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A year after Floyd’s death, activists in Minneapolis seek end to ‘status quo’ racism

One year ago today, George Floyd's murder by former policeman Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis shocked the country, but those within the community, particularly Black residents, say it was inevitable. They point to a history of racist policies and political gridlock as reasons for the deaths of Black men like Floyd and Philando Castile. Amna Nawaz takes a closer look at the history and reform efforts.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Welcome to this "PBS NewsHour" special. I'm Judy Woodruff.

    It was one year ago that George Floyd's slow and agonizing death was captured on cell phone video. The footage showed Floyd pinned beneath Officer Derek Chauvin's knee for more than nine minutes, unable to breathe.

    That video sparked widespread outrage. Protesters took to the streets in cities around the world, demanding justice and new restrictions on police.

  • Protesters:

    Black Lives Matter!

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Many police and their unions fought back. They distanced themselves from Derek Chauvin, and argued that they routinely respond to dangerous situations where they must make split-second decisions.

  • Michael O’Meara:

    This isn't stained by someone in Minneapolis. It's still got a shine on it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last month, after his own police chief testified against him, Chauvin was convicted of murder.

    But the debate over how to address police violence continues. Over the past year, cities and states have enacted laws that ban choke holds, expand the use of body cameras, and require that police intervene if one of their fellow officers is using excessive force.

    And roughly 1,500 police reform bills are still pending in state legislatures.

  • Rep. Al Green, D-TX:

    I rise to support this bill

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At the federal level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has stalled in Congress, after passing the House in a largely party-line vote. It aims to limit use of force, increase accountability, and improve police training.

    Meanwhile, the questions around excessive force haven't ceased. Since Floyd's death, more than 900 people have been shot and killed by police, according to a Washington Post database. And recent studies have found Black Americans are more than 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.

    Researchers and community leaders say persistent racial bias and a history of discrimination are a big part of this disparity.

    But police officers are rarely prosecuted. Only about 1 percent of police are arrested for fatal shootings each year, and about a third of those are convicted of any charge.

    So, while some are hoping for justice in the courtroom, others say, to truly address racism in this country, much more still needs to change.

    Tonight, we look at how the country is grappling with racial inequities through the lens of three cities. We will discuss what has changed over the last year, and what still needs to be done to create a more equitable future.

    Amna Nawaz begins our special coverage in Minneapolis, the home of George Floyd.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Before the trial, before the verdict, before the protests and the marches, before this latest debate over policing reform and the racial reckoning across America, before all of that, there was this, the corner of 38th and Chicago on the South Side of Minneapolis, the place where George Floyd was murdered and where a movement was born.

  • Marcia Howard:

    Well, good morning.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's 8:00 in the morning at George Floyd Square. Marcia Howard has already been here for hours.

  • Marcia Howard:

    Let's just be gentle with each other, so we can be dangerous together.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    She's a fixture here, watching over this now sacred ground. A year ago, Howard was teaching English at Roosevelt High School just down the road. Her Instagram was filled with pies and flowers and carefully curated scenes. Friends jokingly called her Marcia Stewart.

  • Protesters:

    George Floyd!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That all changed when George Floyd was murdered.

  • Marcia Howard:

    I am a retired Marine. I joined during a war. And the idea that we would have the military come up my street and the MPD and the National Guard form a Phalanx right here, precisely right here, broke something inside of me that had once been whole.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It broke something, you say.

  • Marcia Howard:

    It broke something. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't. And so, if I was awake, I was out here. And because I was always awake, I was always out here.

  • Protesters:

    Say his name!

  • Protesters:

    George Floyd!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Over the last year, this site has evolved from protest zone to a place of mourning to a movement for change. Now barricaded, it's run by the community itself, demanding reform before the barriers come down.

  • Marcia Howard:

    George Floyd Square is now a memorial, but it also — it signifies that this intersection stands for us saying, no more. We're done — we're done with status quo, when status quo is the summary execution of Black people and brown people and indigenous people. We're done. We're done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For a year, the world's attention had been trained on Minneapolis, the viral video of Floyd's death, protests and violence, calls to abolish police.

    Events, at times, caught outsiders by surprise, but some here called it inevitable.

  • Justin Ellis:

    A majority white population created conditions that, at a certain point, you say, well, if my life is — if my life means nothing, if the life of my family means nothing, if you're going to not listen to us, then the only way that I'm going to get you to listen is to get in your face, is to make you very uncomfortable, and start asking very uncomfortable questions.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Journalist Justin Ellis, born and raised here, is writing a book on being born Black in Minneapolis.

    The Twin Cities have some of the nation's worst racial disparities. For median household income and homeownership, the gaps between white and Black families here are some of the widest in America.

    Ellis says racist policies and outcomes are hidden in Minnesota beneath the perception that the state welcomes everyone, regardless of race.

  • Justin Ellis:

    When you think about George Floyd, a man who came from Houston, who came here because there were specific programs that people had told him about that could help you turn your life around, here, I think about my own family. I think about all the different refugees who have come here over the years.

    And that's the thing that, to me, always just felt really damning, is that Minnesota perpetuates this idea that this is going to be a place that will be safe and that this will be a place that will be open and inviting.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And in reality?

  • Justin Ellis:

    And the reality of that is that it is only those things if you are white.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's a reality 23-year-old Isak Douah has lived his whole life. The son of immigrants, he grew up just miles from George Floyd Square.

  • Isak Douah:

    In Minnesota, like, the most racist experiences I have had have been with people that I'm sure would argue that they're a liberal. They might have like a — the Black Lives Matter bumper sticker, but they harbor intense resentment for African-American people.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Isak's father, Remi, is from the Ivory Coast, his mother, Thorunn, from Iceland. They came to the U.S. in the 1980s, met at the University of Minnesota, and had Isak in 1998.

    Together they learned that raising him in America would be different than in their home countries.

  • Remi Douah:

    So you don't come and say, I'm going to raise a Black child. You say I am going to raise a child, a human being that will — and you do your best to raise that human being to function in society. It's society that forces you to see your child as Black and white.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As Isak grew, so did his mother's fears, especially with each new video of police violence against black men. The last year, she says, has been hell.

  • Thorunn Bjarnadottir:

    And mothers of Black children, we're all terrified. It feels sometimes like a Russian roulette. Whose son is it going to be next?

    I somehow thought the George Floyd murder would be the end of it, but that that was the — fulfilled it, and that was it. And so, just before the verdict, they killed another one. And Daunte Wright, I — he looks like my son.

    And so you wonder, will he be next?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The killings haunt Thorunn. But they have propelled Isak to the front lines, organizing and protesting since he was 16.

    There was the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police after a confrontation in 2015 and, less than a year later, the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a Twin Cities suburb.

    After George Floyd's death, Isak went straight to the square. It shook him, he said, to his core.

  • Isak Douah:

    I shed tears for the first time in years, because, in ways, I felt like we failed him.

    But a lot of the reasons I'm fighting so hard for George Floyd's legacy and — is because it's for Castile and for Jamar. Just in my short life in Minneapolis, like, I witnessed a whole lot of nasty bodycam footage from Minnesota police departments.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For John Thompson the footage of his friend Philando Castile shook him into action.

  • Rep. John Thompson, D-Minn:

    Friend of Philando Castile: I never protested or none of this stuff, like — you know? And then you murder my friend.

    I promise Philando. I'm looking at his casket. And I'm saying, man, I'm going to make sure this state remember your name.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    He left work as a machinist, ran for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and won in a landslide.

    His focus as a lawmaker? Police reforms. The Democrat-controlled House in Minnesota has passed measures limiting traffic stops and requiring the quick release of bodycam footage. But they're stuck in the Republican-run Senate.

  • Rep. John Thompson:

    There's going to be another dead man this year by the hands of law enforcement. And it's going to be because of this building that we're sitting in right now.

    The opposition, it's people who honestly don't live in the neighborhoods, and so they can't believe it's happening, or they don't want to believe it's happening, or they just don't care.

    Have we made any progress since Philando's murder? No.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Back at George Floyd Square, progress is clearly defined. Marcia Howard and others have drafted 24 demands for officials, what they call Justice Resolution 001.

  • Marcia Howard:

    This is not some grandstanding or a vanity project. We're not a bunch of zealots standing on a barricade trying to burn down the world. We're attempting to effect change, to address historical injustices.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There's been progress on some things on the list, Derek Chauvin's conviction, economic investment in the neighborhood and an independent probe of the Minneapolis police.

    But until all of the demands are met, Marcia says, the barricades stay up.

  • Marcia Howard:

    What we say is, injustice is what closed these streets. Shouldn't justice be the only thing that opens them?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    While Marcia and others reimagine community at the square, others in Minneapolis are reimagining policing in the city.

    In November, residents will likely vote on a measure to replace the city police department with the Department of Public Safety, moving away from some traditional policing methods.

    The debate comes as Minneapolis, like other cities, sees a spike in violent crime. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey says that increase is among the reasons why the city shouldn't defund the police. Others disagree.

    Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo declined our interview request, but Sasha Cotton, who runs the city's Office of Violence Prevention, agreed to sit down with us. Her office, launched in 2018, works to interrupt violence by training and deploying teams to de-escalate conflicts.

    The city more than doubled their budget for 2021, some of it from funds earmarked for the police department.

  • Sasha Cotton:

    If the goals of the city are to innovate and create public safety in a new way, the budget will need to long-term reflect that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But city budgets are finite items, right?

  • Sasha Cotton:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You have $164 million going to police and only $7.5 million for you. Some folks would say that's an easy place folks — funds can be reallocated.

  • Sasha Cotton:

    And I wouldn't necessarily disagree with them.

    If we stay disproportionately budgeted compared to our other public safety partners, then our work will stay incrementally smaller than what they are able to do as well.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Budgets are one thing, but people here in Minneapolis say what will take longer and be harder to address is what you can't measure, the trauma Black residents carry.

  • Cherie Hanson:

    All of a sudden, I just, like, went — I just spiraled down.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Last year, Cherie Hanson formed a practice focusing on therapy for people of color. When they started seek patients shortly after George Floyd's death, they were flooded with requests. Hanson says almost all of her clients talk about race.

  • Cherie Hanson:

    If you put yourself around Black folk who live in this city, there is this air of fear underneath, like you can feel it. Like, you can walk in the room and you can just taste it almost.

    It's like an underlying fear. It's underlying anticipation of something bad happening.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For years, Isak carried the weight of that trauma without fully knowing it. He ignored his mother's push to therapy.

  • Isak Douah:

    Being a young, like, African American man, like, you're socialized to be a protector and strong and rough and tough. I think it's seen as kind of like a sign of weakness.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But last year, at George Floyd Square, he saw a man shot and killed. His mom pushed him again.

  • Isak Douah:

    That's something that's going to stick with me really for the rest of my life. I decided this time not to be stubborn about it after she said that. Like, maybe since you feel so numb to all this, that's even more reason to go.

    What's up, you all? This is the "2 Keep It A Buck" podcast.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    He's trying to pay it forward, starting a podcast focused on mental health and evangelizing therapy among skeptical friends.

  • Isak Douah:

    People are like: I have been through so much. I'm so strong. I know I don't need therapy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's what they tell you?

  • Isak Douah:

    You know what I'm saying?

  • You’re just like:

    Well, it sounds kind of like you're the person who needs it the most, right? Like, if you have been through all this, and you're — you're just good, like, that's — that's where I felt like I was at. I was like, I don't need this. And then you sit down in that chair, and suddenly you're like, man, wow, I'm really messed up.

    Like, this has been a really traumatic experience growing up in Minneapolis.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Just steps from George Floyd Square, Isak's father, Remi, has his own way of healing that trauma. Almost every day for the past year, he's come here to the Say Their Name Cemetery. It's a memorial to more than 100 lives lost in police killings.

    He sets up chairs and waits.

    How often does someone come sit next to you?

  • Remi Douah:

    You will be surprised. So often.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Really?

  • Remi Douah:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And they just start talking?

  • Remi Douah:

    They start talking.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do they say?

  • Remi Douah:

    Some just cry. And I just listen. You have so much on your chest, you want to talk to another human being.

    And if you can do it here, it helps you than trying to take that all the way back to the square, and then to your home, and not talking to anyone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As they talk, Remi says he always asks three questions: What makes you happy? When's the last time you were happy? And this:

  • Remi Douah:

    The last question is, what can we do to get you to the space where you want to be happy?

    And that's when they start smiling. And that's what I want them to live with, a smile on their faces, because we need to celebrate those guys who are in a special club of their own.

    George would like to smile, not to feel sad, because he was a joyful, joyful guy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At the square bearing George Floyd's name, Marcia Howard mans her post at the western barrier. She will be back in a classroom one day, she says, but, right now, she's right where she needs to be.

  • Marcia Howard:

    I think about the fight that we're fighting now, and it was my mother's fight and my grandmother's fight. No one should rest until justice is served.

    The city killed a man. They did wrong. And they have an opportunity to make it right. That's what we're waiting for.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Are you hopeful they will do what you think it will take to make it right?

  • Marcia Howard:

    Yes, I am. Where there's people, there's power.

    Fundamentally, we are the city, and the city is us.

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