything like that before. And so we got $1.1 million out of the police department, and we got it reallocated to the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP). That was in 2018.
Two weeks before George Floyd was murdered, the Minneapolis City Council was trying to take that $1.1 million away from the OVP and give it back to the police department. And then George Floyd was murdered, and they make this commitment to defund the police. Our city council is not any more progressive, or radical, than any other city council — it has to be organized, and they have to be moved.
And so what they saw was that the demand to defund police was a huge demand that resonated with so many people in our city, and they saw our city turn up and be the spark of global uprising. They felt the pressure of the people to actually act.
As organizers, as movement builders, we know that there are ebbs and flows, there are cycles, in which people really show up from the media, and the public is paying attention to our issues and to our fights, and people are trying to donate money to us. And then there’s the quiet moments in which there isn’t a whole lot of money, there isn’t a whole lot of attention, there isn’t a whole lot of press. And we have to keep doing that deep organizing, the political education; bringing our people along, talking to folks and engaging them, so that for the next moment, there are even more of us who are ready to bring more people in during these rupture moments and movements, so that we can continue to build our power.
That is the responsibility of organizing: to really help folks in these moments of crisis, in these moments of pain and outrage, where folks want to take action, to really give them a framework of, “Hey, this is how you can understand this moment. And this is how you can build power with your community and as a collective.”
We’re still fighting for the charter amendment to get the police out of our city’s constitution, with the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign. But we’re also moving a series of PMAs, which are Peoples Movement Assemblies, which we’ve learned from our comrades, both in the U.S. South and the Global South. I like to describe PMAs as like concentric circles of alignment building, where we’re going to actually start with constituency groups. So let’s say like sex workers, and Somali elders, and Black queer youth — have them all get together and ask: “So what makes you safe? What does safety feel like to you?”
And then folks get together by neighborhood and by ward and eventually have a citywide PMA, where we actually decide on a mandate around what safety truly means, so that we really engage everybody in Minneapolis. That way we can decide what safety looks like, so that we can actually move towards that, and develop, collectively, a Department of Public Safety that really does serve us. And so that’s what we’re up to — we’re organizing our people to get there, because it’s not about the elected officials. Because the world that we need is actually about co-governance, and community governance, and us coming together to make these solutions with each other.
Where do the PMAs stand now, and what have you learned in building them?
MN: We’re going to be doing PMAs all summer long. So right now, what we’ve been doing is having the conversations to build the teams and the support systems and the infrastructure necessary to actually make it all happen — like facilitation trainings, and learning and bringing in our comrades from the South to teach and train and share their experiences. We’ve been laying the groundwork for all of it, so that we can launch the PMAs. In the meantime this spring, we’ve been getting the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign going, and have been collecting signatures to be able to make sure it actually gets on the ballot. In the last couple of weeks, we hit our goal of 20,000 signatures. And so now that that’s done, we’re able to really move into the PMA process.
Is there anything else you wanted to touch on specifically?
MN: If your readers want to support folks in Brooklyn Center [where Daunte Wright was killed], there’s a bunch of different mutual aid links, and then the GoFundMe for Daunte’s family — just getting as much support as y’all can to uplift and support to the community.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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Alice Herman is a journalist covering politics and labor in the Midwest. She is a contributing reporter at the Guardian US and a former investigative reporting fellow with In These Times.