As protests across the United States turned violent Saturday, the Grand Cities equivalent was solemn.
About 200 people gathered outside East Grand Forks City Hall on Saturday to grieve George Floyd, the black man who died at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer on Monday. Their candlelight vigil was marked by candid, often tearful speeches about race in America and the destruction in the Twin Cities, which were rocked by a fifth consecutive night of demonstrations that have grown exponentially more violent and chaotic.
“If two people are having a conversation and one person’s not listening, somebody’s going to react,” Jerrylin Paye told the crowd. “And that’s what’s happening in Minneapolis right now.”
Teagan Kempe, 26, read from a letter she wrote to Floyd.
“You were slain. A modern-day lynching before our eyes, in our own backyard, in our stomping grounds,” she read as her voice trembled. “I am torn apart thinking about how finding the positives in your death are supposed to work. Is that what we are supposed to do? Maybe it is. In your death you have helped reignite my fire for life. There is a lot of work to be done. There are systems that need to be rebuilt. There are a lot of journeys that need to be taken.”
Tawanda Murinda, a pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Thompson, barely needed the microphone.
“We talk about the Holy Spirit as the breath of God,” Murinda exhorted. “And if we have racists and racism and all systems of oppression -- what those systems do, they suck the breath of God out of our communities.”
Murinda encouraged “good” police officers to speak out against “those that are not being good.”
“We need you, as police officers, to protect us,” he said. “That’s all we are asking for.”
The vigil was also intended to memorialize Cody Holte, a Grand Forks officer who died assisting county deputies on Wednesday
“Neither one of them deserved what happened,” Devon Pope, the vigil’s foremost organizer, said of Floyd and Holte. “There’s too many good people being taken away from life too early. We need more love.”
Pope said some of his members have been victims of police brutality and hoped the vigil would be an outlet for peace.
But there were still echoes of the broader racial conflict. People in passing cars would occasionally offer a timid chirp at the demonstrators before flooring it down DeMers Avenue. One car blared the song “[expletive] the police!” by the band N.W.A. A passenger in a passing car said “I can!” to a woman in a hijab holding a sign that said “I can’t breathe” -- a reference to three of Floyd’s dying words and those of Eric Garner, a New York City black man who was choked to death by police in 2014.
Meanwhile, 70 miles to the south, protests in Fargo took a different turn. After peaceful demonstrations throughout most of the day, the evening hours saw a change. Protesters there broke windows downtown and looted at least one restaurant. Police, wearing riot gear, shot what appeared to be tear-gas canisters as protesters started a fire in the middle of a street.