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“I’m not someone who likes to sit down”: Carls across the country share experience participating in current protests

In response to the murder of George Floyd, there have been continuous protests in Minneapolis for the past two weeks. The National Guard was called in, officers have used tear gas and fired rubber bullets, Mayor Jacob Frey imposed an 8pm curfew, many local businesses on Lake Street were looted or burned, and the first memorial service was held for George Floyd. In support of the protests, the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis School Board have cut ties with the Minneapolis city police and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of journalists who were targeted and attacked by police.   

After three nights of protests, Derek Chauvin was taken into custody and faced charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Five days later, the other three officers who failed to intervene were also charged with aiding and abetting murder. Just yesterday, Minneapolis moved to ban the use of chokeholds and restraints by police.  

Minneapolis has a long history of police brutality and racial segregation—for more than 70 years, racial covenants allowed real estate developers to restrict Black Minneapolis residents from buying or occupying property in certain neighborhoods, and much of this language still remains in home deeds. In 2020, about 20% of Minneapolis’s population is Black, but when the police use force, Black residents are subjected nearly 60% of the time. Minneapolis police use violent techniques—mace, tasers, neckholds—against Black people at seven times the rate of whites. 

Major demonstrations are now happening across the country—in Minneapolis, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, and numerous other cities. The Carletonian spoke with seven Carleton students in different places who have joined or supported the protests.  Hear from them about what it has been like. 

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“I felt at home”

People were throwing firecrackers at the precinct but also up in the air as a celebratory, liberating thing. That was really cool, I felt. It was a breath of fresh air for me. I saw the physical tearing down of the institution that essentially harms me and my existence in this world. I felt at home. 

People are like, “Kenya, be safe out there,” and I thought: I feel more comfortable there than I do on the everyday because I don’t know what can happen. I’ll be walking down the street and a policeman could just easily shoot me down. My existence and my life in this world is threatened every day so to go agitate and fight for that was like this is where I’m supposed to be at. I’m with my people fighting against oppression and this is how it’s going to get done. I wasn’t scared. I was ready. I got a little bit of tear gas in my eyes, but I think that just shows the point that I’m willing to go to to achieve justice because I can’t go back to what has been normal. 

It’s crazy to think about security and police here and how they do what they do with intimidating tactics and not trying to ensure a safe community. I think that Carleton should throw out the term “security.” Let’s come up with new terms and new ways to have a safe community. 

– KENYA COOPER ’21 / MINNEAPOLIS, MN

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“Everything that he embodied, I feel like we embodied”

It wasn’t until after, when I was driving home, that all the emotions came out. I was just crying on the way home because I was overwhelmed with joy and I was very proud of what we were doing, but it also, reality hit me that 60,000 people had to show up and come out to explain everything that’s been going on. It was just beyond me. It was hard to realize that this is what it takes. 

They had George’s family speak and then they marched down to city hall and all his family members were on horses. It was so beautiful. It just felt majestic seeing them on horses and being very strong about everything that’s going on. I just didn’t understand why they had metro buses of police officers coming into where we were. There was just this premise that they were preparing for casualties or violence, but if it was a peaceful protest, I thought, why are you guys responding in this way?

There were people dancing, there were these old dudes rolling around in rollerblades just doing their thing. Random people brought water and snacks and were checking in on people. I felt a big sense of community, and it reaffirmed why I love Houston so much. I don’t want to go anywhere else. That moment really gave me a sense of community and a reason why everything that I felt growing up matters, everything that I’ve seen there is not just something that can be easily erased. So many people in Houston knew George Floyd. My dad went to school with him. Everything that he did was for the community. Everything that he embodied, I feel like we embodied yesterday. For so long we’ve been fed the idea of going to school, going to college, getting a good job and working for these soul-sucking companies that have no interest in the people that work for them. This time has made me realize the importance of our Black communities, starting our own businesses and doing things that reinvest resources into our communities and don’t take away from them. 

– MAYA MURPHY ’22 / HOUSTON, TX

Sign made by Maya Murphy ’21 for protests in Houston, TX.

“Excitement and empowerment along with anger and frustration”

Protests have been very chill and unorganized. There was no official posting, people just started showing up in the little park. I walked over there and, sure enough, people were standing there with signs. More and more people have been inviting each other, and it seems like every day more people come and stand by the highway. Cars come by and honk at us and we wave our signs.

There’s a little tension because a couple police officers showed up in uniform to join the protest. They held signs. I had mixed feelings about them coming but a lot of people were really glad that they showed up and they stood next to us. It’s a wave of emotions for sure.

I want to be involved but I always have to check myself to step back and listen to other voices. It feels a lot better to be standing outside with other people than to be in my room on my Twitter. There’s excitement and empowerment along with anger and frustration and wishing that we were doing something that put a little more pressure on our government. A little protest is good for raising awareness. We’re not exactly inconveniencing anyone, so it’s unclear whether the protest here will make a difference.

– MAYA STOVALL ’23 / MACOMB, IL

Maya Stovall ’23 and a friend protest in Macomb, IL.

“There are tons and tons of people who were suddenly in food deserts”

The protesting and uprisings started, and it felt like everything just suddenly changed. I think Thursday night was the first really big uprising. We were watching from Northfield, that first night, on social media and live streams, and we were like “oh my god, this is going to be huge. This is going to be really big.” And then, the next day, there was a call for supplies and donations to support protestors directly.

I woke up to my phone going off, with a Carleton alum organizing transport into the cities. It’s this huge operation that she’s doing, and other people are working remotely. They’re coordinating drivers to pick up and support protestors, to take them home or get them out of unsafe situations. These are all civilian drivers, and then there’s people remotely telling drivers where to go, and watching live streams to avoid dangerous zones—trying to avoid police as much as possible, especially when the curfew set in.

It’s interesting because it’s evolved from at first being: “We need to support the needs of protestors, so we need to get masks and COVID-19 things, like hand sanitizer and medical supplies up there.” But now that the protesting has turned things upside-down a bit, a lot of stores and businesses, especially in Central and South Minneapolis, are shut down, including grocery stores. So, there are tons and tons of people, who were already not doing so great because of COVID-19, who were suddenly in food deserts and didn’t have any access to food. We’re running food, and diapers, and menstrual products, and toothpaste and toothbrushes.

– KIRA ROBERSON ’20 / NORTHFIELD, MN

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“There’s a level of rage everywhere” 

There was a transformation between 5 or 6 p.m. and 8 or 9 p.m. It was a huge parade with drums, music, and a lot of energy. People brought a lot of art. There were chants throughout the entire thing. Some of the organizers were speaking directly to the cops. There was an interesting moment when someone yelled, “Kneel with us!” The organizers shut that down really fast. They were like, absolutely not, we don’t need them to kneel with us. We don’t need them to feed into this propaganda. We are here to peacefully protest and we don’t care if they kneel. The crowd seemed really ready to listen to whatever the organizers were saying. 

During the day. of course there was anger. That’s what this movement is based upon, because it was such a deep injustice that of course there’s a level of rage everywhere. It was a lot of white people with signs—and a lot of them are angry too—but there were certainly lots of people just walking with their signs whereas as the night went on, there were more and more people who felt very strongly. It became more apparent as the sun started to go down and I think that’s because a lot of white people left. During the actual protest, a lot of white people showed up and it seemed like they were the first to leave. Toward the evening, when we stopped outside of the justice building, that’s when they burned the American flag, and they burned a huge Trump piñata half the size of my room. It was a really big middle finger at the federal government and at police forces across the country. 

– ANONYMOUS / SAN FRANCISCO, CA

“It is very clear whose side you are on”

This whole situation has been a long time coming. The murder of George Floyd was just the tip of the iceberg, and I feel that the Black community needs to know that there are people supporting them. So I wanted to go to make sure that I was standing with my Black friends and Black peers. This moment is going to go down in history. It is very clear whose side you are on.

The protest I attended was organized by a number of activists who graduated from my high school last year with me. There were a couple hundred people there. We marched past the police station to the high school. Once we got to the high school, there were speeches by Black students, as well as a land acknowledgment of being on Indigenous land. There were also speeches by parents whose children had experienced police brutality. It was really powerful to hear people from my high school tell their stories. I saw a lot of people at the protests that I had not seen stand for the cause in the past. This protest seemed to bring out a lot of people who had not previously been involved in social justice. 

There’s a very clean line between what is right and what is wrong. You are either for Black lives or you are not for Black lives. Students at Carleton need to say “I stand for Black lives” and stop being nervous about if they are going to say the wrong thing. In the place we are right now, it’s more hurtful to be silent than to acknowledge the situation and support Black students on campus. 

Students at Carleton, including myself, have been livestream-monitoring and helping with the protests in Minneapolis while not being there. Students are managing transportation and drop-off locations. Because we are so close to the location of where George Floyd was murdered, it is especially important for us to be directly helping the protestors.

ELENA MORALES-GRAHL ’23 / EVANSTON, IL

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“I’m not someone who likes to sit down”

I really wanted to go daily, but the problem is that I have someone who is immunocompromised in my household, so even after going to that one protest I felt really guilty. I’m caught between my identity and my beliefs and I’m not someone who likes to sit down. As a Black woman I feel like I need to be out doing this stuff. I want to be on the forefront of change and be a part of the movement. If I were living by myself, I wouldn’t be having this worry. We live in a one-bedroom apartment, so I can’t really keep distance. If my mom ends up in the emergency room, I could never live with that either. I just don’t know how to balance that. 

I’m really proud of seeing the country come together. To see people from all over and from all different backgrounds going and saying this—this is a big turning point. It’s hopeful at least to see people out there, but it’s also scary to see what the police are capable of.

I hope that the Carleton community, when they think about the experiences that they’re facing on campus, that they take time and listen to Black students on campus. It’s one thing to focus on this national thing and say, “this is wrong,” but then what happens when something is going on on our campus? When Black students are saying, “hey listen to us, these are our experiences” and we’re being met with “but” or “this isn’t okay,” I really want the Carleton community to reflect on how we’re actually taking all the stuff we’re saying we should do during this time into our own community, and what roles do we have, and how do we listen to Black students. There are people that have so much passion and are so ready to make change and stand up for what’s right. And I worry for them because doing that while being at Carleton is really difficult. I know that from firsthand experience. 

– GABY TIETYEN-MLENGANA ’20 / MILWAUKEE, WI

One Comment

  1. Stan Curtis, '54 Stan Curtis, '54 June 13, 2020

    As I read the above reports, I cannot ignor the deja vu I feel with what I was feeling back in the 1960s, when I was living in Berkeley. The empassioned Carleton alumnae and present students write elequently about their experiences in the recent marches and demonstrations for racial justice in Minneapolis, and their commitment and fervor for the cause come through loudly and clearly. Although in the Berkeley days, there were clearly white protestors who joined the demonstrations for civil rights, this time there appears to be a much larger mixture of all races from many different economic backgrounds. My hopes are up that this time true structural racial change is on the horizon.

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