Noah Carter decided it was time to go home.
Like many freshmen at Concordia University in Moorhead, he was attending a party on a Friday night. It was the fall of 2018. Carter decided to call it a night early, so at about 10 p.m., he slipped out of the party and began the short trek home.
The former Rochester Mayo wrestling star didn’t leave alone. Eight of his friends also left the party.
As they walked, a police car slid up next to the group and forced them to stop walking. The sidewalk was filled with nine college kids.
Eight of them were white. Carter was the only black man.
“What’s going on?” the officer asked.
“I was like one of maybe 100 black kids at Concordia,” Carter remembered. “I was in the back of the group trying to see if he wouldn’t notice me. A person of color, it’s hard not to notice them, especially in a town predominantly filled with white people.”
Carter said his skin was especially dark after spending most of the summer outside. His hair was long. And the 6-foot, 285-pound heavyweight wrestler stuck out like a sore thumb.
“He came right up to me,” Carter said. “And then he goes, ‘You’re looking kind of funny right now. What have you been doing?'”
For his entire life, Carter had been taught the rules of how a black man needed to interact with police officers. Carter immediately did his best to deescalate the situation. No quick movements. No raising of the voice. No fear.
The officer quickly realized that there was nothing to worry about and slid back in his car and drove away.
“I found out right there who my friends were,” Carter said. “None of them stood up for me. None of them spoke up and said, ‘He’s with us. He’s doing nothing wrong.’”
“I was the only black person there,” Carter said. “I got profiled to the max. It could’ve gone so much worse. I could’ve been hurt. I could’ve been killed. I could’ve been arrested for nothing. I’ve actually never told anyone that story. My mom is going to be furious when she hears that story.”
So, when Carter saw Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds and coldly drain the life right out of Floyd, he couldn’t help but be jarred. That could have been him.
Floyd made a mistake when he tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes, but his life was certainly more important than a fake bill. Thankfully, a video existed that showed the world what truly happened.
Carter didn’t make a mistake that Friday night. He just got lucky.
“I watched the video and I heard what he said and saw how long the knee was on his neck and it lit a different kind of fire in me,” Carter said. “That could’ve easily been me or one of my buddies or my dad. It gives a different kind of fear.”
That fear is something that Carter has lived with throughout his entire life. Now, he feels a little safer in Rochester. He’s well-known here, and he knows his friends and city would speak up for him if something happened. But when he leaves Rochester, the comfort slips away and the fear creeps back in.
Carter said he realizes he’s living through history. The George Floyd protests started in Minneapolis, and they’ve spread throughout the world. Floyd’s name is everywhere.
So, Carter has gone back in the history books to learn more about black history.
“We really didn’t learn about black history in school,” Carter said. “I really never took the extra time to research it and learn what it was all about. I read one thing that said, ‘Rioting is the voice of the unheard.’ For all these years, we’ve tried to peacefully protest. It doesn’t make sense to peacefully protest if it doesn’t work. I’m hoping this is the last riot or peaceful protest we ever have to have about people of color. Whether you’re Asian, Black, Mexican. I hope this is the last riot we ever have to do.”
The hopefulness in Carter’s voice is clear as he explains how he genuinely hopes this is the last time there are protests against police brutality.
But reality sets in.
Carter believes the fight for equality isn’t close to over.
“I know this is a turning point,” Carter said. “But do I think this is the time when everything changes? A lot of me says yes. A lot of me says no. I think we’re headed in the right direction, but for it to be a fair world where everyone is able to go about their business without fear and the only people who got in trouble were the ones who were actually doing something wrong… I don’t think it’ll happen until my kids are fully grown up.”
“No one will listen until someone close to them or in their group is affected,” Carter continued. “That’s when a change will happen. I’d love to see equality, and I’d love to see a lot less police brutality, but it’s going to be awhile. We’re naive to think everything is going to change right now.”
Carter is now an All-American wrestler at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He’s a self-made man who’s fought off feelings of self-doubt and transformed himself into one of the most dominant heavyweights in Division III wrestling.
But his skin is a darker shade, and he believes things won’t be equal until a black man can walk home at 10 p.m. without the fear of being stopped.
"The biggest start isn’t the protests," Carter said. "The protests, that’s helping others to get into it. If you want to be active and you actually want to help and you want police brutality to stop, the biggest thing is changing yourself first. Don’t try and tell someone, 'You should do this.' Don’t go march and try to make a bunch of people come with you. No. Do it yourself. You have to change yourself first before worrying about everyone else."