FARGO, N.D. (CN) — What originally started as a small sit-in at Fargo City Hall to protest the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis grew into a city-sanctioned event as over 1,000 attendees came out to celebrate the life of Floyd at Island Park in downtown Fargo.
Coming out hand in hand with the Fargo Police, the peaceful event featured members of community group OneFargo who had originally planned the sit-in but canceled it after threats popped up on social media calling for City Hall to be burned down in addition to other violent acts.
Speakers at the event and members of OneFargo made it clear that the day was not for violence but a day of celebration and coming together with police to fight against racism, racial profiling and discrimination.
“Racism is still prevalent in our society, and it’s disgusting. I think this was a good step to bring focus on it,” said Brook Hanson, who attended the event.
“I’ve never been more proud than I am right now,” said Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, speaking to the peaceful nature of the day.
Community organizers strongly urged that following the event everyone needed to go home, stating the importance of not loitering with the intent to cause trouble afterward. OneFargo and Black Lives Matter asked the crowd to not “change the narrative” with violence and to keep the event peaceful in nature, so the “media and online conversation” wouldn’t be able to depict the event in a negative light.
“I think people are talking more about the riots and the looting than they should be and not about all the good things that are going on with this protest,” said Liegh Jones, another attendee. “All of these communities coming together is not being portrayed as much as all the negativity from outside forces.”
Fighting back tears while speaking, a young black woman named Millie Hanninen explained her struggles and experiences and what the protests meant to her.
“I’ve faced a lot of racism in my life. It’s been really hard for me and it’s even harder to see it happening to other people, and I’m just scared. I have siblings that are black and I don’t want anything to happen to them,” Hanninen said.
Black Lives Matter members used the even to make a list of demands for the surrounding metro areas of Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead. Jamaal Abegaz of Red River Valley Democratic Socialists of America read the demands, which were met with cheers of excitement and agreement from the attendees.
The demands call for Mahoney and Mayor Jonathan Judd of Moorhead to publicly support charges for the three officers who were with Officer Derek Chauvin — who faces second-degree murder charges in the Memorial Day death of Floyd — as well as mandatory cultural diversity training and improved psychological examinations for police officers.
The three officers so far face aiding and abetting charges, and all four have been fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.
“I’m super happy that this whole situation turned out to be a success, it was peaceful, I think we’ve had a lot of open-at-heart questions answered and dialog had and relationships developed,” said Sgt. Cristie Jacobsen of the Fargo Police Department. “We’ve all been able to come together and we’re always looking for partners in our community engagement. I’m excited that this turned out to be exactly what they wanted.”
The event closed with Jacobsen closely huddled with community organizers on stage while the entire park sang “Lean on Me” in unison.