HOUSTON – The streets of Houston’s Third Ward, a historically Black neighborhood where George Floyd grew up, echoed with screams filled with the word “justice” in the moments after white former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder.
“We feeling good. We thank everybody that stood with us. It’s a blessed moment,” said a tearful Jacob David, 39, who knew Floyd and thought of him as a mentor.
In the hours before Tuesday's verdict, some residents worried that justice would prove elusive again in a case involving a Black man killed by a police officer. Even amid the celebrations, some tempered their expectations for what the jury's decision might mean for racial justice in America.
“I think people’s belief in the system that we got in place is so bad that they don’t expect nothing good,” Cal Wayne, a Houston rapper who was a childhood friend of Floyd’s, said as he stood in front of a mural of Floyd on the wall of a popular corner store in the Third Ward.
Nicholas Watson, a Third Ward resident and business owner, said he had pondered how to do damage control if Chauvin were acquitted and the community's frustration boiled over into property destruction.
“All we want is equality. Just give us an opportunity,” Watson said, adding that the Third Ward has contended with high crime and poverty in addition to racial injustice.
At a food trailer across the street from the corner store with the mural, Kim Hewitt served sandwiches to customers as she waited for the court's announcement.
When the flow of customers slowed down, Hewitt, who was also a friend of Floyd’s, sang along with some of the songs that blared from speakers next to her food trailer. Some of the songs on her playlist included “White Man’z World” and “Breathin” by Tupac Shakur.
As the songs played, Hewitt sometimes picked up a microphone and expressed what she was feeling, saying, “Hey, we want (expletive) justice. Justice for Floyd” or “We want justice because they don’t give a (expletive) about us.”
When the verdict was announced, about 20 people gathered beneath a small tent next to the food trailer. Instead of music, the speakers had live audio as the verdict was broadcast on a news channel. Some Third Ward residents gathered at a nearby grassy empty lot while a couple of blocks away, others sat outside their homes.
Hewitt and others around her loudly cheered the guilty verdicts. They clapped and hugged one another.
“We finally got justice,” Hewitt said. Floyd “woke up the whole world. The fight is just beginning.”
People driving by the corner store and food trailer honked their car horns and waved as they went by, yelling, “Justice.”
Third Ward residents celebrated the moment but also wondered about the future.
“Overall, there’s no justice in situations like this because his life is still gone. I’m happy for the outcome. Hopefully this can transition things. I don’t know how much it will,” said James Walker, 39, who also knew Floyd. “In a country where the protector turns into the terminator, justice does not exist. Even after Floyd died ... young Black men continue to die at the hands of the police.”
Another Third Ward resident, Ceci Muñoz, cried and fell to the ground after the verdict.
“I’m so happy ... I’m not happy because the officer is going away. His family is going to suffer. But (Floyd) begged” for his life, Muñoz said as she cried. “When does it stop? When does it stop?”
Wayne said it will take more than a conviction in one case for the Third Ward and the Black community to believe that “real change” is at hand.
“This is a hell of a start,” Wayne said.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70
Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd