DULUTH – About 50 people marched through downtown Duluth following Tuesday's guilty verdicts for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, chanting George Floyd's name before kneeling silently for several minutes on the street near the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.
Duluth resident and U.S. Army veteran Jerome Strother was immediately drawn to the site that honors three Black men who were lynched in 1920.
"The verdict was fair," said Strother, who wore a Black Lives Matter mask. "People needed to see justice served against corrupt police. Think of Rodney King, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor; cops need to be held accountable. And it happened today."
He expects changes to the judicial system going forward.
"We have to be hopeful," he said.
March organizer Veronica Davis, who goes by V, said her initial reaction to the verdict was "a lot of shock, followed by relief."
"Daunte Wright, he's next," she said. "He needs justice next."
Davis, 21, added that the fight for justice and accountability is "not just an individual thing. We need to break down the entire system."
Duluth City Council President Renee Van Nett observed the gathering quietly from the sidelines.
"It's still a sad day, it's still a hard thing … George Floyd is still gone," she said. "But I breathed a sigh of relief. There is always work to do. I am micro-focused on our city. On healing. That's what I am thinking about."
Now is a time to pause and reflect, lifting George Floyd's family up in prayer, City Council member Janet Kennedy said Wednesday.
The right to breathe, as Floyd asked for, is afforded to all, said Kennedy, who is Black, "but certain people who look like me aren't getting the benefit of the doubt. I do want to say a prayer for Mr. Chauvin and his family as well. Nobody won yesterday. ... We have a system that has been messed up for a long time and it's our duty to fix it together."
The City of Duluth released a statement Wednesday from Mayor Emily Larson, police chief Mike Tusken and human rights officer Carl Crawford.
"I feel relief today for the accountability of the guilty verdicts," Larson said. "I understand the call this community and country are demanding for accountability in our policing, our policies, our practices. I am ready to do this work."
Tusken wrote that "yesterday's verdict was right and just."
"We are committed to continuous improvement and innovation in policing that honors and cares for the people we took an oath to serve," he said.
Crawford, who is Black, said that "one verdict cannot erase years of pain from a justice system that did not protect us."
We will never forget that," he said. "However, today is a new day and opportunity to create change."
Before dispersing Tuesday, the crowd raised their fists and again chanted Floyd's name and "Black lives matter." Another gathering is planned downtown Thursday.
Tuesday's march came less than a week after a larger protest in downtown Duluth over the police killing of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. The Duluth Branch NAACP at the time reiterated its demands the Duluth Police Department's "use of force and arrest rates be proportionate to the racial demographics of our region by December 2022."
"We will not wait until somebody dies in Duluth to demand proper changes," the group said in a statement last week.
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496