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MINNEAPOLIS — On Memorial Day of last year, Nekima Levy Armstrong remembers being tagged in a Facebook post by a woman she knew, alerting her that Minneapolis police had just killed someone in front of several witnesses.
“She tagged me in a post that said that Minneapolis police had killed someone by choking them or crushing their throat,” Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer, activist and longtime Minneapolis resident, told Yahoo News. “I hadn’t heard anything about it.”
Armstrong immediately called Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, the first Black person to hold that position in the city’s history, to let him know what she had just been told. But initially he didn’t believe her.
“He said someone had suffered a medical emergency while in police custody,” Armstrong said, just as the officers had initially noted in their police report.
Minutes later, the harrowing seven-minute video of George Floyd’s death beneath Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee began to spread like wildfire on social media. When Armstrong called Arradondo back, there was nothing to deny.
“When I watched George Floyd get lynched in broad daylight ... it just made me sick to my stomach,” Armstrong said.
The next day, she and members of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, a nonprofit founded by lawyers seeking to advance racial equity, joined forces with other activist organizations to lead the first rally in protest of Floyd’s death at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where Floyd was killed. The goal of the demonstration was simple: to seek police accountability.
Over the next 12 months, marches and rallies proliferated beyond Minneapolis — first to the neighboring city of St. Paul, then to other major cities across the country and eventually to nations around the world.
Chauvin was charged, tried and, on April 20, 2021, found guilty of murdering Floyd.
The other three officers present at the scene of Floyd’s death — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — were all charged but will not stand trial until March 2022.
Throughout all the many developments, Armstrong has continued to push for change. The coalition she is part of has worked diligently over the past year to push local and national leaders to pass legislation, like the George Floyd Act, that would increase police accountability.
“All Black people are asking is just to be safe in our own community, safe from community violence and safe from police violence,” Armstrong said. “And we're asking for access to the same opportunities that white Minnesotans so readily have access to.”
One year after Floyd’s death, the intersection at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue has been renamed George Floyd Square. It now serves as a memorial with vibrant signage, personal drawings and a greenhouse set among other tributes to honor Floyd’s life and others who have been killed by law enforcement.
“To have people in northern Minnesota, southern Minnesota and the suburbs getting out and protesting [is huge],” Monique Cullars-Doty, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Minnesota and aunt of Marcus Golden, a 24-year-old man who was gunned down by St. Paul police in 2015, told Yahoo News. “People were outraged.”
“The killing of George Floyd changed the world,” Michelle Gross, founder of Communities United Against Police Brutality, told Yahoo News.
Gross, who is white, said she became an activist following an incident 30 years ago in New Orleans, during which she said she was a victim of police brutality.
“I think for a lot of white people, [Floyd’s death] made them see that police brutality is very real and that it looks very, very ugly,” she said.
For all that has changed in Minnesota, much has also stayed the same, Gross said. She believes that local leaders have dragged their feet in passing meaningful legislation, thus squandering an opportunity to rebuild trust in a community they have alienated.
A year ago, data compiled by Mapping Police Violence showed that Black people were 13 times more likely to be killed by police in Minneapolis than whites. Today that statistic has ballooned to 22 times more likely, in a city where Black people make up just 20 percent of the population. For context, national statistics show that Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than whites.
“It’s time for grieving [caused by officer-inflicted death] to not happen anymore,” Paul Reeves, a lifelong Minneapolis resident, said. “I see Black men walk by and sometimes I just look at them in there and go, ‘What is it like to live with that fear?’”
“Our community is in a constant state of trauma, because we are not only dealing with police violence and abuse ... we’re also dealing with the global pandemic,” Armstrong said, adding that it’s not that Black Minneapolis residents don’t want police at all, they just want to feel safe. “It’s a false dichotomy that is presented, as if we have a choice between no police or corrupt and violent police.”
In an interview with Yahoo News, Officer John Elder, a spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department, acknowledged that there are tensions between police and residents in some parts of the community.
“What it boils down to is, we understand [that] we’re going into areas of the city where we don’t have warm feelings from the community,” he said. “We need to be cognizant of that. When we’re in places or spaces where we understand that there may be a higher likelihood that we may not be welcomed, or there may be hostility, officers have the ability at that time to help mend fences and build bridges.”
Elder said the department has about 200 fewer officers since January 2020, a development that has affected its outreach efforts.
“Each of the precincts have their own teams of officers, and they do a great deal of community outreach,” he said. “We used to have a community engagement team, where it was officers whose primary job was to engage with the community [and] build those bridges. We unfortunately have had to de-staff that unit, because we needed those officers [elsewhere]. So we look forward to a point where we're able to bolster our staffing again, and get back these units that we’ve had to de-staff.”
For many community members, one year later, Minneapolis feels like business as usual.
“George Floyd is only the face of hundreds of murders that have been committed here in the state of Minnesota, and Derek Chauvin is one of many more of those types of officers out here,” Toshira Garraway Allen, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, told Yahoo News.
Around Minneapolis, signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for George Floyd” adorn front lawns and front windows, but the rallies have subsided. Raucous, community-led demonstrations that once lasted for hours have given way to hashtags on Twitter and monthly Zoom forums.
Feeling slight relief following Chauvin’s conviction, Armstrong said the delayed trial for the other three officers is “traumatizing,” as it means video of the murder will be replayed.
“That’s almost two years after George Floyd was killed, having to potentially relive the moments of his death,” she said.
Artika R. Tyner, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in neighboring St. Paul, believes that one year after Floyd’s murder there is an overall “renewed life and optimism in mobilization and collective action” in the Twin Cities.
However, beyond an overall morale boost, Tyner told Yahoo News, “we have not seen meaningful change.”
“The Twin Cities still experiences the same racial disparities in every quality-of-life indicator from health care to education,” she said.
On May 25, 2021, Minneapolis is set to come alive again in the name of George Floyd, with rallies and marches taking place all over the Twin Cities in the name of Black lives. But no group gathering can fundamentally alter how the most vulnerable Minnesotans feel inside.
“One year later, and thinking about the trauma that this inflicted upon our community … we’re still feeling as if we are under siege and that our rights and our humanity continues to be disregarded,” Armstrong said.
Yahoo News Reporter Crystal Hill contributed to this article.
Cover thumbnail photo: Yahoo News; photos: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images, Judy Griesedieck for Yahoo News
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