It was a year ago Tuesday when George Floyd entered Cup Foods in South Minneapolis and bought a pack of cigarettes with a suspected counterfeit $20 bill. What happened in the minutes that followed would be seen around the globe.
A Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck well after his body went lifeless. The 46-year-old man’s death on Memorial Day felt personal to many. It opened up old wounds in those who had themselves felt helpless while encountering police. It sparked anger and frustration in those who saw years of improving race relations erased by one incident. It disappointed those who see the “thin blue line” of the justice system as an honorable institution preserving law and order. It grieved the heart of every parent who has lost a child to use of deadly force by law enforcement.
What Floyd’s death — and the subsequent murder-and-manslaughter conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — also did was get the world talking about how people treat each other and what can be done to make things better.
The Pioneer Press recently spoke with several people visiting, working and living in the neighborhood where Floyd died about how the past year has affected them and what “getting justice” means in 2021.
Dr. Antwoine Boswell, a bishop at Palms of Praise Community Church in Minneapolis, said it’s hard to talk about the civil unrest that followed Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020, without talking about COVID-19. Both had a crippling effect on the church.
“The COVID-19 pandemic closed church down for a while. People feel that that’s a place of comfort, a place that, you know, you go to to feel safe,” he said. ” As the founder and CEO of Blacks Against Racial Profiling … I’ve heard a lot of men say that life has changed because (Floyd) shouldn’t have died. It shouldn’t have gone that far. Am I the next victim? They have taken it personally. Even after the verdict came in, there was no sign of relief because they are saying they are tired of people just talking, but there’s nothing being done. There’s no action.”
What does justice look like to you? “I had a young man who said, ‘If I can see that the policing is not one-sided,’” Boswell said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, we see a black person on the street, he must be a drug dealer.’ They want to see that the law is on their side; that the law will listen to them and hear their thoughts and views. That no one is above the law and each party is held accountable.”
Cade Whittlef, a Minneapolis resident and self-described anarchist, said he’s been fighting for justice since Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police officers during his high-profile arrest in 1991.
“All this year did was confirm things I already knew,” he said. “I’m one of them people that have been preaching my whole life, that privilege is something you don’t see when you’re part of it … I’m not a political person because politics is just a big lie that we live under. I have a long-standing bad relationship with the police because I’ve been beaten by them since I was a teenager. I lived in Seattle in the early ’90s. I did a lot of other protests where they actually didn’t just tear gas you. They beat the crap out of you with sticks and put you in jail.”
What does justice look like to you? Accountability for everybody.
THE RETIRED SOCIAL WORKER
Douglas Britt, retired social worker and Minneapolis resident, said he’s seen a change for the better in how the white community and police officers have interacted with him.
“What I’ve noticed this year is that non-African-American folks, I’m gonna say primarily European folks, they’ve been more talkative, more engaging. I’ve noticed a difference in the police. They’ve been nicer. I don’t know how to explain it, but just their demeanor has been nicer to me. I think everybody’s afraid they’re going to step on somebody’s toes, that they’re going to say the wrong thing and that’s going to erupt into something.”
What does justice look like to you? “Lady Justice should be blind. She’s got the blindfold on in the courtroom. But I think sometimes she peeks.”
Rose Walker, a Minneapolis beautician whose business is three blocks away from the Floyd memorial, said the civil unrest has hurt her financially.
“It has changed my business dramatically,” she said. “With the George Floyd memorial there, with the streets blocked off, my customers can’t get through. It really shut down my business significantly. With COVID-19 coming in around the same time, it’s been traumatic. A lot of the witnesses (at the Chauvin trial) were customers that frequent the salon. So we were very much involved. We’re right in the neighborhood. So it has affected us greatly.”
Has it changed how you feel about police officers? “I feel the same about them. I had to tell my little great-granddaughter — she’s only 3 years old — she says, ‘I’m afraid of the policemen.’ I have to tell her, ‘No, baby. There’s good cops and there’s bad cops. The good cops are gonna get the guys that’s bothering us. But watch out for the bad cops.’”
THE SMALL BUSINESS OWNER
Billy Hill, a bus driver and owner of Urban Touch Barbers in Minneapolis, is around people all day long and he’s heard all the opinions.
“It has changed the conversation in the barbershop,” he said. “We have a very diverse group of individuals that come to the shop — people from the neighborhood. And on top of that we have professional firefighters; we have police officers that come in here to get their hair cut. They have open conversations about what’s going on as far as them being Black men in the system. It’s just that opened up a lot of things that basically, I like to say, have been swept under the rug. It’s been a good thing.” He added, that for him, it’s made him “more leery” around police officers.
What does justice look like to you? “I want the same rights that you have. I want the same sentence that you give them. Justice is basically the same all across the board.”
Mark Revering, an independent contractor and longtime Boys and Girls Club mentor in Minneapolis, thinks change has to start with the individual, and the church can help with that.
“Everything starts and ends with the church,” he said. “Our problem is our churches are not connected to each other. We’re supposed to be all part of the same body, but we’re not. Christ is supposed to be the head of us. Why are we so divided? Until people sit back, and instead of looking at people and seeing the differences, rather, start seeing them for their value as a human being, nothing is going to change.”
What does justice look like to you? “You know what you did and you need to be held accountable for it. We won’t have justice until we change (the policing) system and the way they operate.”
THE ALTRUISTIC VOLUNTEER
Cheyenne Johnson, a supervisor at a Minneapolis co-op, has done her homework on racism. She volunteered as a street medic during the Floyd protests and says she’s disappointed more hasn’t changed.
“It’s been disheartening to see a tremendous movement of people result in so little change,” she said. “I don’t know that my opinions of cops can be changed because I even have friends that are people of color who are cops or were cops that see themselves being taken advantage of by a system that wasn’t designed for them. And so they feel either isolated or tokenized within the police profession. When there are so many alternatives out there that — if we could let go of our attachment to what has always been — would actually be better for everyone, why wouldn’t we go toward those?”
She added that she’s come to change her mind about the destruction of property during protests and sees it as a means to an end. “Destruction of property is less wrong than the destruction of lives. That’s a belief that has changed for me this year.”
What does justice look like to you? “There’s no justice for lost life, but there’s recognition of wrong and there’s reparations for wrong and both of those things are still good.”
Chiquandlyn Perkins, a Minneapolis entrepreneur, said she’s been pleased to see support from neighbors and others around the nation who protested after Floyd was killed. But his death and the subsequent Chauvin trial opened up old wounds for her. She’s had trouble trusting police since asking for help when in an abusive relationship and feeling like police didn’t take her seriously.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy, but I feel like it shouldn’t have to go that far to get justice. You shouldn’t have to watch a person lie there and take their last breath to get justice.”
Has it changed how you feel about police officers? “I believe that anyone who joins the police academy should do a psychological test to see where their heart’s really at,” she said. “You don’t pick and choose which one you’re going to protect when it comes to color. It’s protect and serve all.”
Anthony Dziuk, a technician for Abbott Northwestern Hospital and single father to 4-year-old Michael, said he’s hopeful and glad the National Guard has left the city. He had to navigate checkpoints to get to work every day during the Chauvin trial.
“I feel like the conversation has had a certain level of distress with the police,” he said. “It makes you look at things differently and question the way things are done. I feel like things are changing, hopefully for the better. I always tell my son to treat people how you want to be treated. Treat everybody for the contents of their character.”
What does justice look like to you? He said reforming the Minneapolis Police Department. “Personally, I would like to see a lot of officers be retrained. I just don’t understand why that they don’t screen applicants more thoroughly.”
Stacy Ward, a counselor at Great River School in St. Paul, said the past year has been cathartic in helping people to talk about race and come to better understand each other.
“We’re getting an education every day we never would have heard in school,” he said. “Everything is coming to light. Things are opening up more for us.”
What does justice look like to you? “Just being free to be a human being,” he said. “Not having to worry about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Source: Orange County Register