Residents, activists and community leaders across the country gathered Tuesday to honor and remember George Floyd, who died under the knee of a police officer one year ago on a south Minneapolis street corner.
Downtown, a few hundred people gathered at The Commons park near U.S. Bank Stadium where musicians performed at an event hosted by the George Floyd Memorial Foundation and Visual Black Justice. It was the atmosphere of a block party, including food trucks and a bouncy house, all punctuated with calls for reform.
Families and representatives of families whose loved ones were killed during altercations with police also spoke alongside activists.
"We are here and it's been a year," said Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd's sister. "It's been a troubling year, a long year, but we made it."
She criticized the congressional stalling of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds, limit no-knock warrants and institute other accountability measures: "There's been a lot of names added to the list after my brother's death, and still nothing is being done."
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey addressed the crowd briefly before a moment of silence, saying, "George Floyd is going to save the world. He's going to change the world. He's going to make sure that we look intentionally at ourselves acknowledge our shortcomings and make sure that we all do better from here. This kind of police brutality cannot continue."
Aminata Seye, a 24-year-old who recently got her master's degree from Bethune-Cookman University in Florida, traveled from her home in Houston to Minneapolis for the one-year remembrance of Floyd's death. She's on a volunteer committee with the George Floyd Memorial Foundation and was helping with Tuesday's downtown event.
"It means you're a part of history," she said of her reason to visit the Twin Cities for the first time. "You get an opportunity to say you were part of organizing the first inaugural memorial for George Floyd. We're not just saying things. We're actually doing something."
At the intersection of 38th and Chicago, where Floyd was killed, people gathered for a daylong event called "Rise & Remember" including community art, children's activities and concerts. A candlelight vigil is planned at the square for 8 p.m.
Setup for the event's 1 p.m. start was temporarily jarred when police responded to call of shots fired at 10 a.m. one block from George Floyd Square and witnesses saw a vehicle speeding away. One person showed up at a nearby hospital for treatment of a non-life threatening gunshot wound, police said. Bystander video captured the sound of at least 20 rounds fired as people scrambled for cover.
However, by midafternoon the mood was one of joy and celebration.
"This is a living memorial it's not a dead memorial. in order for something to live something has to die. We are not going to mourn today, we are going to celebrate," said Marquise Bowie, 45, of south Minneapolis.
Angie Evans of Minneapolis, reflected on what the past year has brought.
"It's a somber moment to think that just a year ago today, we were here watching a man get killed by the Minneapolis Police," she said. "We got a little bit of justice, but we really got no peace yet."
Lifelong Minneapolis civil rights activist Spike Moss said the protests extend beyond the streets, and activists must stay resilient.
"I'm just hoping they can sustain themselves to challenge the laws at the Capitol," Moss said. "If you don't, this will come back to haunt you ... you've got to change those laws that protect (police)."
Retired firefighter Tony Smith raised money for homeless encampments. Once homeless himself, he has now gained housing but wants to pay it forward to those who were in his shoes.
"It's a beautiful day. The sun is shining, you see little kids playing ... It's the best thing in the world to see the community come together and barbecuing for each other," he said.
Derek Armstrong, 43, lives few blocks from where George Floyd was killed and shot one of the first videos of Floyd's encounter with police: "I watched him struggle and go through it all," Armstrong said. "I watched so many Black men getting killed in this area. It has taught me to love my people unconditionally. I'm out here to remember George Floyd as the echoing beacon for continued protest and Justice."
Darnella Frazier, who at age 17 shot the video of the encounter that went viral online, reflected on social media Tuesday about how her life changed in the moment that still haunts her.
"It made me realize how dangerous it is to be Black in America. We shouldn't have to walk on eggshells around police officers, the same people that are supposed to protect and serve," Frazier wrote. "We are looked at as thugs, animals, and criminals, all because of the color of our skin. Why are Black people the only ones viewed this way when every race has some type of wrongdoing? None of us are to judge. We are all human."
Janerio "Idiris" Taylor, 39, exchanged handshakes and hugs Tuesday with Charles McMillian, a key witness who testified in the trial of ex-officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder.
"I love you all," McMillian said. "George Floyd was my brother. I watched [the police] kill my brother."
"You all changed the definition of a hero," Taylor told McMillian. "That's the joy for me."
Ashley Paynter, a medical Ph.D. student who traveled from Seattle to speak about protecting Black lives and medical racism, said she reflected and "realized that a lot of what people were focused on in this movement was Black death and caring about Black people after they were dead, and not enough people were talking a about preserving Black life"
Hassan Muhumed, 56, an immigrant from Somalia, said he came to George Floyd Square for the first time since Floyd's killing.
"Today is a beautiful day," he said. "I came to bear witness and see what's going on. I know America well. Racism is out in the open nowadays. We need change."
At the downtown event, the foundation pledged that the Celebration of Life in the Commons would "mark the city's resilience, unity and will reinvigorate the community to continue to fight for justice for all."
"For us to finally see what we've been working for, we finally have that glimmer of hope that we can get justice," Athena Papagiannopoulos, 25 of Minneapolis, the founder of Visual Black Justice. "We have to take in these good moments. That's what I wanted this to look like that. When I heard the verdict … it was so hard for me. We're so used to hearing no. We were so beyond prepared for that. When they said yes, guilty of everything, we just couldn't take it in. We didn't know how, because we had never seen that before. How do you react to something you've never felt? It wasn't real until we had that time to process. So This is our time where we're actually celebrating that moment."
Papagiannopoulos, who identifies as Greek, Black and Native American, said she recognized the gravity of the day.
"We are celebrating George, but we are celebrating everybody here — everybody who helped us get to this moment. It took everyone everywhere to doing this uproar to get us here, otherwise we would have never got here, it would have been all these other cases. This is our moment."
Activist Toussaint Morrison said community organizers and protesters have been pushed to action, but it remains to be seen if politicians and other leaders will push forth actual change.
"This should be happening all the time," he said as he motioned with his hands to the celebration. "There should be Black joy and Black celebration all the time and it shouldn't take a Black man dying for the city to create space for this."
Nae Totushek, 28, who is Asian American and adopted into a Czech family, was thrilled to be in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday morning, helping set up the daylong event by Visual Black Justice.
She thought back to where she was one year ago, watching the video of George Floyd's killing just hours after his death. She didn't quite know what she was watching at the time, and her mixed-race son, then 2 1/2, was watching it with her.
"I was crying, he was crying, and it was like, 'Well, this is when we start the conversation — at age 2 ½,' " she said.
That moment with her son spurred her on as an activist. She drove by herself from her home in Buffalo, Minn. to the Twin Cities for the protests in the days after Floyd's murder. She watched swaths of the city burn. She kept coming, usually by herself, and in July she connected with Visual Black Justice. It felt like fate when Papagiannopoulos encouraged her to keep volunteering with the organization.
On Tuesday, Totushek stood under a tent on the Commons, surrounded by buttons and T-shirts promoting social justice. She grabbed the tent as a warm wind nearly blew it over. Her son, now 3 ½, was playing in one of the bounce houses.
"It's a really big reflection day for me. I'm knowingly aware I'm not the same person I was a year ago. It's easy to let the years roll into each other as you get older, but this is one of those days where I woke up and I paused in my life: 'Nope, this is a little bit different.' Today I woke up with the purpose of trying to be a better person … If you wake up every day and look at yourself in the mirror, are you happy with who you see? Or is there something that bothers you? How can you better that? Where you're still you, you still recognize yourself, but it's better than it was the day before."
Gov. Tim Walz issued a proclamation asking Minnesotans for a moment of silence at 1 p.m. that lasted 9 minutes and 29 seconds, as a reminder of how long Chauvin had Floyd pinned on the pavement during the fatal encounter.
Star Tribune staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.
Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647