Minneapolis: Voices from the George Floyd uprising, one year later
The lynching of George Floyd sparked an uprising that transformed the Black-led movement against police terror in this country. Fight Back! interviewed several activists who found their places in this movement in the past year – four newer members of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar (TCC4J) and the Executive Assistant for Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence (FSFAPV). TCC4J is a chapter of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. FSFAPV is a group of Minnesota families who have lost loved ones to police violence.
Fight Back!: What did you see and do during the uprising?
Taren Vang: George Floyd was a light that guided us in how we amplified the voices of other stolen lives in Minnesota. Helping to get justice for George Floyd meant that there would be a greater possibility for other cases to be revisited in this state.
During the uprising I helped organize events with the founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, Toshira Garraway Allen. We knew that we had to put a spotlight on the governor, mayors, elected officials, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension [the state agency that investigates most police homicides], and legislation in order to make actual change.
Organizing events with families who have lost loved ones to police violence can be very difficult. Relationships had to be made and trust had to be formed. These families are traumatized and weary of outsiders who said they would help but never followed through.
We had to learn the truth of what really happened to these stolen lives and the false narratives the media chose to report. It is important to learn the facts of how they were murdered but even more important to honor who they were as a person. People needed to hear directly from impacted families. There is so much pain, grief, and hope for change!
DeShaun McDonald: After George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight and watching a video that evening, the next day I went to 38th and Chicago to mourn with the rest of the community. After listening to folks speak, we left on a protest march to the 3rd Precinct – the start of a long awakening experience I never thought I would experience in my lifetime, or in this country.
Upon walking to the 3rd Precinct, we were met with police in riot gear ready to attack members of the community. They stood around their building as if ready to go to war with those who they were supposed to serve and protect, with their flash bangs, and whatever kind of military equipment to disperse the crowd. For the next few nights, police overused rubber bullets, flash bangs and gas.
Kelly Thomas: During the uprising, I saw a lot of people who were out in the streets for the very first time. There were so many people who just weren't able to stay at home doing nothing or almost nothing anymore. We showed up nervous but driven, confused but focused, and untrained but determined to learn and contribute. A lot of us showed up alone because we didn't have anyone in our lives to show up with. A lot of us were afraid, but we weren't willing to let fear control us and keep us from fighting.
When George Floyd was murdered, I basically stopped showing up to work. I helped with clean up in the streets, made supply runs, and attended marches, often during the workday. Shortly after, I started marshaling and helping at an encampment and was often leaving early and getting in late. Most of my coworkers had no idea how to support me, but they tried, and many even contributed money to various supply runs.
Wanja Kuria: During the uprising, I saw the community come together to demand justice in a way that moved the world. I saw people feeding and hydrating protesters, medics and marshals keeping us safe, new friendships emerging in the midst of trauma, and the terror that the police inflict on people who dare to hold them accountable.
The night the 3rd Precinct was burned down, two friends and I rented Nice Ride bikes and cycled from East to West Lake. It was amazing to see people show up in such a powerful and unified way. Some neighbors were taking care of protesters and supporting their efforts, there were little dumpster fires on every residential intersection, and people were exhilarated. The energy was palpable and it showed me the power that protesters have when we organize, utilize a multitude of tactics, and refuse to relent.
Jae Yates: Before I joined TCC4J for Taking Back Pride, I was doing mutual aid with a group of friends and fellow interns. I and a few others were first aid-trained, so we would buy groceries and supplies to distribute to various sites during the first half of the day, then go out to medic at night.
I remember we were out a little earlier because we had just seen the semi-truck run through the protest on Interstate 35W. We headed to the highway near campus to see if we could help anyone who had been hurt and help the people getting gassed by cops on the exit ramps. We were on University helping someone who had gotten scraped up climbing up the barrier when someone started yelling that the National Guard was there with live rounds. We heard some popping noises really close by and we couldn't tell if they were gunshots, so we were hiding in the alley between the apartments and a cafe, a bit freaked out with an injured person. And then we see this girl who looked like a student pop her head around the wall like, “Hey, you can hide in my apartment, cops and National Guard have been fucking with medics, I want you guys to be safe.” So we just hid in this person's apartment until it felt safe to get back to our car and drop off the injured person at home.
It was a really good moment that reminded me that there were people on our side, that the community around us believed in getting justice even if that meant letting dirty, tired medics come into their studio apartment.
Fight Back!: How did the uprising shape events over the past year?
McDonald: I believe the uprising finally opened the eyes of the world (as we were on lockdown) to what POC folks have been experiencing with police in our country. Showing how white supremacy has been alive and well, living in all aspects of life in this country. It has brought the community together to demand changes within so many systems to combat white supremacy.
Thomas: Minnesota has a long history of the community turning up to demand justice, like the occupation of the 4th Precinct in 2015 after the murder of Jamar Clark and the marches for Philando Castile in 2016. The community has always been able to turn up fast and hard when needed. But this last year, I think we've seen steady growth in the number of organizations who can quickly mobilize resources. When Dolal Idd was murdered [December 30, 2020], within two hours we had medics, marshals, the sound truck with speakers and microphones, protesters, wood, fire, handwarmers, extra socks, and the street shut down.
It's feeling like the state is finally starting to recognize the power of the people. Kobe Heisler was murdered by Brooklyn Center police two years ago. Daunte Wright was murdered by police last month. Already they've [Brooklyn Center city council] passed the Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler Community Safety and Violence Prevention Resolution.
Kuria: I think the uprising gave momentum in many ways to those who have been fighting for other stolen lives at the hands of police. In the last year I have met the local families whose loved ones were murdered anywhere from one to 20 years ago. Because the whole world was watching Minnesota, a lot of those families were given a greater platform to demand justice for their own family members.
After the guilty verdict, I was able to hug DelShea Perry, the mother of Hardel Sherrell, and watched as she gave an interview with tears in her eyes and hope in her voice. She felt that there might be a chance for her son too and was invigorated to continue fighting.
And while it’s hard to be optimistic that anything will come from it, the federal government is investigating the Minneapolis Police Department, which is historically significant.
Fight Back!: Tell us about one or two things that were built, accomplished or transformed because of the uprising.
Vang: The most impactful event that I organized last summer was for my boyfriend Travis Jordan. He was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Dept on November 9, 2018, during a wellness check. Not many people knew of his murder because it was not video recorded and did not go viral.
I organized a protest for him on his 38th birthday in front of the MPD 4th Precinct. A spotlight needed to be on this precinct. To bring awareness to how corrupted this precinct was, I tried to connect with other families that had lost loved ones by police officers from the same precinct. In attendance were the families of Travis Jordan, Jamar Clark, Fong Lee, and Chiasher Fong Vue. I wanted people to know that these murders were not an isolated incident in North Minneapolis.
There were people murdered in Minneapolis before George Floyd. If there would have been accountability for them, George Floyd would still be alive!
I witnessed a lot of love and support from the community for this event. Allyship was built between complete strangers. Whenever there was a request for something, someone always came through to help. The youth in the community really stepped up and showed what they were capable of accomplishing not only for Travis but other stolen lives. They truly amplified the voices of those who were forgotten! They made such an impactful statement that is still being talked about today.
Kuria: While it’s certainly a work in progress, it has been amazing to see different ethnic communities coming together to fight for liberation. I have seen some of the distance between the local African and African American communities growing smaller as Africans have realized that they are not exempt from police brutality. As an African, it’s been healing to see other Africans who had never identified as Black see themselves in the struggle for Black liberation. It was such an important part of my journey to unpack internalized racism, so it’s been incredible to see that happening on a community level.
Yates: The mass arrests of 646 people on November 4 were a pivotal moment in terms of people really understanding that protests were being criminalized, but only certain protests and only ones deemed dangerous by an arbitrary standard. Armed white supremacists had been showing up to the governor's mansion, having rallies in the streets near the capitol but had never once met the same overwhelming show of force we had been shown the whole summer. Those arrests felt like a crystalizing moment where people saw the contradictions; we were getting felony charges for laser pointers while white supremacists were all but welcomed by police in public space.
Despite frustration at the time, for a lot of people in attendance and the bystanders who were brutalized by the cops, that was really the last veil for folks who still thought that police exist to protect the public and it gave us an opportunity for political education. That is something we've worked to build in the movement that is so critical to liberation.
When people understand why they're engaging in political struggles beyond just slogans and individual events, I think that's where real meaningful coalition-building can begin. I'm proud to work with people who believe in collective power and think that we will only continue to build in the future.
One of the big accomplishments of TCC4J this year was getting our Civilian Police Accountability Commission (CPAC) legislation and charter language finalized. it’s been amazing to see how many people in the community see CPAC for what it is: a revolutionary path toward justice and self-determination that puts power back in the hands of the people. This is the first time that the police corruption will be meaningfully challenged and, with the momentum we’ve built from the uprising, I believe we can gain community control in the very near future.