Minneapolis

In their own words: Minnesotans on how George Floyd’s life and death impacted them

2021-05-24 22:27:02 –

These quotes have been edited for length.

Josie Johnson 90, Minneapolis, longtime civil rights activist

“I have silently said to George Floyd, ‘George, I am sorry that you had to experience the method of your death. But what you have done, my son, is you’ve shown the world how our Black men are treated … You sacrificed your life to show the world.’ We’ve always known as a people the treatment the police department has modeled in their belief about us, but it’s always been a secret.”

“His loss was so painful to us and sad for us. But now we can actually see it with our own eyes, even though we knew it for generations, for centuries. Now the world has stopped questioning, ‘Did it really happen?’ We saw it. I’m praying that the scales will continue to fall from people’s eyes. The fact it was seen — it cannot be lied about.”

Aaron Machtemes police officer, Eagan

“When I first initially saw the video, I got so angry a minute into the video that I had to turn it off. I couldn’t watch it until that night. I was so upset, wondering why that happened. I just knew this is bad — this is going to be really bad. An image of a cop emerged that people thought was the truth in what police officers are doing but didn’t jibe at all with what I know from my 11 years in law enforcement. I know law enforcement as trying to protect the community, trying to save lives when we can. What was being said about me and my profession was not true.”

“I now realize social media and media in general is kind of a fantasyland where people live in. It does not jibe with my day-to-day experience, at least in Eagan. So I kind of ignore it now. That’s the only healthy thing I can do.”

“Policing before George Floyd was about preventing crime, finding criminals in the act, protecting property, charging into dangerous situations to protect the public. You accepted the risk. That was just the job. Policing now is liability management. I get people’s initial recoil — ‘That’s good, the liability should be there!’ But this is human beings dealing with other human beings. The job now is a big question mark.”

“Society’s feeling toward law enforcement always ebbs and flows. Then this happened: A cop did a crime, and it was very public, it was terrible. But we’ll come back, society will trust us again. But the reason I’m not as optimistic is these new laws being made and proposed. I don’t think people realize all the implications of the new legislation coming out. Are we just pushing the ball further and further until it’s too much of a risk for me to be in law enforcement?”

Semhar Solomon 17, senior at St. Anthony Village High School

“I (attend) a predominantly white school. I have my internalized oppression, internalized racism within me. I never really embraced my Blackness. We’d have lots of arguments at our school about Colin Kaepernick or whatever. But it took me seeing there’s strength in numbers, and not just in the Black community. That brought it home.”

“I’ve almost lost every single one of my friends. I brought a lot of conversation to my city, and it wasn’t in a way where I’ll hold your hand. It was, ‘If you don’t want to listen, you are choosing that through your ignorance and your privilege.’ I didn’t want to cater to those people anymore. I used to give them the benefit of the doubt. But as a society if we cater to the last person on the anti-racist ladder we’ll never move forward as a collective.”

“It led to a lot of exhaustion and frustration. It’s a lot easier to stay complicit, to stay comfortable. But I’m past that. And a lot of other people are past that. I’m done talking to people who are just arguing with me to be right, not arguing with me to be listening. Those arguments are the most draining. They put you in a corner. I don’t want to waste my time with you.”

Dee Johnson retired teacher, Fergus Falls

“I just prayed and hoped and thought, George Floyd should never have died. But this has to be the event that really changes everything. I had so much hope, because it was so egregious, because it was so public. I hoped it would get the attention it needed to be a catalyst for change.”

“I loved teaching about the civil rights movement. I probably spent more time on that topic than was designated by our 6th-grade curriculum. Emmett Till was such a pivot point because of television. I thought maybe George Floyd would be an Emmett Till moment, and we’ll move forward in the direction we need to go.”

“I’m in a group of women who discussed this for hours. A couple of us called the mayor of Fergus Falls. We wanted to do something in our community. We don’t have a lot of diversity. In August we had a big Zoom in our area with 92 people registering. We talked about diversity. We talked about what happened with George Floyd. We talked about how we can learn more. I’ve launched myself into trying to read everything I could. How can we be more intentional about being anti-racist? George Floyd sent me on a quest. I’m learning about white privilege. I hadn’t delved as deeply into that as I should have. I never would have called myself a racist, but now I realize the part white privilege plays in systemic racism — and yes, I’m unintentionally part of that system.”

“I was a student of civil rights but systemic racism, and how it perpetuated into the future, that’s what was new to me. I joined a social justice book club. We read ‘Caste’ by Isabel Wilkerson, and a book called ‘Evicted’ about housing issues. I know my effort to learn more is just a drop in the bucket. You can get down about that. What am I actually doing? I don’t know.”

Mauri Friestleben principal, North High School, Minneapolis

“What the murder of George Floyd did for me is it illustrated what many of us knew already, especially those of us of Black American descent. To be Black in America is to have this high level of racial consciousness. That nine-minute video … forced the conversation.”

“As we come into the one-year anniversary, I feel at a low point. I keep thinking, ‘How are we different now?’ I don’t know if I can point to how we’re different. It’s been very difficult for me as a contributing member of education to feel like I belong in a city and belong to the city’s organizational leadership that does not appear to either have the political will or the skill to make significant and deep-rooted changes. And I’m finding myself in a heightened discouragement that I haven’t had before.”

“I married a police officer. It’s almost eerie, the parallels I see between his world and my world. You find yourself being part of a city and the organizations within that city that is projecting this humility, that we want to hear you and listen to you, that we want to make wrongs right again. And then the door is shut to the public, and we go back to doing everything the way we’ve always done it.”

“Maybe I’m not being as patient as I need to be. But a year later, we’re still doing it the exact same way. Recruiting and retaining teachers of color — how long has that been a conversation for? Forever. It’s always important for all children to have diverse teaching corps, but it’s so important at a school like mine, with a high population of students of color. ‘Oh, yes, Mauri, we know it’s important. Maybe next year.’ Because the contract says, the union says, the district says, human resources says. … (The power structure) is calcified. They’re rooted. Minneapolis has some really deep racial sins that the city has never really fessed up about and taken ownership for.”

Mike Kuhle mayor of Worthington

“A local group here put together a walk up and down Oxford Street. They blocked it off for a few hours. Maybe 100 people out there walking and talking about George Floyd. It was very respectful, really honored the killing of George Floyd and his life.”

“We’re a very diverse community. Our police department (is) constantly interacting with all the different cultures here in town. After George Floyd, we started a cross-cultural advisory committee to the city. Nine members appointed to the group by city council. In the 1990s we were 10,000 people and 99% white. Over the years we’ve grown to 14,000 and about 50% immigrant. We have 12 different cultures represented here in Worthington. Most of them work at the JBS pork plant, but they’ve started to get into the second and third generations, and they’re branching out. We have 50 or so immigrant-owned businesses throughout the city. It’s rejuvenated our downtown.”

“(George Floyd’s death) creates a lot of worry in our community at large. There’s always the worry that something could happen. … All this stuff certainly has me more on guard. If the same situation happened here, who knows? You just don’t know. Being a police officer today, they have to make split-second decisions, and there’s always room for catastrophic error, no matter how well prepared you are. You want to make sure you hire best people possible.”

Tania Mitchell associate professor of higher education, University of Minnesota, mother of three-year-old

“It hits me hard and daily. I live at 41st and Elliott. I’m three blocks from the site where he was killed. Pre-pandemic, I used to catch the 5 (bus) at 38th and Chicago. That’s my corner. To see your spot on national news, that was a punch in the gut that I’d never experienced before.”

“The protests, the uprising, the smoke, the helicopters, all of that was very real in the course of our summer. And then the occupation of the intersection, its renaming, its reformation, has been an ongoing part of our lives for the past year, mostly in profound and beautiful ways.”

“I study community engagement, the ways colleges and universities partner with and build relationships in communities where they’re located. I’ve been thinking a lot about what a space like George Floyd Square might prompt us to do differently from those traditional forms of engagement. George Floyd Square is a contested place. It’s not necessarily something the city wants to have. I have neighbors who are actively involved there, and I have neighbors who are ready for the street to open, dammit. You have both perspectives really in tension.”

“It’s so important to me to raise a kid who isn’t afraid of where they live. We have real conversations in our house about the intersection, that George Floyd Square is a place where someone died because police officers didn’t act the way they were supposed to that day, in the best three-year-old-speak I can offer. And also, this is our neighborhood. Aren’t we lucky to live in a place where there’s so much art, so much community?”

“I don’t want my kid to feel like her relationship with police needs to be antagonistic. It feels important to me to be honest and truthful about what happened there. I engage in that conversation from a space of hope, not wanting to demonize all police but wanting to be as truthful as possible about what happened that day, and that what happened that day isn’t the only time that has happened.”

Rachel Hardeman professor of health and racial equity in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health; director of the Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity

”I’m a Minnesotan born and raised. I grew up on 46th and Park, in the community where George Floyd was murdered. I also have the lived experience of being a Black woman in Minnesota. We have an 8-year-old daughter, and we chose to raise her here. Living through it in the backdrop of a pandemic has been deeply painful and hard. And living through it as a parent of a child old enough to understand what’s happening, and has really smart and insightful questions, adds another layer of trauma. Watching someone’s life being devalued in the worst way possible and then having to explain to my daughter: ‘Why?’”

“All of a sudden, there’s this racial awakening. All of a sudden, things I’ve been researching for years, now I have colleagues who were never interested in it before saying, ‘Oh, yeah, racism is a public health crisis.’ There’s a great deal of sadness that it’s taken this long for these realizations. I am happy to see the discussions and the resources that are flowing. But is this going to be a moment, or is this going to be a movement? Will it be a snapshot, a moment in time, or will we have cultivated something new, something different? I feel like we’re still in the moment.”

“With the way the guilty verdict has been discussed, and the framing of one bad actor, one bad apple, versus the discussion of a system that historically for over 400 years has been doing exactly what it’s been designed to do — I don’t think we’re at that point of really having that discussion.”

“Seeing my daughter’s ability to see the sadness in the world as well as the beauty in the world, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. But it also breaks my heart. Now she gets it. She gets that people who have brown skin like hers are going to be treated differently. She sees it in ways she couldn’t have seen it before. Her innocence is gone in a way, but she’s thinking a lot about how she can show up and make change.”

Alysha Price CEO of the Price Dynamic, a professional family-coaching firm and mother of an 18-year-old Black man

“George Floyd’s murder was such a pivotal point in my relationship with my son when it comes to talking about race. Now we had something we could relate to — something we’d gone through together. We were experiencing this at the same time.”

“I remember the day after the huge riots in south Minneapolis, we stayed up all night following the news, watching things being burned down. I got up early and got dressed. He and my mother and I drove down on Lake Street, parked the car and walked around. I needed him to not only watch it on TV but know this is happening practically in our backyard. This incident was creating history. He literally got his high school diploma the day after everything burned down. The juxtaposition of that: 24 hours before, we’re walking around Minneapolis looking at smoldering buildings, and then he’s being handed his diploma. It was such a moment.”

“He was vocal with everyone. Prior to that, we were teaching him. We were arming him with information and skills, giving him solutions. But he now had his own opinions. It wasn’t, ‘My mom or my dad said this.’ It was, ‘This is (messed) up.’ I had a sense of pride. It was clear that he was aware of who he is as a young Black man.”

Ross Litman St. Louis County Sheriff, Duluth

“I remember first seeing that video and just like everyone else being in shock. But I’m not one to jump to conclusions. Hang on, let’s get all the information. And sometimes when you get all the information, your opinion changes. But unfortunately with the George Floyd incident, the more facts and information you had, the worse it was. So much of the work I see, the phenomenal work our staff does on a day-to-day basis, just gets obscured with an incident like George Floyd. It’s tarnished our whole profession.”

“It’s really difficult to see us all painted with the same brush stroke, that we’re all Derek Chauvins. I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude … It’s easy to say that law enforcement is broken. But we really have these huge societal issues in our communities. Our society is broken.”

“I sent an e-mail to my entire staff after that incident. The first thing I told them … is that it’s important for all of us to reflect, to look within ourselves and say, ‘Are we approaching our work and dealing with all walks of life and all people equally?’ We’re missing an opportunity if we don’t look at that.”

Enid Logan Associate Professor & Associate Chair, Chair of the Committee on Diversity & Equity, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota

“It’s honestly changed the way I feel about Minnesota and Minneapolis. I came here for my first job out of grad school 15 years ago. I’ve been very happy here, like my job, love my students, really love the area. There’s something about the heaviness of it all, and the fact it reverberated around the entire world. And just to have the lethality and brutality of racism in Minnesota be so seared into the understanding of everyone here, and across the country and much of the world. I have two boys, now 10 and 7. I just feel like Minnesota is starting to feel dark and murder-y sometimes.”

“To be a good anti-racist parent, you should be teaching your kids about race every day. But I don’t want to openly traumatize them. It’s not just that I’m telling them a history. I’m telling them a history that applies to us. I’m making you aware that you’re Black and what that means in a way that’s tied to trauma and death. I’ve wanted to not really talk about it with them very much.”

“I have the right to try to give them some more time to have joy and some more time to be boys, to have some innocence. It felt like a mama bear thing in a way. But also, I didn’t know what to say.”

“There’s a lot more awareness and understanding, but awareness and understanding of how deeply messed up and structural this is. For me it’s so clear how this goes back centuries, and my mind is linking it to different forms of racialized violence. There’s an understanding of all this now. But I don’t think it’s getting better. It’s just that now we see it.”

Lacrissha Walton fourth grade teacher at Lucy Craft Laney Community School

“I think for me, it makes me really nervous anytime the police come around, because of all the police brutality that’s been going on and I think about my kids, especially my young men in my classes. We had a conversation during Derek Chauvin’s case about what are we supposed to do when the police tell us to do something, we do it and we still might get arrested, or we might get hurt. It just really changed their lives.”

“Once the verdict was read, the kids were excited. They were like, ‘well, that case was good. But we need the police to stop doing this.’ And then the teenage girl in Ohio got shot, one hour, two hours after that happened. They were like, ‘why does this keep happening?’ And I don’t have the right words, or I can’t explain it to them.”

“Most of my kids live on the north side and there’s just so much stuff going on. You have all these guns and all this stuff. I feel like it’s more violent, after George Floyd passed away.”

“I think it’s also a good thing. Because I think the whole world knew who George Floyd was. Just spreading awareness about what’s going on in the world. I think that’s a positive thing.”

Tami Lee Children’s Librarian, Ramsey County Library

“Leading up to George Floyd in this last year. It has definitely been an interesting ride as a Black librarian. In Minnesota, there’s not very many of us, there are maybe 10 or 11 Black librarians. In librarianship in general, Black librarians across the US, I think they make up maybe 3-4% of the profession, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) librarians make up about 7% of the profession.”

“It’s been really an interesting road, trying to get my organization and my colleagues to serve BIPOC members and members that are from marginalized communities in our service area.”

“When the murder of George Floyd happened, as always, there’s a lot of interest. But that interest kind of waxes because of that, and then it wanes, because people want to be comfortable again. Initially, we did have a lot of interest in more books that feature diverse characters or that were about race, that sort of thing.”

“The murder of George Floyd is horrible, the extrajudicial killings of Black, brown and Indigenous folks is insane, and putrid, and it stinks, and it’s got to stop. But just as prevalent is in every single organization, the small mindedness of white managers with racial bias that think that Black and brown folks won’t fit in. And that happens 1,000 times more than something like George Floyd’s murder.”

”Change will happen, but it’s not in the way that people think.”

Aaliyah Murray, sophomore at Fridley Senior High, 15 and Gabby Hou, sophomore at Champlin Park High, 16 Co-founders of the Minnesota Teen Activists

The group began not long before George Floyd’s murder to fight racism in Minnesota school systems, said Murray. When he was murdered, the group grew from 20 teens to now over 20,000 followers on Instagram.

“Ever since then it just grew more and more from there and we got more involved in organizing, being in our community and getting more engaged,” Hou said.

The group has led and called attention to protests, raised money for Lake Street businesses, and organized a statewide school walkout last month. The teens feel a lot of pressure to be role models for other teens, even as they juggle their school work with their relatively new public presence.

“It most definitely is a lot of pressure. It was the first time that I personally got into organizing and community work,” Hou said. “We went through quite a few rough patches, because it is my first time running a nonprofit, like running anything, period.”

“But I feel like it’s just the best, and it’s grown us both,” Murray said.

“For them, the movement is as young as they are. As the next generation, they have a duty to make change,” said Hou, “and to use their platform for good.”

“You shouldn’t let anybody downplay your voice because your voice is important, your voice does matter,” Hou said.

Cece Ntanga Community Engagement Coordinator at Agape Oasis, a northside childcare and development center

“Prior to this, I was in a sales and accounting management role. So it’s a completely different arena. I was in the for-profit world, when now I’m in the nonprofit world. So it’s very, very different.”

“I was home and I was just like ‘yeah I’d love to help and put my hands in the work.’ And then I just went with it, and started helping out. This was a collection of projects that was happening as a result of the uprisings, post-George Floyd. We were doing a volunteering project, making sure that we were collecting essential items: food, diapers, things of that nature, and making them available to the clients that we serve in the community. From there, it just grew, and now I’m part of the team completely.”

“In this work, I leave feeling fulfilled every single day knowing that everything that I did for the day was for a bigger picture and was going to help really change someone’s life.”

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