South Minneapolis’ George Floyd Square combined celebration and memorial Tuesday night as community members contemplated a violent, racist past and an uncertain, but hopeful, future.
MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Tuesday marked the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder at the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. This time last year, Minneapolis residents were just starting the protests that would spread across the nation.
On Tuesday night, the tone at the site of Floyd’s death at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue — dubbed George Floyd Square by the residents and activists who have laid claim to the space — was much brighter, but still serious. Family members of those slain by police made speeches, and attendees led chants of “say his name.” Rapper Common made an appearance, backed by local gospel and R&B group Sounds of Blackness. So did U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, although she didn’t take the stage.
The anniversary was inescapable around the state, with local media coverage fixed on Floyd’s life and death.
Public officials also took the opportunity to eulogize Floyd. Governor Tim Walz issued a proclamation Monday calling for a nine and a half-minute moment of silence on Tuesday afternoon. “George Floyd’s murder ignited a global movement and awakened many Minnesotans and people around the world to the systemic racism that our Black communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color have known for centuries,” Walz wrote.
He said that Chauvin’s conviction was a “step in the right direction,” but “true justice for George Floyd will come only through real, systemic change to prevent acts like this from happening again.”
Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted Chauvin and is currently prosecuting three other officers involved in Floyd’s deadly arrest, condemned Floyd’s death as part of a longstanding American tradition of police killings of Black people.
“After 100 years of tragic incidents of police-involved deaths of African Americans and others, all fair-minded people want to fix the problem — but as James Baldwin said, ‘Nothing can be changed until it is faced.’” Ellison said. “We must face that for 100 years, we have been caught in a cycle of state-sponsored violence that leads to uprising and protest, that leads to commissions and studies, that dead-ends in inaction, that leads to more state-sponsored violence.”
“We can break this cycle,” he added and called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. “The moment for making meaningful change is now.”
Floyd’s death sparked outrage across the world, with protests and riots in cities emerging all over the United States and on every inhabited continent — reports that researchers at Antarctica’s McMurdo station raised a Black Lives Matter flag in the aftermath of Floyd’s death remain unconfirmed.
The protests factored heavily into politics on the national level, with former President Donald Trump making calls for “law and order” a major portion of his reelection campaign. Trump himself was often implicated alongside policing in protests of Floyd’s death, with protesters in New York targeting Trump Tower and being tear gassed by federal agents as Trump left the White House for an infamous photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Trump and other Republicans also quickly rallied behind Kyle Rittenhouse, an Illinois teenager who killed two protesters at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police shot Jacob Blake — a 29-year-old Black man — seven times in the back, partially paralyzing him.
Locally, Minneapolis city officials almost universally condemned Chauvin early on, and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo stated publicly that “what happened to Mr. Floyd was murder.” A veto-proof majority of the City Council promised early on to seriously restructure the department, but their first effort was met with opposition and tabled by the city’s Charter Commission. The Council coalition has since deteriorated, but a petition by abolitionist group Yes 4 Minneapolis recently met the signature threshold required to put a serious overhaul of the department on the ballot.
The department is embattled from multiple sides; it’s also facing civil rights investigations from both the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Department of Justice. Chief Arradondo, Mayor Jacob Frey, and their allies announced plans on Monday to call in outside help after the department, down some 200 officers since Floyd’s death due to retirements, resignations and officers taking leave, failed to prevent a mass shooting over the weekend that injured eight and killed two.
But at Tuesday’s memorial, there was little conversation about those policy questions. Floyd’s life and death were at the center, along with the mourning of other families who have lost loved ones in police killings. Hennepin County Commissioner Kevin Anderson showed up after stopping by a suburban city council meeting, but said he was there chiefly in his personal capacity.
“While I am a county commissioner, I’m probably the least important person in the square. I’m here to show respect,” he said.
Pressed on policy, he said that while most policing issues in Minneapolis are outside his purview, other racial justice issues were also important. “There’s a whole lot that goes into broken communities, and the county can play a part in healing some of that,” he said, citing issues like transportation policy and economic disenfranchisement.
Toshira Garrway, whose fiance Justin Teigen was found dead in a recycling bin in 2009 after fleeing St. Paul police, spoke at the event and said her fiance and Floyd were victims of a broader problem than policing.
“It’s not just the police. It’s the forensic pathologists that cover up the murders. It’s the police, the [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension],” she said. “It’s the county attorneys.”
“It doesn’t matter the outfit that you wear when you promote racially motivated murder,” she added. “Whether it’s a Ku Klux Klan outfit, regular clothes, or a police uniform, a racially motivated murder is a racially motivated murder.”
St. Paul police maintain that Teigen hid in the bin and was asphyxiated when a recycling truck came to pick it up. Garraway and Teigen’s family have called that a cover-up.
“We have a duty to fight for our freedom,” Toshira Garraway said, leading a chant based on a quote from Black Panther Assata Shakur which became popular in the wake of Floyd’s death. “We have a duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”