In the shadow of a downtown Grand Forks parking garage, Kollin King shouted himself hoarse.
The 24-year-old barely needed a megaphone on Thursday, June 4, as he asked a crowd of hundreds, over and over: “What’s his name?”
“George Floyd!” the crowd responded as King’s voice began to give out. They had assembled there to demand change after Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after he was pinned to the ground for more than eight minutes by a white police officer in Minneapolis. The officer, who knelt on Floyd's neck, has been charged with second-degree murder.
Floyd's death is the latest in a long-running string of such deaths and has sparked a nationwide series of demonstrations that have sometimes escalated to violence.
“Right now, I am afraid,” Hamzat Koriko, a Ph.D. holder and artist from Togo who’s lived in Grand Forks for years, told the crowd, which numbered more than 500. “Because when I watched the video of the killing of George Floyd, I felt like the world around me was crumbling, and I started crying. I just kept crying. The next thing that I did was I went into the room where my 2-month-old daughter was sleeping, and then I hugged her and then I kept crying more because I did not want to see her grow without a father.”
Aiyana Luke, a Grand Forks business owner who said she was at similar demonstrations in Fargo, pointed to what she considers the United States’ long history of racism and racial tension.
“This has been going on for over 400 years,” she said. “When you look around, the same signs you are reading now are the same signs from 1950, and 1960 and 1970.”
“Preach!” a man shouted from the crowd.
The demonstration wound through downtown Grand Forks, briefly stopping near the Red River before heading through the city again. Once it arrived back at the garage, the march went through town again, beyond its agreed-upon route, which prompted Grand Forks Police to warn on Facebook that it had gone “off script” and urge residents to avoid the area.
A few demonstrators briefly yelled at Neil Carlson, the founder and sole employee of iNewz TV, who appeared to be livestreaming the march. But, beyond that and a few heckles from passing vehicles and other onlookers, the demonstration remained almost universally peaceful.
“I am for a peaceful protest, but this brother,” Luke said, gesturing toward Koriko, “said that he was afraid, and I will repeat the same words I repeated in Fargo: I am for a peaceful protest, but I will not stand aside and let any of these black men and black women be attacked.”
Demonstrators eventually dispersed on their own while a handful of police and Grand Forks County sheriff’s deputies, who Luke noted approvingly were not wearing riot gear or other noticeably beefier equipment, looked on.
Minnesota authorities have since charged the Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, and the three others who stood by while he kneeled on Floyd’s neck for minutes. But many demonstrators there and across the country say they’re hoping for broader changes to the structure of the U.S. criminal justice system. Democratic Farmer-Labor lawmakers in Minnesota have begun to push for reforms in a possible special legislative session this summer, according to Twin Cities media outlets, and Michigan Congressman Justin Amash introduced a federal bill that would end “qualified immunity” for police, which would make it easier for them to be sued by people alleging civil rights violations.
King and Shannelle Thompson, one of the march’s organizers, said they didn’t have any specific goals like those in mind. The march, Thompson explained, was a call to end systemic racism in the U.S.
“We need to be acknowledged,” she told the Herald before the demonstration got underway. “Accountability needs to happen for the devaluation and dehumanization of black lives and people of color around the nation.”
Hassan Abdi, another demonstrator, told the Herald he noticed on social media that police treat white and black suspects differently, and that they generally do not call out their colleagues’ misconduct. He carried a sign that read “break down the blue walls.”
“When the system failed George Floyd, the system failed us all,” Mayor Mike Brown told marchers. “The time for change is now.”
Brown told the Herald he has no changes in mind, but said he plans to host listening sessions with the demonstration’s organizers.