More than 1,000 protesters crowded downtown St. Paul on Friday afternoon below the offices of Attorney General Keith Ellison to hear speakers call for a review of recent police shootings and community control of police, in the wake of the police-involved death of George Floyd.
“Change is coming!” shouted Marques Armstrong of the Racial Justice Network. “I feel it in my spirit. I feel it in my bones.”
The crowd heard from several people who had lost loved ones in police shootings, including the grandfather of Brian Quinones-Rosario, who was killed in September by officers from the Richfield and Edina police departments. Authorities said he had threatened the officers with a knife, but relatives said police didn’t need to kill him to arrest him.
Don Williams, Quinones-Rosario’s grandfather, told the crowd that “it is not the time to get complacent.”
Ellison on Wednesday upgraded charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while arresting him. Ellison also charged three other officers at the scene with aiding and abetting murder.
Those moves followed more than a week of protests, sometimes violent, calling for tougher action against the former police officers.
D’Andre Tolson of St. Paul said he joined the protest because he “wanted to help out and do what I can and share my voice in the protest and be another body in the crowd.”
Rachel Carpentier, also of St. Paul, said she came to listen. “For me, being a white person, I know that the black community cannot do it alone,” she said. “We need the white people out here to stand up with them.”
Maurice Perkins, a U.S. Army veteran and Iraqi war veteran, went to the rally at U.S. Bank Stadium Friday afternoon because “it’s about George Floyd, but it’s also about the fight to end systematic injustice in the country.”
Perkins said he grew up in the same Houston neighborhood as Floyd and graduated from the same high school, and moved to Minnesota last year. “To see all of these people united together for the same cause, for me, I take it personally. I feel like they’re speaking up for me,” he said.
The U.S. Bank Stadium rally drew hundreds of peaceful protesters who expressed outrage over Floyd’s death.
Hip-hop music blared over portable loud speakers as the crowd milled, with organizers handing out water and snacks and leading the now-familiar call-and-response, “Say his name! George Floyd!”
College students Teshawn Kelly and Chris Similhomme were part of the crowd of mostly teens and young adults outside the stadium. Kelly said staying home this week was not an option. Both men expressed frustration at “opportunists” who used protest as a cover to loot and burn.
“I don’t want to see the change, I want to be part of the change happening,” said Kelly, 22, who attends Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Similhomme, also 22 and a student at MSU Mankato, said he was heartbroken by Floyd’s killing. The criminal charges filed against the four officers involved was “step one, honestly. The whole system needs to change,” he said.
Margaret Engel, 18, of Minneapolis, was attending her seventh protest. She and two friends have been attending events all over the Twin Cities, and said that the speakers have made them excited about the Black Lives Matter movement. “We have a voice that we need to use, especially with our white privilege,” she said.
Nicole Strom said the video of Floyd’s death provided strong motivation to protest. “It was absolutely disgusting. No human being should be treated that way, especially based on their skin color,” said Strom, 18, of Minneapolis.
Anika Bowie, vice president of the Twin Cities chapter of the NAACP, addressed the crowd and demanded the resignation of Bob Kroll, head of the Minneapolis police union whom many accuse of setting a belligerent tone for the rank and file.
Tamara McLemore, 22, of Eagan, came to the Minneapolis protest with a group of friends to “fight for justice.” She said the widespread protests have forced public officials to act. “Protesting made them charge the officers,” she said.
McLemore added that Floyd’s death was shocking. “I cried and I was disgusted,” she said. “Why do they keep killing black people? It’s so easy for them.”
Eventually protesters began marching from downtown Minneapolis to Cup Foods, the site of Floyd’s death. As they chanted and waved signs, neighbors waved and cheered in support.