MINNEAPOLIS — Thousands of protesters gathered at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue at 5 p.m. May 26, where Minneapolis cops had cuffed and then strangled to death George Floyd the day before. Hundreds of people poured into the intersection and nearby streets, carrying signs, mostly handmade, saying “I can’t breathe,” “Stop killing us!” “Prosecute the cops” and “Justice for George Floyd.”
The cops were called to the Cup Foods market there after the owner called 911 and reported someone had tried to pass what appeared to be a counterfeit $20 bill. Cops Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao and a few others responded. They grabbed Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, took him to the ground and cuffed him, later claiming he resisted arrest.
Then Chauvin — who is Caucasian — put his knee on Floyd’s neck and pressed it there for five minutes or more, as other cops held him down. Floyd said over and over, “Please, I can’t breathe.”
People gathered around, and some began shooting cellphone videos. “I started as soon as I heard him trying to fight for his life,” Darnella Frazier, who posted the killing on Facebook, told the Star Tribune. Bystanders pleaded with the cops to get off Floyd, to let him breathe.
“Bro, you’ve got him down, let him breathe at least, man,” someone says. Thao approaches the crowd telling them to get back, adding, “Don’t do drugs, guys.”
Then Floyd stops moving. He’s pronounced dead after being taken to the hospital.
At first cops tried to cover up the killing, telling the media Floyd had a “medical incident.” Over the next 24 hours the Facebook video was watched over 1 million times. The outrage was so widespread that within hours Chauvin, Thao and two other cops were fired.
Protesters marched from the corner where Floyd was killed to the cops’ Third Precinct headquarters. The crowd included people of many generations and backgrounds.
Briana Lazarchic, a 25-year-old laid-off bartender, came with a friend. Neither had ever been to a demonstration before. “It feels good to be part of something with all these people,” she told the Militant, holding a homemade sign saying “Black Lives Matter.”
“I wanted to be part of a sea of people calling attention to this murder,” Joni Youngblood, a young retail worker, said. He credits the response for the rapid firing of the cops. “But we have to hold cops accountable. If they end up with a mild slap on the wrist and some diversity training, we have to be ready.”
Police were noticeably and completely absent from the area of the protest. Volunteer marshals closed the surrounding streets and directed traffic.
Later that evening some confrontations took place with the police, and a small group vandalized squad cars and the station house. They were hit with tear gas and flashbang devices fired by the cops. This was the opposite of the disciplined, spirited and largely working-class protest earlier.