‘I can’t breathe’: protestors unite against police violence

St. Louis Park resident dies in police custody 

Two+protesters+show+strength+with+one+carrying+a+%E2%80%9CBlack+Lives+Matter%E2%80%9D+flag+while+the+other+raising+a+fist.+Following+the+death+of+George+Floyd+May+25%2C+protestors+gathered+to+honor+Floyd+and+fight+against+police+violence.+

Ava Ashby

Two protesters show strength with one carrying a “Black Lives Matter” flag while the other raising a fist. Following the death of George Floyd May 25, protestors gathered to honor Floyd and fight against police violence.

By Marta Hill and Talia Lissauer

The image of black men being mistreated by police has become so common for junior Rahwa Berhane that she said just by seeing the thumbnail of a white police officer kneeling on a black man’s neck, she didn’t have to watch the video to know what was happening. 

Berhane said she feels obligated to do more than just post on social media, especially when the violence occurs in the city her friends and family live in. 

“I feel like it’s because we keep talking about it and keep protesting and standing on ground is the only reason why we slowly make progress. It feels like we’re not getting anywhere but it’s the little things,” Berhane said. “Martin Luther King did not die for us to quit, all these people did not get arrested and ruin their futures for us to just say, ‘well I’m not going to change anything, who cares.’”

Two protesters stand on top of a bus stop shelter holding signs that read, “My outrage can’t fit on this sign” and “We will not be paralyzed by fear!” (Ryan Barnett)

On the corner of Chicago and 38th, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to a report of a non-violent forgery in a nearby deli May 25. The suspect, George Floyd, was asked to step away from his car, according to a statement released by the Minneapolis Police Department. 

A nearby observer recorded the incident and the video shows an officer pressing his knee into the suspects neck until he was unconscious. According to the Minneapolis Police Department, officers called an ambulance and shortly after Floyd arrived at Hennepin County Medical Center, he died. 

Waking up to a text from Dr. Lee-Ann Stephens to the Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) members about Floyd’s murder, senior Zoe Younger said she was heartbroken to learn that another black man died as a result of police actions in Minneapolis. 

“I was just like, enough is enough, I need to show up for my community, and people who look like me in my community and show support and show that I stand with George Floyd and his community and all innocent black men across America,” Younger said. 

Martin Luther King did not die for us to quit, all these people did not get arrested and ruin their futures for us to just say, ‘well I’m not going to change anything, who cares.’”

— Rahwa Berhane

After hearing about Floyd’s death, sophomore Sloan Carden said she too felt the repetitive nature of police brutality. 

“I was very hurt and heartbroken. I wish that I could say I was surprised, but I really wasn’t because this happens so often in America to black people and people of color,” Carden said.

When Berhane arrived at the protest, her and her sister stopped to buy film cameras from Target to document the protests. As she entered Target, she said she saw peaceful protesters outside the precinct holding signs, however, when she got back outside, she saw tear gas and rubber bullets. 

Younger said she noticed a strong sense of support among protestors at the beginning of the event. 

“It seemed like there was a lot of unity, and a really strong sense of community. When I had first gotten there if people didn’t have masks on like five people would come up to them and be like ‘oh do you need a mask? Do you need hand sanitizer?’” Younger said. “Everybody seemed to be there for the right reason. I had a strong feeling of pride being there.”

Seeing the diverse crowds at the protest May 26 showed her she wasn’t alone in her frustration and her willingness to protest for justice, according to Berhane. 

“My favorite part was when I first pulled up and seeing the amount of white people there were, because I grew up thinking that all white people didn’t really support black people, which is a really closed-minded thought, but it was just my reality,” Berhane said. “Seeing all those white people really pressuring the cops, more than the blacks could or did was really great.”

People have been protesting peacefully for long enough and haven’t seen any change so it was obviously going to turn violent at one point or another. I don’t support violence. I feel like that’s not the answer and I don’t want to put anybody’s life at risk”

— Zoe Younger

Carden said she thinks the police’s use of force against the protestors contributed to the escalation of what started as a peaceful protest. 

“There was a few people who were rightfully very angry and very upset and started acting out, which caused the police to shoot rubber bullets and gas the crowd,” Carden said. “I thought it was pretty unnecessary based on the level of violence. I don’t think it was very violent yet and then that is when it really started to become a little bit out of control.” 

In order for change to be made, people must bring awareness to the issues present in society, according to Carden. 

“We all need to talk about this because being silent about this is like doing nothing,” Carden said. “It’s hurting the cause. Letting this go un-talked about will let it go on longer and the more that we talk about it, the more people are going to know about it and the more people could see this and really start caring.”

Situations like Floyd’s death are not new to the black community, according to Berhane, however the attention it is generating on social media has allowed the movement against police brutality to grow. 

“Without social media, it wouldn’t have gotten the attention it deserves and people are reposting it because they do understand that this is not OK, especially since we are a new generation a lot of people our age want to get past this whole racism thing but it’s not as easy,” Berhane said.  

A protester wears a mask with the saying “stop murdering people for surviving.” Over 6,000 people attended the protest, according to the “I Can’t Breathe” Facebook group. (Ava Ashby)

Berhane said she understands why some people chose not to attend the protest because violence did break out. While Berhane said protests are a good way to show support, she said there are other things that students can do to get involved like using their social media platforms to speak out.

Younger said she knew there was a possibility of the situation turning violent because of the frustration felt at seeing little to no change come out of previous peaceful protests. 

“People have been protesting peacefully for long enough and haven’t seen any change so it was obviously going to turn violent at one point or another. I don’t support violence. I feel like that’s not the answer and I don’t want to put anybody’s life at risk,” Younger said. “But I think it’s definitely justified because for the past 400 years, black men have been targeted and killed for no reason, and I think it has to come to an end at some point.”

This story was originally published on The Echo on May 27, 2020.