Two national civil rights leaders visited south Minneapolis on Thursday for separate events but identical demands for the speedy charging and arrest of four Minneapolis police officers involved in death of George Floyd.
The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton spoke less than a couple of miles from each other. Sharpton was on the corner of 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue, where officer Derek Chauvin was recorded kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for his life until he lost consciousness. Floyd died shortly after he was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center on Memorial Day.
Jackson, who protested alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., told faith and community leaders to protest until the police are charged with murder, but “don’t do it in a way that hurts you.”
Nearly 100 socially distanced faith and community leaders spaced out in the pews at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 2600 E. 38th St., for Jackson’s strong but somber words. He spoke of the deaths of his friends from the coronavirus pandemic that has been disproportionately deadly for older African Americans.
For 90 minutes before Jackson took the stage, several African-American ministers and civic leaders urged cooperation and calm. Several expressed gratitude for the unprecedented immediate firings of the four officers involved in Floyd’s death.
The leaders expressed support for Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, but not the union that represents the Minneapolis police. “Anybody who did not, could not see this coming, you had your head in a hole for a long time,” the Rev. Jerry McAfee said of the death and the fallout.
Jackson spoke as well of the longer battle as well as the immediate push for justice for Floyd, whose death he called a “lynching.”
“Don’t let this fight break your spirit,” he said. “Don’t run past (voter) registration. Don’t run past the Census count.”
Sharpton was accompanied to the corner where Floyd was killed by Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who was killed by New York City police in 2014.
“We come to stand with this family and to stand with the community, because this is a struggle that we’ve had all over this country,” Sharpton said as several dozen people gathered around him.
Sharpton called on people to demonstrate Saturday across the country as part of the “We Can’t Breathe” movement, echoing the words both Garner and Floyd said to police before their deaths.
Sharpton said he and Carr would be with supporters at the scene of Garner’s death in New York “to link with those here in Minneapolis and around the country.”
Carr told the crowd that Floyd’s death felt familiar.
“The police officers come into our neighborhoods, they brutalize, they terrorize, they murder our children,” she said. “How did they fear for their life in this case? They had a young man in handcuffs. I didn’t see any resistance.”
Sharpton told the crowd they would “make sure” the officers in Floyd’s case are prosecuted. He questioned why they had not been arrested when the video is evidence itself.
“They should tell these four police what they tell all of us in the hood: Tell it to the judge,” he said.
The crowd erupted in support.
Addressing the looting and vandalism of yesterday’s protest, Sharpton said, “The violence started on this corner when this man was choked to death begging for his life.”
Sharpton vowed to return for Floyd’s memorial service and “over and over again” until “we get justice”
Carr recounted her five-year fight to get the officer who killed her son fired. Like Jackson at the church, she urged change at the ballot box. “We all have to get out and stand together, and we don’t have to do it violently,” Carr said. “We can do it politically.”
Among those beside her was Pastor Curtis Farrar of Worldwide Outreach for Christ Ministries located across from where Floyd was held down by police.
“We’re going to be OK ...” Farrar said. “And were’ going to see those officers not only charged but in jail. Amen, that’s what I really want to see.”