SAINT CLOUD — More than 100 hundred people showed up to pay their respects to George Floyd around 5 p.m. Friday at Lake George here for a memorial organized by UniteCloud, a social justice organization based in St. Cloud that seeks to foster a more empathetic community.
Floyd lost his life Monday at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been arrested and charged with 3rd degree murder and manslaughter.
The mood at the memorial was solemn with several people leaving flowers, balloons, cards and posters that will be brought to Floyd’s Minneapolis memorial by UniteCloud.
“It’s been a rough 24 to 48 hours,” Hani Jacobson, a St. Cloud school board candidate for ISD 742 said. “Our community has really come together and it’s really been overwhelming to see the amount of support and love [from] people that don’t normally support things like this come out and condemn it.”
Jacobson said her sister, Ayan Omar, and her were up until 5 a.m. this morning and that they were angry after a questionable news conference by members of the Department of Justice, FBI and the Hennepin County Attorney’s office yesterday that largely led nowhere and featured Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman comments about possible evidence that would not lead to charges against Chauvin.
Freeman later retracted those statements but it had already done damage, as reflected in the civil disturbance in the Twin Cities last night.
“What was the point of all of that?” Jacobson, who is also a former board member of UniteCloud, said. “We’re hurt and we’re tired.”
Jacobson said maybe the nation is at a crossroads where people can see her community’s pain and start making systemic changes to better society.
For people not in that community that want to help, Jacobson said she wants to see more discussions between friends and family members that say racially inappropriate things.
Once that happens, more systemic changes can start to take hold like fighting for housing equality, job wages and health inequity, according to Jacobson.
Chauvin’s arrest was announced Friday afternoon, following a night that saw the Minneapolis' Third Precinct building overrun by protestors and lit on fire.
Omar said she said she has mixed emotions about what transpired in the Twin Cities the previous three nights.
Omar was particularly concerned with small local businesses, many of them minority-owned, that saw looting and vandalism but she understands the emotions invested in the riots and the police response or lack thereof.
“It’s so awkward because you’re like, ‘Where are the police?’ and then you’re thinking ‘No, they shouldn’t be there,’” Omar said. “How do you respond? It’s such an awkward emotion and I don’t know how to describe it. I think they’re doing what they can with what they have.”
As far as the officer’s arrest, “It’s a first step in a good direction,” Jacobson said. “Obviously we want to see the other three officers get arrested and we want to see convictions.”
Jacobson said what they’re looking for is transparency and accountability.
“Like the prosecutor said (Wednesday), it’s hard to hold a cop accountable for murder. Why?” Jacobson said.
Omar said more stringent vetting of police officers is needed as well as proper resources to support them.
“Being a police officer isn’t easy, I get it, I’m a teacher. Any public service isn’t easy,” Omar said. “What are we doing as a system to make sure that [the police] don’t feel like their backs are against the wall?”
The video of Floyd’s death has been played on TV and social media an incalculable number of times. In it, you see Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes as Floyd struggles to breath under Chauvin’s weight.
“I watched that video and I was shocked to see how the officer did not even value the life of a man who’s pleading and begging just for a simple breath,” Omar said. “That’s a human being.”
The protest was non-violent and designed to be so, according to an email sent from UniteCloud. They were in talks with the St. Cloud Police Department as well as the Minnesota National Guard about any potential threats, of which there were none. There were plans put in place in case rioters made their way up to St. Cloud from the Twin Cities.
Those gathered marched through downtown St. Cloud, where some businesses had shut down preemptively, before eventually making their way back to Lake George.
“It’s going to take good white people and it’s going to take good cops to dismantle this system that’s so corrupt and so repetitive,” Omar said. “It’s like a broken record and it’s exhausting.”