Concrete barriers, chain-link fencing, barbed wire, and coils of razor-sharp concertina wire surround the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis. Similar barricades block other nearby government buildings and each of the city’s five police precinct stations. Behind the scenes, a thousand Minnesota National Guard members and a similar number of police officers stand ready.
Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul are preparing for whatever the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial, one of the United States’ highest-profile criminal cases involving a police officer.
In the courtroom, opening arguments began Monday. Prosecutors have charged the former police officer with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. His death on May 25, occurring after Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, ignited protests and riots around the country over police brutality. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty. His trial is the first in Minnesota to be televised.
Outside the courtroom, city officials, law enforcement, and business owners planned for a potential repeat of last year’s riots. Violent crime rose in the Twin Cities about 25 percent last year, with no sign of abating. But urban pastors I spoke with want to be a calming, uniting, and permanent presence.
While the cities strategized precautionary measures, Pastor Aaron Brockmeier of Faith Baptist Church in Minneapolis said he and his predominantly white congregation are staying focused on building relationships across races and have no plans to stop, regardless of the verdict or any aftermath from the trial that will likely last weeks.
He says Floyd’s death and last year’s demonstrations sparked an urgency to bridge divides. He’s been praying every Monday since June with Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church, a mostly black Minneapolis congregation. Herron initiated the meetings, then he and Brockmeier started inviting more leaders. Soon their two congregations joined to pray with a white suburban church, and now members from all three unite weekly to pray. Periodically, the congregations attend services or events at each other’s churches.
“No matter what happens in our city, we have to get to know each other’s stories, invite people into our homes, listen, learn, lament, pray,” Brockmeier said. A wake-up call for him came the day a police officer pulled over a black deacon from Zion who was driving to the prayer group. The deacon arrived at the meeting vocally praising God he hadn’t been killed and only received a ticket for driving too slowly. Brockmeier says he couldn’t relate to how that must feel: “I began to genuinely lament for how my brothers in Christ are routinely treated.”
The prayer meetings led to the churches partnering for prayer walks, and neighbors began hiking city streets with them, voicing their own prayers. As the Chauvin trial proceeds, so will the prayer walks. “This isn’t for show. We are committed to assailing heaven on behalf of our city,” says Herron.
Pastors are planning at least five more prayer walks over the next few months through different neighborhoods. They may include Lake Street, where charred buildings, including a post office destroyed in last summer’s riots, have been bulldozed. Some prayer walks may start in the four neighborhoods surrounding the site where Chauvin pinned Floyd down. Violent crime is up 66 percent over the last year there, and many neighbors want a greater police presence there.
Pastor Terrell Walter of Beacon of Hope Church in Minneapolis, concurs. Battling stage 4 cancer for over a year, he sees the ongoing racial turmoil with extra urgency and exhorts everyone he can to pray: “God, show Yourself. … Heal the land and Your people.”
Cedric Steele and Sam Willis Jr., Christian business owners of Minneapolis’ Just Turkey restaurant in what is now called George Floyd Square, worry about ongoing violence worsening after the trial. Earlier this month, a deadly shooting occurred near their front door. “We have to put it in God’s hands,” Steele said. But both owners want the streets opened, and Willis says the square must be accessible to police. The city barricaded streets last year to prevent cars from hitting mourners at the Floyd memorial. Piles of colorful flowers still litter the ground around the familiar mural of Floyd and the raised fist monument at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.