Faces and Voices From a Justice for George Floyd Protest

Reactions from protesters who marched at the State Capitol and on I-94 in St. Paul

An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people took to the streets of downtown Minneapolis on Sunday, where a tanker truck came hurtling into the peaceful demonstration that afternoon on the I-35W bridge. (According to new reports from authorities, the tanker was empty and the driver had not intended to hurt anyone.) On the same day, another sizable group of about 1,500 assembled in St. Paul seeking justice following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

The protest began at the State Capitol, funneled onto highway I-94, exited on Lexington Parkway, and returned to the capital grounds, which were occupied by armed members of the National Guard. In front of a chainlink fence and a line of guards holding riot shields, protesters chanted and knelt. They called for the arrest and charge of three now-former Minneapolis police officers who were present when former officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

I was at the St. Paul protest, and I brought my voice recorder. Ideally, a protest puts out a bold message, and then thousands—or, now, millions, with protests fanning out globally—back it up. I wondered: Does speaking to the individuals miss the point of uniting?

It may actually bring it home. The past few days have seen accounts of people reportedly trying to use the movement for other ends. Conflicting accounts have suggested that the suspected agitators are white supremacists or left-wing anarchists. So, who are some of those thousands protesting in good faith? What are some of their reasons for getting involved?

Note: I am white. I did talk to some white protesters, who were there to stand in solidarity and to use their privilege to help spread the message.

Read on: Here are some ways you can fight for racial justice.

Lisa, 30

I’m feeling very intense. Very overwhelmed. Trying to be calm. I’m the mother of two boys. I’m fighting for their future, I feel like. I feel like I’m fighting for my ancestors. I feel like I want to fight peacefully. My windshield got shot out by the St. Paul Police Department last night, trying to cross the Lake Street bridge. We had no guns. We had no weapons. I feel defeated, so far. I hope this is a peaceful, well-worth-it revolution.

I saw two National Guard people walking by the store by my house. I was driving. I said, “I have to ask you a question. Do you think it was right for that man to put his knee on that man’s neck until he couldn’t breathe?” And the young guy—he was young, you could tell; he was fresh. He said, “No. I think he should go to jail.” And the older man said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I can’t answer your question, but I understand how you feel.” I said, “So, you’re not going to answer my question? Because he just did.” And he said, “That’s his opinion, and you have your own. But I hope you have a good day. Stay safe.”

That was a message to me. I wanted to come out here and ask, “Why?” again. I knew to ask that question again. Something wasn’t right. You should stand up for what you believe in, not follow orders from someone when you know they’re standing against what is good and what is right for the people of humanity. It’s not about color; it’s about humanity. I am a mixed woman. A multiracial woman. I believe in what is right. I believe in the good of humanity. I believe in a healthy planet overall. And this isn’t healthy.

Charles, 42

Charles drove up from Dallas, Texas, to join the protest.

Look back through all the history of not just black men but ancient Americans getting killed—for what? For how they look? It’s not right. And then, [for the police officers] to not be arrested. Have you ever watched First 48? They take 48 hours to arrest somebody for murder. We’ve waited over that for the arrest of four people.

[On why he took the drive from Texas]: Botham Jean and a couple other people in Dallas that were killed by police officers, who were sentenced. We don’t want to kill cops, but they want to kill us. This is not just Minnesota. We’ve had uprisings in our town, too. I’m tired of sitting at home when I can go around my country, because I’m an American, to fight for what you fight for, what we were born to fight for: our backyards, our neighbors’ yards, our schoolyards.

When you have cops throwing people in jail, a lot of charges are trumped up, and when you see a cop kill somebody, over and over, and not be arrested—that’s just enough for me alone. I don’t condone murder, and I don’t condone a murderer to walk the streets. When it’s filmed, and because of the virus, we’re all at home watching this. So, we’re already emotional. I’ll bet you everybody’s seen that video. If that video doesn’t touch you, if it doesn’t upset you—well, that could be you next. It’s past color. It has to do with us all.

Xavier, 28

There’s a lot of injustice in our system. The way they go about prosecuting people—it’s crazy. You can feel it, every time you get approached by a peace officer. Being a protester of color, they approach you weird. It’s awkward. And, at times, it’s quite frightening; you don’t understand what’s going on. And there’s a lot of this in the system. It’s not only if someone is guilty or innocent that gets mixed up in the mess; it’s also how they prosecute people, and, honestly, I’ve been through it. I’ve been through that stuff. And they kind of just try to waste your time, to consume your time, even if you’re free, didn’t do anything, no charges. They’ll consume your time for years and years on end and harass you, and you’re just trying to uplift the economy. You’re just trying to do your job like everyone else.

So, this is a pivotal moment. I saw that video, and I was just like, “Holy smokes, that’s my neck right there.” That’s my brother. I saw it all. I saw all my family and friends on that video, and I was like, we’ve got to do something other than talk online about it. We’ve got to be here, show a presence. And bodies help. Bodies help. And people talk, and cities are talking—it’s a huge issue.

[On what he feels looking at the National Guard presence]: It is frustrating, I can tell you. Not everyone wants to be up there, but, also, they have a duty, a job to do. It depends on what side you’re looking from, obviously; we’re trying to come peacefully, and not everyone here is for that peace, and I acknowledge that. But at the same time, we have a right to protest. People coming out on their capitals with guns and pistols, demanding respect, and we’re out here with no guns or pistols—no weapons to show. And we’re just asking for a little bit of justice. And it’s crazy. It’s taken over a week.

Curtis (right)

People need to know that all these years and years and years and years of people being mistreated—and not just black people—people in power have taken advantage of that. And from coast to coast, George Floyd was the last straw. Everybody sees that now. It’s not OK. We’ve been just turning the other cheek and being the bigger person for years. Not anymore. Them days are over. The revolution has begun. People are awake. And, as you can see, it don’t matter black or white; we are all in this together.

Alishia (left)

My thing is why, though. Why? Why are we hated so much? I don’t understand. Look at this—this is beautiful out here. It’s peaceful, and beautiful. Everyone’s getting along. So, I don’t know. Things really need to change. They have to.

Claire, 60

I remember all this from the ’60s. I’ve been here since ’67. We were the first ones to integrate in our schools, and so I was there during the Martin Luther King [era], the Watts riots, and all that. And I thought that after all this time—after all of us coming together and learning how to integrate—that this would be resolved. But looking back, in retrospect, I’m like, “Wow, this is really happening again.” It’s like reliving, rehashing. It never died away, it never went away. And, man, our men are dying in the streets like this.

I’m 60 years old, and you just get tired of it. The other thing I’m having a problem with is other groups coming in and taking the narrative away from us and what we’re trying to do here, and exploiting it. That’s really what’s so painful about all of this: that we’ll take the blame for someone else, who’s from out of town, coming in and exploiting us all over again. It’s like a wound on top of a wound.

I’m very disappointed with that, but I’m so glad when I come out here and see all these beautiful people unifying themselves to help us as black culture. Because we’ve been through this for so long. We’re tired. We’re just tired. We’re fed up. I don’t mean the exclusion or hatred of anybody else; we’re just tired. We’re fed up. Enough is enough.

I hope that this progresses on to be more empowering, that legislative work will take place, because we’ve had enough of the temporary legislations that have gone through, the really ineffective legislations that have taken effect in this country. We need real empowerment, and it starts in legislation. You can’t legislate hate out of people. You just can’t. But you can put a lock on them. They need to be prosecuted, they need to be thrown into jail, to teach other people around this country that they’re not going to get away with the injustices against black people.

I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen it all. Believe me. I’m just glad to be here as a participant for George Floyd. We don’t want to forget who he was and who he is, his family—all that. I just lost a family member to COVID-19 in Kansas City. There’s just so much stuff on top of other stuff. We’re just fed up. The whole system—it needs to be revamped.

Chandler, 32

Right now, with my business [Unbias], I’m trying to expose a lot of these problems systemically. So, for me, this is so painful. And we’re so fed up. To be a second-class citizen—you can see it based on how we’re treated by people that are supposed to protect us.

We just need to change, because at the end of the day, we’re one human race. Minnesota needs to be the one to lead the charge with this, because we have a lot of integration and opportunities to really bring people together. And the issue that I see a lot of is the system. It’s not people; there’s a lot of good people in this state, and we’ve got to do a better job of connecting them and uplifting the people these laws have been taking advantage of. You know, the fathers, and the kids not having their dads, [who are] in prison. All of the systemic issues that we’re dealing with—I’m just done with it.

People have been protesting for years. It’s not good enough. This is just one piece. We’ve got to figure out other ways to really change the outcome. Otherwise, it’s just a revolving door, and it keeps happening.

My business is called Unbias. It’s an app that’s going to be released later this year that’s going to focus on connecting racially diverse retailers, job opportunities, education, and places of worship, so they can understand where to find these things easily. Obviously, with the amount of damage that’s been done to the city, there’s a huge opportunity for us to help people. So, we’re going to take advantage of that.

But it’s bigger than an application. We really need to figure out how to change some of these laws and give people what they’ve been promised for 400 years. That’s a long time—and we’re still treated like this. We’ve got to change.

Kiana, 21

Today was more of an emotional day, especially hearing all of the speeches in the very beginning of the press conference, talking about how their kids have died. That made me tear up more. The other days, I was protesting out of anger.

Every time I wake up, I’m like, “Is it a dream?” It doesn’t feel like it’s supposed to be real.

Padma, 46

This isn’t strange. What we’re seeing here is not strange. A lot of this happens in India, too. Injustices are there and everywhere. Whether it takes the form of the challenges that are in India and its issues, or whether it’s here and these issues, it’s important to speak up for those that are disenfranchised.

I came to Minneapolis when I was 29 years old, to an arranged marriage, and I’ve been here since then. Both my kids are born here. They’re growing up now; one is in high school.

How else do you change this? How else do you tell the powers that be that this cannot go on forever? That’s what brings me here. I would do the same thing in India, I guess. And there is injustice happening there right now.

I will say, it is a nice enough day. I question how many would have stepped out were it raining and pouring, but I could do it. I have a high schooler and a couple other friends who were coming out, so I accompanied them. I don’t think I did a big thing at all; I think there’s a bigger job at play. So, I’m here to do a little piece of it, is all.

I don’t know that walking on the freeway will get us what we want, but like a friend said, it at least sends a signal to those who are disheartened and discouraged, that some of us are rooting for them. Yes, I would want the police department to change and the government to change. None of us can have this kind of discrimination in education, or in healthcare, or in police, or for justice.

Nathan, 28

A lot of people always ask: “What’s the most racist thing that’s ever happened to you?” I served in the military for 12 years, and I actually had an older gentleman come up to me and tell me that I just didn’t belong in his army.

Everything that’s going on—I personally don’t feel like this is going to fix anything. It’s gonna fix something, but there’s still a lot of work that has to be done at the top. You can’t blame just the MPD, you can’t just blame anyone. It’s the society as a whole that needs to come together, as we are right now in the middle of I-94.

Graciela, 20

From 2014, when Eric Garner was killed, I had a shirt that said, “I can’t breathe.” And just a few days ago, I had to pick that same shirt out, and I wore it, so that brought back a lot of the emotions, because we’re facing the same thing years later. And by the way: The cop who killed Eric Garner wasn’t actually fired until 2019. So, again, the same injustices keep coming up.

At this point, we’re tired, and we’re sick of it. And you can really feel the difference at these protests, the way that people feel and the way that people set up this time, and the emotions are so different. The other thing, too, is that there’s such a sense of community here. I was in Minneapolis last night at the precinct past curfew, and I felt a lot more safe, let me tell you, with everyone else. So much more safe than with a police presence any day of my life. So, it’s all a big community over here.

Sylence, 18

I live in south Minneapolis, where there’s a lot of drugs, homeless, gang violence, and a lot of violent things in the area.

The first time I’d seen the video, it was…words can’t even explain it, to be honest with you, from a black male. I thought about how a death is always tragic, even if he’s red or white, Mexican or Native. At the end of the day, I’m out here, and you’re just trying as hard as you can. You at least have to try. Riots and violence isn’t the key. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to be heard in some way. I see what they did, and as a black male, I came out here to help. I came out here to do what everybody else is doing right now. Make your voice be heard. If not one of us, all of us.