On the evening of May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police detained George Floyd for allegedly using counterfeit money in a convenience store. Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, killing the 46-year-old Black man.
Floyd’s killing, and the nationwide demonstrations that followed, brought the issues of race, policing and civil rights to the forefront of the American conversation. Nearly a year later, a jury found Chauvin guilty of murder. The other three former police officers who were at the scene will face trial later this year.
On the anniversary of Floyd’s death, how do Americans view the nation’s progress on race and policing? Has there been noticeable change? What’s next? To get answers to these questions, PBS NewsHour reporters and producers traveled in recent months across the Midwest, from Minnesota’s Twin Cities to Ferguson, Missouri, East St. Louis, Illinois and Louisville, Kentucky — places that have been flashpoints in the fight for racial equity. Hear from the people they interviewed and what they learned.
Michael Brown, Sr.
The father of Michael Brown, Jr., who was killed by police in the streets of Ferguson, said his son’s death nearly seven years ago sometimes feels like a bad dream he has yet to wake up from.
“You’re like, ‘Oh man, that was a bad dream. Let me wake up.’ And you realize it’s the truth,” Brown, Sr. told the NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor.
He pointed to the jacket he wore during the interview, noting it was his son’s jacket. “We just finally started washing it because I missed the smell [and] the scent,” he said. “I still have a lot of his clothes.”
The shooting and a grand jury’s decision not to charge Darren Wilson, the former police officer who shot and killed Brown, Jr., led to violent protests in Ferguson and accelerated the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Brown, Sr. said it’s not clear if the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial will change things for the better. “Until we start to change the policies in different cities, some people will get justice, some people won’t,” he said. “I had my first grandbaby two years ago. I still got little, small children. You know, I don’t want them to go through nothing like that.”
“I don’t even think I’d be able to take that again,” he added.
Twin Cities residents Roland Capehart, DanYale Davis, Mercy Hendrickson and Tiffany Walker
One year after Floyd’s death, are Black residents of Minnesota seeing a difference in their communities? The NewsHour heard from several residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area during the past few months.
“Our Black men are in fear of walking out of the house and just going to the corner store at this point,” DanYale Davis said.
“They’re going to continue to treat us the same,” Tiffany Walker said. “But if we’d come together every time they treat us like this, like we came together for all of this, then the change will come.”
Two months before Floyd’s death, police in Louisville shot and killed Breonna Taylor while executing a no-knock search warrant in her apartment. Taylor’s death brought protesters to the streets, including Shameka Parrish-Wright. She’s been a regular presence at “Injustice Square Park,” a part of downtown Louisville where protesters have gathered. At the beginning of the year, she announced she’s running for Louisville mayor.
“When I first came out here as a protester, I wanted to fire all of the police and make them reapply to get their jobs back. Now, my activist hat and my community hat says to me that it’s a journey to get there,” Parrish-Wright told the NewsHour’s John Yang. “We need steps to get there. We need to try to exhaust every other thing that we can do and then if we can’t make that work, this is what we’re left with.”
She said that while various groups may approach the issue differently, ultimately people want to see reforms that lead to better policing. “I think the LMPD has to make some real significant changes to even start the healing process,” Parrish-Wright said. “But we’re nowhere near healing.”
Louisville’s West End was once a thriving center of Black culture and business. Now, it’s an impoverished area that Jecory Arthur is hoping to improve for its residents. Last year, voters elected Arthur, then 28 years old, as the youngest Metro Council member in the city’s history to represent neighborhoods in the city’s West End.
Rather than address issues like policing, Arthur told the NewsHour he’s working to solve root issues, such as poverty. Among the first things on his agenda are addressing what he called Louisville’s “housing crisis.” Home ownership rates for Black households are half that of white households in the city, and more than 31,000 dwellings are needed for households who earn the least.
“When you can’t afford to live here in the neighborhood with the highest rate of poverty, highest percentage of renters, if you can’t afford to live here, you can’t afford to live anywhere,” he said. “And to a certain extent, you could argue you’re not supposed to afford to live at all.”
Arthur said he wants to be proactive about fixing poverty in the neighborhoods he represents so his constituents don’t have to worry about crime and interacting with police officers. “As long as we stand in Russell, [which] has the highest percentage of poverty, you are going to have the highest percentages of crime. Thus, you’re going to call who, whenever those crimes are committed? You’re going to call the police,” he said. “They react to crime. They don’t prevent crime. … And in some cases, they escalate those situations.”
Floyd’s death also highlighted the history of the mistreatment of Black people in the United States. One of those events was a race riot that enveloped East St. Louis, Illinois, more than 100 years ago.
White mobs came into the Black neighborhoods in town looking to wreak havoc on the homes and the people inside. “You either shot or you were incinerated. If you were caught on the street, you were lynched,” said Dhati Kennedy, whose ancestors experienced the violence firsthand. “They just rampaged up and down the street, destroying what they could.”
The rioters destroyed Kennedy’s grandparents’ home, where his father and uncles also lived. After hiding in a field until nightfall, the family gathered enough scraps of wood to make a raft to get across the river to safety. His grandfather went missing during the riot, and his grandmother contracted pneumonia and died soon after.
The events of the riot had long-term effects on his family, including his father. “If I would go to the front door because I heard someone knocking, he said, ‘Stop, stop. … Somebody could be standing on the outside with a gun, trying to shoot you,’” Kennedy said. “We never saw him as traumatized or with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. Those are things we didn’t understand at the time. I’m sure he was.”