“I came out here originally just to spray to make sure that nobody got sick, then somehow the microphone found [me],” Jay said. “We’re here to show the world how we respond to tragedy and the way we respond to tragedy is with our peace and with our charity.”
When Jay “W.” arrived at 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue on Wednesday where hundreds of people were gathered in honor of George Floyd, he was “armed” with tea tree oil, lavender, and patchouli aromatherapeutic oils.
He intended to spray the organic oils mixed with water into the crowd to help neutralize potential virus spread, and then somebody handed him the bullhorn.
“Say his name, GEORGE FLOYD!” He chanted to a crowd gathered around him in a circle among memorial flowers, signs and messages.
More than a week after Floyd’s killing, the mood at the site for many had shifted from anger toward hope and even celebration of a man whose death is reshaping the nation.
After it was announced that former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin’s charges, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes and caused his death, would be raised to second-degree murder. This came after days of protests that the original charges were not tough enough and the prosecution duties were shifted from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, to Attorney General Keith Ellison.
The other three officers who were present are now charged with aiding and abetting murder and were booked to Hennepin County jail on Wednesday.
Ralanda Wells drove from Maple Grove to help organize supplies drop-offs at the site and welcome each and every person as they came and went. Then she heard about the new charges. “I would like to see it through because I do know that the judicial system isn’t always in our favor,” Wells said. “My hope is that going forward when it goes to trial it will be a fair trial and there won’t be any bias and there’s justice for George. I’m so sad that George had to lose his life, but his legacy—this is history.”
She lamented that she thought the media, until Wednesday, had poorly portrayed the peaceful manner of most of the protesters and focused largely on the negative aspects and damage following the injustice of Floyd’s murder.
“Our hope was that someone would come down here and see all of the community coming together in love and in hope and comforting each other,” Wells said as she began to cry. “Even let people know that we don’t think every police officer is bad, that’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying ‘don’t kill us,’.”
She said that many, White people in particular, had come up to her that day and asked ‘How can we help? Are we allowed to be here? Please help me understand my privilege.’
Minneapolis resident Don Matthews was standing near a tall black and white mural of Floyd watching the crowds when he heard the updated prosecution news.
“I still feel like this is a long time coming for this justice; how many unheard names and unheard stories have we let slip through the cracks over hundreds of years in this country and in the world?” Matthews said. “I’m glad it’s being spoke up on now, but you’ve got to realize that the Civil Rights [Movement] was 60 years ago, why are we still fighting the same fight?”
Floyd’s life was an irrevocable price to pay for change, but Matthews watched as hundreds upon hundreds of people honored that debt. “It’s definitely a beautiful thing to see all these people coming together, all these different races, just being peaceful,” he said. “The police would like to make you think that this is not a peaceful thing.”
He added that he did not agree with the curfew order that Gov. Walz had set in Minneapolis. “Whether it’s past curfew or not, we are grown people. You trying to give grown people grief over something ya’ll did; a limit to how we can grieve.”
Jay, Wells and Matthews attributed the upgraded charges against the officers not only to the continued presence and vigil of the people of Minneapolis, but to protests that had carried across the nation.
“They can isolate Minneapolis but if it wasn’t for everywhere else starting to flare up with protests, that’s where everybody is paying attention,” Matthews said.
Added Wells, “We have to make a change; things can’t keep going on like this. I think the world is speaking up, the world is saying enough is enough and I definitely agree.”While the nation will never move “past” Floyd’s death, Jay said that there are ways to move “up.” The night prior, he posed a question to Mayor Frey at the vigil.
“How easy is it to require all law enforcement to have a six-week empathy training?” Jay asked. “He [Frey] responded ‘Not hard.’” Jay would like to see every officer enrolled in empathy training before they can make an arrest, before they can pick up a gun.
Others at the site sought change in representation. Activist Kathleen Cole got together with several other organizers to petition to recall Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and the response, she said, was overwhelming. Alongside volunteers they passed around clipboards at the site and at the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis at 3400 Dupont Ave. S. with a goal of 160,000 signatures.
“We saw the charges and we think that he violated his ethical obligations and he’s also made it more difficult for us to hold the cops who killed George Floyd accountable in his actions,” Cole said. “Black and Brown communities in Minneapolis know that Mike Freeman won’t hold White cops accountable when they kill Black and Brown people and White cops know that frankly. So it’s time for us to recall Mike Freeman.”
They will continue to collect signatures every day at the First Universalist Church until June 17, excluding Thursday June 4 the day of Floyd’s memorial, a day to honor and remember.