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Showing up to cry justice

Minneapolis rallies hit home


June 5, 2020

Derek Montgomery / For Minnesota Public Radio

A crowd of more than 1,000 people, reflected in Chakotay Johnson's sunglasses in this photo, gathered and marched May 30 in downtown Duluth.

After more than 1,000 protesters in Duluth marched down Superior Street to City Hall, organizers asked them to kneel for nine minutes, almost the time that a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who'd been arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd pleaded with the police officer, Derek Chauvin, telling him he couldn't breathe. He called out for his mother. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, even after Floyd lost consciousness and for a minute after paramedics arrived at the scene.

"That was a really powerful moment, there were a lot of tears," said Cloquet High School graduate Sophia Brenner, who attended Saturday's march with fellow Cloquet friends Izzy Roy and Katelyn Kelley. "I was crying too. It really shook me, and resonated with me."

Local police leaders and protesters agree on at least one thing: What happened to George Floyd while he was in police custody was wrong. Unacceptable.

Cloquet Police Chief Derek Randall said it made him sick to his stomach the first time he saw the video. Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake said it made her sad for Floyd and his family. She and other law enforcement officers have struggled to grasp how it could happen.

"The actions of those officers seen in the video do not reflect the majority of great men and women who are called to this profession," Lake wrote in response to questions from the Pine Knot News this week.

Since Floyd's death on May 25, all four officers on the scene were fired. As of Wednesday, all four were criminally charged. Chauvin faces unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder.

As they marched down First Street in Duluth Saturday protesters alternated chants of "No justice, no peace, prosecute the police," with "F*** the police" and cries of "I can't breathe," echoing the words of Floyd heard on the cell phone video taken by a bystander.

The event began with words at Second Avenue East, the site of the lynching of three black circus workers on June 15, 1920. It's an event that still reverberates in Duluth and is commemorated by the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial there, with words etched: "An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to remain silent."

That 100 years later there was a gathering there seeking justice for black men wasn't lost on those gathered.

The crowd was racially mixed, with many white people joining black, indigenous and other people of color in calling for justice for Floyd, some carrying signs with long lists of names of others who have died in police hands, others with shorter messages. Many carried the simple mantra "Black Lives Matter" that has become a movement. Most were wearing masks, but social distancing was a lost cause, especially once the crowd marched five blocks west and gathered around the flagpole and fountain at the Duluth Civic Center plaza.

Organizers welcomed everyone to the protest, which was peaceful and featured about five speakers. Brenner said it was a respectful protest, "preaching protest out of love, to effect change."

She left it determined to learn more.

"As white people we don't experience this (police violence and disparity) firsthand, we need to try to understand, be good allies, not speak over black people's voices," she said. "I've been trying to listen, and amplify those voices. I know I'm not perfect and I'll make mistakes, but I'm trying my best to get better with that and work toward justice."

Response mayhem

As arson and property destruction rocked Minneapolis and St. Paul, Sheriff Lake said she sent some deputies to the metro area Friday afternoon until late Sunday in response to a request from the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Randall didn't send anyone from Cloquet, as the department is already short-staffed. The National Guard and Minnesota State Patrol were already being utilized by order of Gov. Tim Walz.

Both law enforcement leaders found the damage caused by looting and riots, and the attitude toward police, disturbing.

"Law enforcement showed up to protect those communities, yet faced violence and threats," Lake said. She called the targeting of police "unacceptable."

"I struggle to realize how that behavior is a solution," Lake said.

Brenner said she can't speak to the violence that erupted during other protests.

"I'm not the one being oppressed," she said. "I read that you can't judge other people on how they stand up to their oppressors. I wouldn't take part, but I can see where that anger might come from."

Randall said he hopes "the powers that be" hear loud and clear the anger coming from the different communities, and work to correct some of the disparities.

Randall and Lake are also pondering how they - and their departments - can change things.

"My hope is that we can find a way to come together with those in our communities looking for meaningful change and meaningful solutions," Lake said. "Our authority as law enforcement is granted by the citizens we serve. Only together can we make a difference."

Randall said he has been talking to officers through email, and highlighted how powerful it is to wear a badge - "how one officer's behavior essentially affected the entire world."

As protests continue to pop up in cities in the U.S. and abroad, a protest is scheduled in Cloquet, starting at 4 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Park.

Randall said he's hoping to participate.


Vigil set for Saturday in Cloquet

The Gitchigumi Scouts are organizing a peaceful protest, a "Justice for George prayer march and candlelit vigil," 4-5 p.m. Saturday, June 6 at or near Veterans Park in Cloquet. The Facebook post invites all to light a candle for George Floyd and anyone affected by "systemic racism, injustice and police violence."

Jana Peterson

Izzy Roy, left, Sophia Brenner and Katelyn Kelley of Cloquet attended a rally and march in Duluth last weekend to make their voices heard about police injustice since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The Gitchigumi Scouts Facebook post reads: "This is an event where we are simply holding space with our Brothers and Sisters of color, please wear a mask, social distance and let us pray collectively, bring your asema, wear your ribbon skirts, and let's stand together in a world that was never meant for us (black, indigenous, people of color). White allies, you are welcome, use your voice to amplify those of us marginalized and oppressed. We will meet near Veterans park and march wherever the crowd sees fit."


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