ACROSS AMERICA — Persistently, they have marched, raised their voices along with placards reading “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe,” the latter being among the final words of George Floyd while he gasped for air as a white police officer in Minneapolis held a knee to his neck.
Floyd’s police custody death has galvanized Americans calling for an end to police brutality and the beginning of earnest attempts by politicians and others to address systemic racism and fulfill a promise made to black Americans with the Civil Rights Act decades ago.
Floyd, who was accused by a store owner of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, isn’t the first American of color to be killed in the custody of white police officers. The list of names is long: Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Philando Castile in the Twin Cities. Laquan McDonald in Chicago. Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Botham Jean in Dallas.
The list goes on.
Those fighting for racial justice consider this a seminal moment in history, and they fear their message risks being lost to the considerable plunder and violence that have overshadowed peaceful voices. Here, from the streets of America, are some of the voices from the demonstrations:
Darnelle Dasne, who was demonstrating in Crown Heights, New York:
“I have an 18-year-old black boy, I have an 18-year-old queer son. Every time he goes out I worry.” Read more on Prospect Heights Patch.
Dionna Flowers, protesting in Chicago:
“We have spoke. We have protested. We have begged. We have pleaded. Please stop killing us. Enough is enough.” Read more on Chicago Patch.
High school students in Evergreen, Illinois:
Evergreen Patch local editor Lorraine Swanson spoke with a group of high school friends, both black and white, who organized a peaceful demonstration in their Illinois town. Read more on Evergreen Patch and watch the video below.
Terrence Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, in a call for peaceful protests and an end to the violence in Minneapolis:
“I understand you’re upset, but I doubt you’re half as upset as I am. So if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, if I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are you doing? You’re doing nothing – because that’s not going to bring my brother back. It may feel good in the moment, but when you come down you’re going to wonder what you did. My family is a peaceful family, my family is God fearing. Yes we are upset, but we are not going to take it. We are not going to be repetitious. In every case of police brutality the same thing has been happening. Ya’ll protest, ya’ll destroy stuff and [the police] don’t move, because it’s not their stuff it’s our stuff, so they want us to destroy our stuff. So let’s do this another way. Let’s stop thinking that our voice don’t matter and vote.” Read more on Southwest Minneapolis Patch.
Community organizer Will Calloway in Chicago:
“This is part of our healing process from what we’ve been feeling throughout the years and hyperly for the last couple months pent-up, 40 million unemployed Americans, people losing loved ones [to COVID-19]. All of it plays an effect, man, when you’re dealing with people. Personally, for us, we do have demands. And I won’t tell anybody to stop protesting until our demands are met.” Read more on Chicago Patch.
Candice Quinerly, a demonstrator in Joliet, Illinois:
“We are disrupting the status quo. We will not stop standing on this corner. We will not stop protesting until there is justice. We want answers from our mayor, who was out here, telling us lies. He is out here trying to enforce thuggery. It’s not us. We’re out here peacefully every single day. We want answers … Black Lives Matter.” Read more on Joliet Patch.
Keedron Bryant, a 12-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida, who expressed his fear as a coming-of-age black youth in song:
“I’m a young black man, doing all that I can to stand. Oh, but when I look around and I see what’s being done to my kind every day, I’m being hunted as prey. My people don’t want no trouble. We’ve got enough struggle. I just wanna live. God protect me. I just wanna live. I just wanna live.” Read more on Jacksonville Patch.
Shy Richards, a protester in Joliet, Illinois, speaking to police:
“You guys are so afraid of us. I graduated from Harvard and have had a gun pulled on me by your officers. We really need to see the cultural competency training. You have a stressful work, but we live a stressful life.” Read more on Joliet Patch.
Violence In Boston founder Monica Cannon-Grant:
“Black-on-Black crime is a term that white folks created. Any population of people living amongst their own people kill their own people. Black-on-Black crimes happen. Asian-on-Asian crimes happen. Do better. Stop using the white supremacy tactics against each other.” Read more on Boston Patch.
Myles Holland, a protester in Atlanta, on what he will tell his children about the arrest and death of George Floyd:
“He didn’t resist, he complied, and they still did what they did, so what am I going to tell my son, what am I going to tell my daughter? Just being ourselves is getting us killed.” Read more on Atlanta Patch.
Protester Darryl Carson in Vienna, Virginia:
“We can no longer ignore this. We can no longer deny this.” Read more on Vienna Patch.
Marques Armstrong, a Minneapolis business consultant and community activist, via CBC News:
“Crimes have been committed since we landed in this country — excuse me, since we were robbed and brought to this country. You cannot continue to oppress, beat down, marginalize, redline, and kill people and think we aren’t gonna stand up and eventually fight back. … This is an uprising. I’m not with all that looting but, dammit, I understand. The game is not set for us.” Read more.
Heather Ann Thompson, a professor of history and Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who won the Pulitzer Prize in History for “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy,” and a scholar of 1960s and 1970s protest movements, particularly against white supremacy and mass incarceration:
“Not protesting at all would not keep white racial violence at bay. Protests keep happening precisely because white supremacy is never sufficiently reined in.” Read more.
Chad Bennett, who watched protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police custody death of back teenager Michael Brown in 2014, via The New York Times:
“When Ferguson happened, the whole world descended on us. This time, it was like bam, bam, bam, city after city. I knew I had to be a part of it. It’s a silent rage, I guess. I don’t know if I’m sad anymore. I’m just angry.” Read more.
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, via The New Yorker:
“It’s a familiar pattern: to call for peace and calm but direct it in the wrong places. Why are we having this conversation about protest and property when a man’s life was extinguished before our eyes? We don’t have time to finger-wag at protesters about property,” she continued. “That can be rebuilt. Target will reopen. The stores will reopen. That’s assured. What is not assured is our safety and real justice.” Read more.
Patrisse Cullors, a cofounder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, via news station KTLA:
“Conversations aren’t enough. A conversation didn’t stop George Floyd from dying. … And what we need is structural change, and that looks like a defunding of our local law enforcement, it looks like holding lots of cops accountable, and it looks like really seeing these protesters as people who have righteous rage who also want change.” Read more.
NAACP Minneapolis President Leslie Redmond, via National Public Radio:
“I’m fighting for the humanity of every little black boy and girl that I see that should be able to be a child and smile and thrive and my heartbeat that beats super fast when the police are riding behind me because no matter how many degrees I got and no matter how much I achieve, they will shoot me on the street.” Read more.
Chloe Wallace, a 26-year-old white woman who lives near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Williamsburg, via The New York Times:
“I want to recognize my role in the unequal society and systems we’ve created. Listening to what black people are saying and showing up is the only way forward.” Read more.
Erika Zdon, who drove with her children from their rural Minnesota home to take part in a protest at the site where George Floyd died:
“I said this could be in the history books and this could be something that changes the world, and you should smell it, and see it and hear it and feel what’s happening in our community.” Read more.
Bakari Sellers, a 35-year-old attorney whose father was shot during a 1968 protest at South Carolina State University, via People:
“To be black in America, for many, means becoming a hashtag. #FreeSomebody or #SomebodyHasJustPassedAway. Being black in this country is a perpetual sense of grief. … You can either be racist or anti-racist. Those are the only two choices, because these systems of oppression are killing people, are killing black folk. People are tired of this.” Read more.
Laura Zimmermann, a white mom with two kids living in Oak Park, Illinois, via ABC’s “Good Morning America”:
“I think this is the time in our history when white people need to step up and really engage. I think we have to start realizing that this isn’t about us. It’s actually about getting rid of this huge blind spot within our society that there is still systemic racism.” Read more.
Evan Kutcher, who was chanting Floyd’s name as and hundreds of others demonstrated outside the Barclays Center in New York City Tuesday, via The Associated Press:
“Something has to break, and it’s not going to be us. We’re here because something needs to change.”
Brittney Johnson of Los Angeles, via NBC News:
“It’s about more than police brutality, George Floyd’s death is just a symptom of American institutions. I protest for the entire black community and my future black children because we deserve to live and thrive. I protest because I don’t have the privilege of remaining silent, I protest to educate and to demonstrate why voting matters.” Read more.
Zachary Boyce, of Raleigh, North Carolina, via NBC News:
“I protest for George Floyd for the same reason I am joining law school at Campbell Law this fall as a first-generation college student. I protest for George Floyd because we are battling the same white supremacist systems that our ancestors were enslaved under. The property being damaged during these protests doesn’t matter. Black lives matter.” Read more.
Protester April Gopie, who marched in the Bronx in New York City, via NBC News:
“Once this dies down, then we need to think about what’s next because the people killed by police are not just names and hashtags. That was somebody’s son, daughter, cousin, aunt or uncle — that could be me.” Read more.