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How George Floyd’s killing has inspired a diverse range of protesters

In the three-plus weeks since George Floyd’s death, the protests that began in Minneapolis over policing, race and the use of force have grown into a national reckoning on these issues. Some areas of the country with few black residents are experiencing Black Lives Matter demonstrations for the first time. Stephanie Sy reports on how the coalition has widened among different races and ethnicities.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the three-plus weeks since George Floyd's death, the protests that began in Minneapolis over policing, race and use of force have grown into a national reckoning on these issues and many more.

    Stephanie Sy looks at how the coalition has widened around the country among different races and ethnicities.

  • Protester:

    Systemic racism relies on your inactivity.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    From rural towns, such as Craftsbury, Vermont…

  • Protesters:

    No racist police!

  • Stephanie Sy:

    … and small cities, including Athens, Ohio, to far-flung communities in Alaska, among them Talkeetna, protests for Black Lives Matter are occurring for the first time in places where few African-Americans live, led by a mosaic of people of different creeds and cultures.

  • Protesters:

    Black lives matter!

  • Protester:

    Black lives matter!

  • Stephanie Sy:

    From Waxahachie, Texas, to Des Moines, Iowa.

  • Protesters:

    This is what democracy looks like.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    From Laramie, Wyoming, to Anna, Illinois, a town with a particularly troubled history of racism.

  • Judy Muller:

    I was really gobsmacked.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    That was Judy Muller's reaction when she found out about a vigil for George Floyd organized in Norwood, Colorado, where she lives part-time.

  • Judy Muller:

    This is a town of 550 some souls, most of them white, almost all of them white, in a very rural area. So for 40-some people to turn out for this, with so little notice, that's almost a 10th of the population.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    She saw Democrats and Republicans and the city's two law enforcement officers participating in the somber vigil.

  • Judy Muller:

    I think the town of Norwood, Colorado, cares, and a lot of other rural towns across America care. We have seen evidence of that.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Muller herself is a former television news reporter who covered the 1992 Los Angeles riots after the police beating of Rodney King.

  • Judy Muller:

    I have been through a lot of these stories, and nothing has really quite touched me as much as this one in my little town. I'm quite moved by it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Some say it's the graphic video of George Floyd's death. Others point to the shared vulnerability that can only come out of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

    But, for whatever reason, this time, the death of an unarmed black man has brought activism out of the woodwork, including among other marginalized groups.

  • Jordan Ortega:

    It was important for me, as a Native, to go out there and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Jordan Ortega attended a rally in Gallup, New Mexico.

  • Jordan Ortega:

    It was my first protest to go to, and I went to it because I had seen all the video and pictures of what happened with George Floyd and his murder. And it struck a chord with me. And it really — it really shook me.

  • Mark Trahant:

    The protest marches have gone on around Indian country in a way that's really unprecedented.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today, which covers Native American issues. Native Americans experience a higher rate of fatal encounters with police than any other racial group. And yet:

  • Mark Trahant:

    A lot of the activists are saying, first, Black Lives Matter. We're not going to talk about our issues. We're going to be in complete solidarity.

  • Brenda Stevenson:

    The people that I see who are in the small towns, the people who I see who are — have not traditionally been invested in African-American equality who are now invested, I think that's an important indicator to people who are in powerful places who have some — can have some impact on equality.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Brenda Stevenson is a professor of history and African-American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her optimistic view of the broadening coalition is tempered by her 24-year old daughter, Emma Cones.

    Emma recently spoke at a rally for black lives.

  • Emma Cones:

    I'm happy about the support. However, I have noticed some kind of attempts of performative activism on social media.

    I have seen a lot of influencers do things such as repost other people's donations to Black Lives Matter, and then — and screenshotting it and saying that they actually donated.

  • Brenda Stevenson:

    I'm interested in broad coalitions and getting the work done, no matter who does it and how it's done.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Other communities of color are also aligning with the movement, and in some cases facing a reckoning.

  • Protester:

    The dam of our hearts broke open when George Floyd called out to his momma right in front of our eyes.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The opening speech at the Japanese-American group Tsuru for Solidarity's vigil in San Bruno, California, which included many aging survivors of Japanese internment. Tsuru means crane, a symbol of healing.

    Kim Miyoshi is co-founder of Japanese Americans for Justice and explains why the model minority myth has contributed to varying degrees of complicity in the oppression of black people, from officer Tou Thao's role in George Floyd's death to staying silent.

  • Kim Miyoshi:

    When you're confronted with violence and domination, right, coming out a system of white supremacy, I feel like part of our community — and this is probably true for other Asian American communities — turned towards and kind of allied ourselves with whiteness or the values right around whiteness.

    And it was a way to survive racism.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    More than 700 Japanese Americans have signed up to a pledge by her group to end anti-black racism and support the movement's demands for defunding police and reparations for African-Americans.

  • Protesters:

    I can't breathe!

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Other protesters have focused on more incremental change.

    Jordan Ortega shared her next steps.

  • Jordan Ortega:

    Supporting more black businesses that are out in Albuquerque. And I have made a couple donations to a couple of protest bailout funds through Facebook.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Filmmaker Christian Vasquez is documenting the protests.

  • Christian Vasquez:

    I think something we all need to be thinking about right now is how we tell these stories around activists.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And many say their main priority is educating their own social circles.

  • Lenore Craven:

    I can guarantee you that, with my five children, you're going to have five more people who are going to be protesting for the rest of their lives as long as injustice is part of our world.

  • Claire Click:

    A lot of my white friends and family members don't understand systemic racism. They don't understand implicit bias. They don't understand that you can sit there and say, "I'm not racist," and you might not be, you don't actively discriminate against black people, but you have still benefited from institutions that they have — they have not been able to benefit from.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Emma Cones has a bigger challenge for the protesters.

  • Emma Cones:

    What else have you done? Have you given money to Black Lives Matter? Or are you just posting a black square on Instagram saying #BlackoutTuesday, and just moving along with your life?

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Professor Stevenson isn't sure what will come from the growing coalition either, but she senses it will be transformative.

  • Brenda Stevenson:

    I'm very hopeful because of Emma and because black people have continued to fight for freedom in our country, and I know will continue to do so.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    With more allies than ever in the fight.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

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