Listen: Special report: Host Angela Davis explores how George Floyd changed us

On this MPR Special Report, Host Angela Davis explores how George Floyd changed us in a collection of personal interviews and commentary.

George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis on May 25th, 2020, as Minneapolis Police pinned him to the pavement as he pleaded “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death sparked national and world outrage, leading to civil unrest and demands for justice.


2021 MBJA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Documentary/Special - Large Market Radio category

2022 MNSPJ Page One Award, second place in Radio - Special Project/In-depth series category


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ANGELA DAVIS: You're listening to How George Floyd Changed Us, a special from Minnesota Public Radio and APM, marking one year since the murder of George Floyd. I'm Angela Davis, and I've lived in Minnesota for 25 years.

It's a place known more for its many lakes and cold winters than for its persistent racial disparities. That is until May 25, 2020. It was Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. There's this bustling intersection roughly three miles south of downtown Minneapolis.

A teenager's cell phone captured a wicked crime. It started with a Minneapolis store clerk calling police over a possible counterfeit bill. Minutes later, people were calling 911 on the police to report a murder that was unfolding in front of their eyes.

There was this white Minneapolis police officer, they said, with his knee pinned on the neck of a black man, who was repeatedly, painfully saying, I can't breathe. The bystanders pleaded with the officer for 9.5 minutes, but it would not save him. George Floyd was dead.

SPEAKER 1: Say his name.

CROWD: George Floyd.

SPEAKER 1: Say his name.

CROWD: George Floyd.

SPEAKER 1: Say his name.

ANGELA DAVIS: What came next was outrage and grief. Protests spread like wildfire throughout Minnesota, and in states across the country, and in cities around the world. For us black folk, the brutality and the injustice were nothing new. But this time was different.

ANGELA HARRELSON: I knew something was different when I would get calls from Germany, Switzerland, these countries. The world is behind us.

MENAKEM: Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies. You're seeing them develop their voice differently.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Council members actually adopt the language of a lot of the activists who have been pushing for years to not just defund the police department, but dismantle it.

JANELLE AUSTIN: I now am fully convinced that community is the antidote to racism.

ANGELA DAVIS: This hour, we're going to hear from George Floyd's aunt, his mama's sister, a Minneapolis therapist who specializes in black trauma, and a reporter who's covered Minneapolis for decades. We'll also meet a family of community healers living just a few blocks from where the murder happened. They were built for this moment.

SPEAKER 2: You're all NPR?

ANGELA DAVIS: Yes, sir. How are you doing? How are you doing? We begin where it started at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. It's a place where one year later flowers still cover the pavement where Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. And a powerful mixture of grief and hope hangs in the air.

ANGELA HARRELSON: There's something magical in here. It makes you feel like the spirit-- I don't know what it is. It's like [INAUDIBLE] in here.

ANGELA DAVIS: The whole area. Angela Harrelson is George Floyd's aunt. We're in a storefront just steps from where her nephew took his last breath. People were outside posing for photos and taking selfies with stuffed animals and year-old candles at their feet. Inside the walls are filled with portraits of George Floyd from childlike sketches to gallery quality paintings. Signs made of cardboard boxes are displayed with equal care.

ANGELA HARRELSON: We really want this to be a museum. And this, what you see, is just a fraction of what we want to accomplish for the George Floyd Global Memorial.

ANGELA DAVIS: A global Memorial. That's what Harrelson and several volunteers are working on through preserving items people have left here and raising money to give those items a permanent home, where people can remember George Floyd and the movement his murder started.

ANGELA HARRELSON: I think what people did, they just didn't just want to be part of something, they took action and said, you know what? This is my voice. I'm going to do this sign and say black lives are sacred. This is one of my favorite King George. I wish I knew. The artist--

ANGELA DAVIS: They painted a crown on his head.


ANGELA DAVIS: And that looks like a cardboard box, right? Like someone pulled apart a cardboard box and used that as a palette.

ANGELA HARRELSON: And I think in the midst of this when people are going through so much emotions, they took whatever they had to do a sign to say this is a message that I want. Long live George Floyd. Daddy changed the world.

ANGELA DAVIS: That's by Gianna.


ANGELA DAVIS: His daughter.


ANGELA DAVIS: Harrelson remembers when her nephew, who family members called Perry, was Gianna's age.

ANGELA HARRELSON: Perry, when he was in the second grade, he said he wanted to change the world.

ANGELA DAVIS: When he was a little boy he said that?

ANGELA HARRELSON: Yeah, to his second grade teacher. He wrote a letter and he said he would like to be a Supreme Court judge when he grow up to change the world.

ANGELA DAVIS: The paintings and images of him everywhere, I'm thinking if that were one of my family members, I don't know that I would have the strength to walk through here. How do you do that?

ANGELA HARRELSON: It was hard because being the only one here-- auntie here, I didn't know if whatever I did if it would be good enough or if I'm doing it right. But that image of him in lying on his stomach, his hands were cuffed, and hearing those words played in my mind, I can't breathe, mama, mama. Somebody call my children. Can you help me?

He fought for nine minutes and 29 seconds. So I said to myself, if Perry can work his way to saying those things with what he was enduring, then I can try to muster my way to have a voice for him.

ANGELA DAVIS: What was it like for you hearing him call out mama?

ANGELA HARRELSON: I instantly thought about my sister, because she died about two years ago. I felt she came to get him and said, it's OK. It's OK, baby. Come.

ANGELA DAVIS: So when you learned that George was moving here-- and the family calls him Perry. When you learned he was moving here, were you excited or prepared? Like, I'm going to-- I'm going to be there for him.

ANGELA HARRELSON: They kind of cheated because they didn't tell me he was moving. My sister cheated. So when I found out he was here, he had been living here for a couple of weeks. And so I'm like, why nobody tell me? You know? The family knew that.

So when I found out, my sister, she told me. And she's like, I'm going to have Perry call you. So he did. Auntie, you know I'm here? I'm like, thanks for not telling me you were here. But I was excited. I was tickled, like a kid with candy. I was tickled to be an auntie and have someone to call you often. You go see how they doing because most of my family is spread apart.

ANGELA DAVIS: What did he like to talk about in terms of where he was working, and who his friends were, and what he was-- how he spent his time?

ANGELA HARRELSON: Well, Perry, he-- oh my goodness, he talked about so many things. I don't even know where to begin. But one topic that he love to talk about was his mom because he was a mama's boy.

He would often talk about things he could do differently. He talked about his incarceration, the treatment program that he was in. And he loved his job. And he was so proud of himself coming here and starting a new life.

ANGELA DAVIS: That takes courage.

ANGELA HARRELSON: Well, it took a lot of courage, but I think the most important thing he was glad that his mom got a chance to see him trying to do something good.

ANGELA DAVIS: I keep reading about his height, that he was really tall.

ANGELA HARRELSON: Yeah. He was really, really tall.

ANGELA DAVIS: So tell me about his demeanor and how he carried himself.

ANGELA HARRELSON: He was very, very respectful, especially around kids. When they see him come through, he would always try to lower himself down so to be respectful or he would never-- I notice he would never stand directly in front of you or he wanted to stand beside you just to make-- just to make you feel comfortable.

ANGELA DAVIS: That has to be exhausting, though, to always be thinking about how your height and your appearance intimidates others.

ANGELA HARRELSON: Yeah. But at the same time, I think he kind of liked it too. I think he liked being tall. Even though he-- he was just a humble person. And he took his personality a lot from his mom. But Perry, he gave a lot. He didn't have much to give, but what he gave, he would give you.

ANGELA DAVIS: At what point was it that you realized that what happened to him that it was going to be a tipping point for America?

ANGELA HARRELSON: I knew something was different when I would get calls from Germany, Switzerland, these countries. That's when I knew this was really different. Because this uprising that they did out here, it went around the world. The world is behind us.

ANGELA DAVIS: Tell me about the first time you visited this intersection after the murder. What did you see at that time?

ANGELA HARRELSON: It was hard coming out here the first time. I was just trying to find the strength to visit it. But then when I came out here, it gave me a family that I can come out and be around. I don't know how to explain it. It became magical.

I came, I see people, and I know people. They know me by first name. I know them by their first name. Seeing what they do. Seeing them light the candles. Seeing them handing out water, handing out food. It was like I'm seeing this place take a life of its own. Every time I come here, I never walk out the same.

ANGELA DAVIS: Your family, your biological family, how are you all doing?

ANGELA HARRELSON: I think most of us are at a little bit of a better place [INAUDIBLE] 11 months ago. After the verdict, I see the confidence now that things are going to get better. It makes the hope more real, and it puts a smile on your face like, we're heading in the right direction.

Yes, there's more things to be done, but instead of we singing that song by Sam Cooke, A Change is Going to Come, now I think we need to sing a song, the change is here, and we can go forward for better things.

ANGELA DAVIS: Angela Harrelson.


ANGELA DAVIS: George Floyd's, Perry's aunt. Thank you for your time.

ANGELA HARRELSON: You're welcome. Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to continue to have a voice for him.

[SAM COOKE,"A CHANGE IS GONNA COME"] I was born by the river

In a little tent

Oh, and just like the river, I've been running

Ever since

It's been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change is gon' come

Oh, yes it will

ANGELA DAVIS: Up next on How George Floyd Changed Us.

RESMAA MENAKEM: Those things that you're experiencing need to be placed in the context, you're not crazy. You're not defective. There's nothing wrong with you. There are these things that are showing up that are asking you to grieve, not only with yourself, but grieve with your people.

ANGELA DAVIS: How witnessing this murder changed you and me. Stay with us.

[SAM COOKE,"A CHANGE IS GONNA COME"] A change gon' come

Oh, yes, it will

I go to the movie, and I go downtown

Somebody keep telling me

Don't hang around

It's been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change gon' to come

SPEAKER 3: At noon today you, can go over to our website for a conversation among three MPR News journalists who cover the George Floyd story from the beginning. You'll hear from editor Laura Yuen, reporter Grant Williams, and photojournalist Evan frost.

Cathy Wurzer will moderate the discussion about the news decisions they made and the personal experience of covering this year of upheaval in Minnesota. It's an online event starting at noon today.

It's free, and you can register now at At noon here on the radio, you can stay tuned for a documentary about Bob Dylan's early life in Hibbing, Minnesota. Today is Bob Dylan's 80th birthday. This is MPR News.

Support comes from Comcast Business. Comcast is on a mission to help businesses not just bounce back, but bounce forward with internet speeds of up to a gig plus a network with added protection. Learn more at

ANGELA DAVIS: I'm Angela Davis, and you're listening to How George Floyd Changed Us from Minnesota Public Radio and APM. We're marking a year since bystander video of George Floyd's murder jolted America into a new consciousness.


ANGELA DAVIS: What white Americans saw in that video, many for the first time, was the harsh reflection of a nation still mired in its ugly history. Black Americans, we saw our fathers, our uncles, and our sons.

So when family, friends, and dignitaries gathered for a Memorial service at North Central University in Minneapolis last June to honor George Floyd and to begin to heal, the wound they were addressing was a collective centimeter deep.

(SINGING) I was, was lost

But now I'm found

ANGELA DAVIS: Reverend Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy.

AL SHARPTON: George Floyd's story has been the story of black folks because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be in is you kept your knee on our neck.

We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills, we could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn't get your knee off our neck.

What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country in education, in health services, and in every area of American life. It's time for us to stand up in George's name and say, get your knee off our necks.

ANGELA DAVIS: Injustice after injustice over and over again. What does that do to a person, to a community, to the country some 42 million black Americans call home? I knew Rasmaa Menakem would have some insight.

He's a renowned trauma specialist who lives in Minneapolis, who I've turned to several times this past year to better understand the true impact of a murder like George Floyd's. His book, My Grandmother's Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies came out in 2017. And this year, it hit The New York Times best sellers list.

RESMAA MENAKEM: We live in a society where the white body has deemed itself the standard of humanness and everything else is a deviance from that standard. The idea that me and you are not fully believed to be human is woven in and around and through every institution.

And so when you see something like what happens to brother George Floyd, or brother Daunte Wright, or sister Breonna, when you see something like that, most of us clutch our chest and our heart and say, how could you do that to another human being? Well, in this society structurally and philosophically we are not considered to be human.

And so when you watch what Chauvin did to brother Floyd, what you're actually watching is not hatred. You're watching indifference. That's what you see in his eyes. It's not a hatred. It's not a visceral hatred. It is an indifference to doing something to this thing that is not fully vested as human.

ANGELA DAVIS: You've said that you've not been able to look at the video of what happened to George Floyd. But you've also said that if people are looking at the video, to look at Derek Chauvin's face.

RESMAA MENAKEM: Yes. Yeah. The reason is is because we focus so much on the victim that we forget to focus on the perpetrator and we forget to focus on that all this man had to do, all he had to do was stand up. And that was a bridge too far. That is not an individual thing you're watching, that is a structural thing. You're watching an individual say, I have the whole system behind me.

ANGELA DAVIS: The video of George Floyd's final minutes of life, it incites rage in many people. And it reminds me of a famous quote by James Baldwin. To a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all the time.

RESMAA MENAKEM: That's right.

ANGELA DAVIS: But Resmaa, we can't function like that.

RESMAA MENAKEM: Well, let me say this. A good friend of mine, Dr. Ken Hardy. And one of the things that he says about rage is that he said, rage is anger that has aged. It's like we see things like this and then the next day, we got to get up. I don't think the larger white community understands the level of aged anger that is in black people.

But the way that it shows up, it shows up in high blood pressure. It shows up in diabetes. It shows up in us dying earlier. It shows up in low birth rate for black women. It shows up in black women dying more often in giving birth. It shows up in all of these ways that we blow off as just being particular to that particular person, but actually are manifestations of trauma.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so what advice have you offered people in the last year who have come to you for guidance and support? What should we be doing to help both our minds and our body heal?

RESMAA MENAKEM: The first and most important thing for me is to use this time to turn towards each other and not on each other. The black body and the Indigenous body in this country is where America has always done its dirt. And so we as black people have also ingested those things.

And so when something is going on, we have a tendency to go at each other and rip at each other's hearts. And I think we have to use this time to turn towards each other as opposed to turning on each other. And what that means is, we have to start being more gentle with each other. We have to start like-- like when I saw you, you was like, can I hug you? It's been so long.

ANGELA DAVIS: Is that sounded like?


ANGELA DAVIS: It is what I sounded like. I did. I did.

RESMAA MENAKEM: But what that means is that we been craving touch with each other. We've been craving holding each other. We've been-- you see somebody that you care for, you just-- right? And so I think now is the time for us to usher in a new gentleness with each other's bodies. Let's-- when we start to really get at each other, let's drop it. Let's reach and turn towards each other.

ANGELA DAVIS: But we have unresolved issues. We have pain. We still have grief. And now, the anniversary of George Floyd's murder. What should we be doing to wrap our minds around something that for many of us we have not been able to escape for a year?

RESMAA MENAKEM: Yeah. Well, I think one of the things that's happening is what you're doing right now. You're doing this show in order to help people remember. The further we go away from the brutalization, the more we start to internalize that experience, the more we start something must be wrong with me.

But what you're doing is you're saying, OK, this is the anniversary of something that was really brutal that happened to us. You're saying, those things that you're experiencing need to be placed in the context.

You're not crazy. You're not defective. There's nothing wrong with you. There are these things that are showing up that are asking you to grieve not only with yourself, but grieve with your people.

ANGELA DAVIS: And hold it inside our bodies, holding those emotions, not talking about it, what does that do to us?

RESMAA MENAKEM: It weathers us. So there's a term in the medical field that they've used to illustrate what happens to black women who died during pregnancy, that they can have all of the same markers of health and still die.

And one of the things that they've been talking about is the weathering effects of living in a white body supremacy system, that it weathers the endocrine system. It weathers the cardiovascular system. It weathers the brain architecture. It weathers the reproductive system. It weathers all of the systems.

And so when stuff is happening, actually talk about it, actually cry about it, actually rock about it, actually grieve about it. And not grieve about it and then just put it away, but know that the grief may come up in cycles over time.

ANGELA DAVIS: In your book you write, every therapist will tell you that healing involves some discomfort, but so does refusing to heal. And over time, refusing to heal is more painful.

RESMAA MENAKEM: Absolutely. One of my mentors coined this term, clean pain and dirty pain. Clean pain is the pain you get by going through something that's hard. Dirty pain is the pain you get by going around something that's difficult and hard. Both have pain.

And as adults, we don't get a choice between pain and no pain. Many times, we get two choices between clean pain and dirty pain. I'm right now, I have picked up about a good 10, 15 pounds of COVID weight. It's bothering my joints.

Now, I could sit and I could say, you know what? It's painful to be dealing with this. I could also say, well, I need to do something about it. I know doing something about it is going to be uncomfortable too, but the doing something about it actually has more capacity.

And so when it comes to race, I believe that the white community has to begin to decide if they're going to go through the clean pain of developing a living embodied anti-racist culture. Other than that, they're going to keep living dirty.

ANGELA DAVIS: At what point in this police killing and the response to it did it feel like this is different, that this is bigger?

RESMAA MENAKEM: Well, remember Rodney King?

ANGELA DAVIS: Yes. In Los Angeles.

RESMAA MENAKEM: Remember that? they said the same thing. What changed? When you look at what actually structurally changed, not much. Those cops got off. The difference is that this cop got held accountable. But structurally, that's not the same thing.

What makes this different, black, brown, and Indigenous bodies, and bodies of culture, I think what you're seeing is you're seeing them develop their voice differently. You're hearing a real clear articulation of structural racism, not episodic racism.

White bodies love talking about somebody being racist over here or not racist over there. White bodies love declarations of independence. What I mean by that, they love declaring themselves independent from other white people.

So the moment something racist comes up, they go, nah, I'm different. I'm not that type of white person. But that is not a structural examination. And what you're starting to hear is black bodies, Indigenous bodies, and bodies of culture say things that they didn't say because white comfort trumps black liberation. That's one of the changes that I've seen that has given me more hope.

ANGELA DAVIS: What's it like to be you right now? A black man who's a social worker, a psychotherapist, and a bestselling book author.

RESMAA MENAKEM: This has been rough on me.

ANGELA DAVIS: I follow you on Instagram.


ANGELA DAVIS: I saw you weeping.

RESMAA MENAKEM: Yeah. This has been rough. I hold a lot of people. And it's one of the things I've been saying to people lately, is check on your strong friends. Check on grand-mama, who everybody keep coming to. Check on her. Check on the strong uncle. Check on the strong. Because ain't nobody checking on us.

So it's been rough. My sleeping has been off. My eating has been off. I didn't realize I wasn't letting anybody hold me. I still have to walk around in this society as a black man. You met my son?


RESMAA MENAKEM: He's 20 years old. He does not have his driver's license yet. And a lot of it is because me and my wife have been dragging our feet. I don't-- there couldn't be an-- knowing him, I mean, you see how gentle he is?

ANGELA DAVIS: He's very gentle, polite young man.

RESMAA MENAKEM: Very gentle. That's him. And if somebody hurt him, I would like to say, I'm doing fine, but I'm not. I'm getting better.

ANGELA DAVIS: So we've talked about communal grief, and we've also talked about just these patterns, that the pain is still raw, but yet we continue to see injury and we continue to see brown and black people killed. So how do we move forward? How do we get to a place where we can find joy?

RESMAA MENAKEM: People think that trauma is primary. I don't think trauma is primary. I think Joy is primary. I think love is primary. When we get traumatized and we experience terror and horror, that can quickly get centered as the thing. But I think joy is primary.

I think when my dad was in and out of prison and we'd go over my grandmother's house and she'd grab us and sit us in her lap and start humming and rocking, I think that's joy. I think coming into the house and listening to-- and smelling my grandmother cooked some stew, that's joy. I think we've lost those softness pieces-- not lost. I think we have to reclaim those soft pieces.

ANGELA DAVIS: Rasmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother's Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. Rasmaa, thank you for your time.

RESMAA MENAKEM: You are so welcome.

ANGELA DAVIS: By April of this year, whatever anxiety we had shaken off since last May was back in our bodies. Derek Chauvin was on trial. George Floyd's killing was on replay in court every day.

And those of us living here couldn't make a trip to the grocery store without seeing an armored vehicle or a member of the National Guard in full uniform. Then on April 20 a collective exhale. The jurors found Chauvin guilty on all counts.


The streets that had carried our grief for 11 months now held relief and jubilation, even some grills and sound systems. But revelers were quick to qualify their joy choosing that thing Resmaa calls clean pain. Here's Keith Ellison, Minnesota's attorney general and the lead prosecutor in the case.

KEITH ELLISON: I would not call today's verdict justice because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice.

ANGELA DAVIS: Shortly after, President Joe Biden reminded the nation of all that it took to arrive here.

JOE BIDEN: A brave young woman with a smartphone camera. A crowd that was traumatized. Traumatized witnesses. A murder that lasts almost 10 minutes in broad daylight for ultimately the whole world to see. Officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer.

ANGELA DAVIS: Coming up on How George Floyd Changed Us, Justice beyond a conviction. We'll talk with Minnesota Public Radio reporter Brandt Williams about how George Floyd's murder has already changed policing and how we talk about it. And then a visit with a Minneapolis family. Their world was turned upside down last May. Now, they're putting in the work to turn it right side up.

JEANETTE RUPERT: Before this pandemic, there was another virus that ate at the core of black and brown individuals for over 400 years. And so I marched, and I worked, and I volunteered, and I helped those that were oppressed.

ANGELA DAVIS: Stay with us.

SPEAKER 4: Support comes from By the Yard outdoor furniture, made in Minnesota and handcrafted out of recycled plastic. Dining sets, Adirondack chairs, fire pits, and more. You can shop one of their retail stores or for home delivery.

On the next MPR News Presents, we mark Hibbing and Duluth native Bob Dylan's 80th birthday with the MPR documentary by Jim Bickle called Boy from the North Country, Bob Dylan in Minnesota. Listen Monday at noon or at

ANGELA DAVIS: This is How George Floyd Changed Us from Minnesota Public Radio and APM. I'm Angela Davis. Since May of last year, lawmakers in every state and the District of Columbia have introduced more than 3,000 police reform bills.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that's double the number introduced in 2017. The US Department of Justice is investigating the Minneapolis Police and other departments and brought civil rights charges against Derek Chauvin and the other former officers involved in George Floyd's murder.

Cities and school districts have responded too. Minneapolis public schools joined districts across the country in cutting ties with police. And Minneapolis City Council members made headlines when they promised to defund the police.

That's provocative shorthand for rerouting public safety dollars to social services that can reduce crime. And it's also something we haven't really heard from the general public. I asked my colleague, Minnesota Public Radio reporter Brandt Williams, when he knew something was different.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Well, I guess, Angela, like many people when I first saw that bystander video. Usually there's a situation between a police officer and somebody. There's a officer makes a split second decision, where they fire a weapon. It's over in a second.

But this happened over 9 minutes. We heard George Floyd pleading for his life and we saw the reaction of the officer, Derek Chauvin, just not changing his expression. And he kept the pressure on. So I think that's when I knew. I was like, boy, it's going to be really hard for this just to be pushed under the rug or just forgotten about during the next news cycle.

ANGELA DAVIS: And Brandt, the response from city officials, that was swift as well, different than what we've seen in the past, starting with the quick firing of officer Derek Chauvin.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: That was different. I mean, usually there's got to be an investigation or there has to be due diligence done here before we make any disciplinary decisions, but this was the next day. Chief Madaria Arradondo came right out and said that this officer is no longer a member of the Minneapolis Police Department, and he fired the other three officers involved as well.

ANGELA DAVIS: And then also we saw the governor of Minnesota, the state's public safety commissioner, the mayor of Minneapolis all speak publicly about what they saw in that video. It looked like a crime to them.

MADARIA ARRADONDO: It's very clear to anyone that would happen to George Floyd is wrong. The lack of humanity in the video made me physically ill.

SPEAKER 5: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail? If you had done it or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: And you started hearing public officials using the term murder for this particular incident. And that was very different. Usually they're going to hold off on making judgments because that's a legal determination.

I mean, you can say somebody was killed or died, but when you say they were murdered, that's a legal conclusion. And when we heard high-positioned officials in the State of Minnesota using the term murder, that was, again, real different.

ANGELA DAVIS: How significant is it that a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd? I mean, many have noted it was unusual to see things like other police officers and the Minneapolis police chief testify for the prosecution in the trial. They spoke out to condemn his actions.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: This is the first conviction of an officer of second degree murder in the state of Minnesota for an on-duty killing. And a white man was actually convicted of killing a black man.

ANGELA DAVIS: Let's talk about police reform efforts in the days after George Floyd was murdered. We saw Minneapolis City Council members at a park talking about defunding the police department. Where does that stand now a year later?

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, I'll just-- let's back up and just talk about, again, how significant that was. I mean, because yes the Minneapolis City Council had been talking for years about making reforms to the police department, but this was the first time when I heard a majority of council members actually adopt the language of a lot of the activists who had been pushing for years to not just defund the police department, but dismantle it.

SPEAKER 6: Your power and your strength allows me to be here today as a person who believes that we should and can abolish our current Minneapolis Police system.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: So they went from that point at the park to bringing forth a proposal to change the city's charter that would allow the council to eliminate the police department as a charter department. And there is a citizen petition that was also submitted. And so the voters will likely have some say this fall about what happens to the Minneapolis Police Department.

ANGELA DAVIS: Brandt, what mark do you see this leaving on the city of Minneapolis? The murder of George Floyd and all that has happened in the last year.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: This particular incident seems like it has pushed the conversation from not just what kind of changes could they make, but what types of changes have to be made in order to restore the whole idea and legitimacy of policing full stop.

I mean, there are people who have now just basically given up on the whole idea of having armed police officers respond to crimes in Minneapolis. And that's been something that we've heard from small groups of activists before, but it seems like a larger portion of the populace are now considering that.

ANGELA DAVIS: And what about you and your coverage of Minneapolis as a reporter here at MPR? The murder of George Floyd has really touched every community in every industry here. How has this affected the work that you do?

BRANDT WILLIAMS: I'd say it's been difficult in some ways to see the type of unrest and just seeing people's businesses being destroyed and neighborhoods being destabilized and having colleagues of mine being in harm's way in bringing this news to everyone.

That was very difficult personally. But I tried to keep the historical perspective on this. Out of this type of unrest generally brings a lot of change. And we're at this unique point in history right now where we're seeing the seeds of what could be some very substantial changes going on in the city of Minneapolis.

For that, I'm actually grateful to be in the position I'm in. I'm actually in a position to report on this and bring it out, not just to the city, but the rest of the world. This could affect how policing is handled throughout the country for the foreseeable future.

ANGELA DAVIS: MPR News reporter Brandt Williams. We appreciate you, Brandt. Thank you for your time.

BRANDT WILLIAMS: Oh, thanks, Angela.

ANGELA DAVIS: I'm back near 38th and Chicago where George Floyd was killed to meet the Austin family. They've lived in the neighborhood for 35 years and have spent this past year caring for folks in the space many people now call George Floyd Square. It's an intersection turned into a Memorial and town square.

JUDY AUSTIN: My name is Judy Austin. They call me Doctor Mom in George Floyd Square because I have a doctorate in ministry. And I'm an executive pastor at a church in North Minneapolis. That's what they call me, Doctor Mom. So you guys can call me Doctor Mom too.

ANGELA DAVIS: Thank you.

JUDY AUSTIN: Yeah, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: Doctor Mom lost her husband and the father of their children in 2019. So when George Floyd was killed, the family knew the grief that was coming for their entire community.

JANELLE AUSTIN: My name is Janelle Austin, and I am lead caretaker at the George Floyd Global Memorial.

ANGELA DAVIS: And what's your relationship to Doctor Mom?

JANELLE AUSTIN: I'm the middle child.

THEODORA AUSTIN: And I am the oldest son of Doctor Mom. My name is Theodora Austin, but everyone in this community, and friends, family call me Bucci. And here in the square I operate as both a musician, as a trumpet player, and sometimes call me the Red Bull Guy because I like to hand out Red Bull.

RACHEL AUSTIN: My name is Rachel Austin. I am married to Bucci Austin, so I'm bonus daughter to Doctor Mom. And we live next door. And we have four children.

JEANETTE RUPERT: I'm Jeanette Rupert, and I am daughter number one to Doctor Mom. I am also a Reverend Jeanette. So clergy, as well as nurse as I work in the ICU.

ANGELA DAVIS: What do people call you?

JEANETTE RUPERT: People just call me-- call me Jeanette or the Reverend Nurse.

ANGELA DAVIS: The Reverend Nurse. I think we all need a Doctor Mom and a Reverend Nurse in our lives right now. So let's talk about what we've seen in the last year. And when you look back and think about the activism, as well as the communal grieving that has happened here in the past year, does that feel at home in this neighborhood? Does it feel like-- does it make sense that the community responded in this way?

JUDY AUSTIN: Absolutely. I remember the next morning. My grandson Hezekiah knocked on the door. He had a bowl of cereal in his hand. And he said, grandma, can I come in and eat my cereal?

I said, Hezekiah, now's not a good time. Can you come back after 5:00? But the look on his face was strange. And so then I stick my head out a little bit more and I see Rachel, and she's bawling.

And then the neighbor across the street, and they're standing there. And they're just crying. And I'm like, what happened? And then they share that a man was killed at 38th in Chicago. So then I said Hezekiah come in. Just come in. Because I knew Rachel and our neighbor had to go deal with that. The grief was so overwhelming.

And then as the day went on, people just started gathering at 38th in Chicago. And what was awesome, it was a hot day. So there were people showing up with bottles of water, coolers full of water, just handing out things, tissue. I mean, it was just the community came together to help serve the people who were just in the space holding space. It was awesome.

ANGELA DAVIS: Rachel, you were with your mother-in-law when you at the same time learned what had happened to George Floyd. What do you remember most about that day?

RACHEL AUSTIN: I remember where I was standing, what I was doing, when I first opened and saw that article, and I clicked the link. And I wasn't prepared for what I saw. I remember turning my phone off within 10 seconds and knew right away that this was going to change the world, this was going to change our lives.

Life flipped upside down almost immediately. My friend across the street had sent me a message and asked if I wanted to go with her and two other women down to what we now call the square, down to Cup Foods, and pray there.

And what I saw as we were walking up was, I saw-- on the ground, I saw three grown black men down on the ground crying. And then to the left, I saw a small group of women that were just gathering to pray on the side.

And then I saw two white men standing holding Black Lives Matter signs. And that picture is in my mind still to this day. I don't have a photograph of it. But I just remember starting to see the different role that each person played as this really organic traumatized group started to gather.

And I ended up-- my background is teaching, and I have four children myself. So naturally, I took the kids over to the side and played games with them as this group just grew, and grew, and grew into thousands.

ANGELA DAVIS: Dr. Mama, I want to ask you this. Your daughter, Janelle, was living out of state, was living in Texas. Tell me about your conversations with her.

JUDY AUSTIN: I don't know that I really talked a lot. I know your siblings called you and said, Janelle, you need to be home. We had just lost my husband the year before, so we were still kind of raw still.

But we are a close family, and we look out for one another. So I called and said, Janelle, you need to come home. And I don't think Janelle wanted to come home because she was still dealing with the grief of losing her dad. But this is the kind of work that you do.

ANGELA DAVIS: Janelle, how do you describe what you're doing and what has prepared you to do this work?

JANELLE AUSTIN: I attended to a memorial for a year when I was in California, and I knew the power of keeping a memorial up. And I decided that that's how I would spend my mornings. I would wake up at 6:00 AM and then just start picking up garbage, straightening up flowers, straightening up signs.

My entire life has prepared me to do this work. Literally when I look back and-- when I was in Austin for a side hustle, I was selling insurance. I hated every single step of it. But it taught me how to make cold calls.

And I found myself in positions here where I had to make cold calls. But then there's the bigger elements of earning a master's of divinity in ethics and learning pastoral care and how to walk with people in grief.

I met one of fellow protesters because she took a lawn chair, posted it up right next to me where I was pruning flowers and decided that while-- as long as I was cutting flowers, she was going to have my ear. And she was processing her grief. And I could do that because I had a year jump on some folks for navigating grief because of the death of my dad in 2019.

ANGELA DAVIS: How has George Floyd changed you?

JANELLE AUSTIN: I can honestly say that this entire experience has brought me deeper into community in a way that I have never allowed myself to go. When I was a child, my mom used to say, Janelle, you cannot go outside and play with your friends until you clean your room.

And I was like, that is a win-win situation. I do not have to clean my room, and I do not have to go outside and play with other children. And I was such an introvert. The square has pushed me in a way that-- I've been doing the work of racial justice for now over 15 years.

I now am fully convinced that community is the antidote to racism. That was one element that I never allowed myself to engage. But I see it, I see when we lean into loving each other, it builds bonds that I think can destroy racism in a way that programs, and books, and trainings, and letters, or statements, or marches can't do.

ANGELA DAVIS: I'm just so proud of you. I'm so proud of all of you. And it's very clear, your family is very connected. And it's wonderful to see how you've been able to share your connection with the broader community.

JUDY AUSTIN: The encouragement for all the kids is, you all are all different, and you bring something different to the table. So figure out what it is that God's calling you to do in this movement, and then do that.

And so I know Bucci was like, well, Janelle is doing this and Janelle's doing that. And what am I going to do? And you ask God, he spoke to you. And he said take care of the women and the children or something to that effect.

THEODORA AUSTIN: Well, when we saw the uprising in Minneapolis take place where there were grocery stores being burned down, there were transit thruways blocked, there were just a lot of things that people depended on as far as getting the basic needs, food, clothing.

And so my wife and I were able to take supplies to our community, to communities nearby, communities impacted. From there, it evolved into opportunities to help those that are unsheltered to bring awareness to what's happening to those that have been impacted whether it's what's happened with George Floyd, or is it COVID, or other circumstances.

ANGELA DAVIS: Jeanette, I want to talk with you. May of 2020 we were living in the pandemic. You're a nurse-- an ICU nurse.

JEANETTE RUPERT: I was actually an orthopedic nurse at the time, that which was turned into a COVID unit. And then in the middle of the pandemic I said, you know what? It was made that I decided to go to the ICU and to be an ICU nurse. I felt called to be on the front lines.

But as I'm hearing and I'm looking around, I was so proud of the community because not only were we together as a community marching for justice, we took care of each other as a community. Everybody wore a mask. I looked around and I saw masks everywhere. And I was so proud that everyone was there just standing in solidarity, but also being conscious.

So someone looked at me and was like, so how can you be out here? How can you-- how can you do this and you're a nurse? I told him, I don't have to choose. I don't have to choose because before this pandemic there was another virus that ate at the core of black and brown individuals for over 400 years. I don't have to choose.

And so I marched, and I worked, and I volunteered, and I helped those that were oppressed. I volunteered in the med tent that we had in the-- tent in the middle of the street during the uprise. I have to be here. I have to be that example.

ANGELA DAVIS: A year later, how is this-- or is this community different than it was before George Floyd?

JEANETTE RUPERT: Absolutely, absolutely. We are closer than ever. This community has come together. If you remember back in the day, if you needed a cup of sugar, you used to knock on your neighbor's door for a cup of sugar. Then, we lost that.

We had lost that, and many communities have lost that. People have become more isolated. We forgot that. And especially the pandemic added that extra layer of isolation, that I'm too afraid to talk to my neighbors. But this community really started leaning and depending on one another and we started offering ourselves to one another, saying, how can I help you?

ANGELA DAVIS: And it goes beyond that. Listen to what her sister, Janelle, says.

JANELLE AUSTIN: So there is a neighbor who prophetically called this intersection the eighth wonder of the world last summer. And he even painted a whole thing and put it on his like fence.

And I have been getting emails from people across the country saying, can you add the name of my loved one to the streets? Can you add the name of this person who I have been saying their name for 20 years to the streets of Minneapolis?

Now, part of me is like, wait. Don't y'all got streets down there too? But then I realized, no, special happened here, though. Everything that we have gone through as a community, everything that we have suffered through, all the trauma, it only made us stronger.

And being able to create a space where people across the country come and pilgrim to practice racial justice or pilgrim to say, can I grieve here too? There's something special about George Floyd Square that makes it an eighth wonder of the world.


ANGELA DAVIS: How George Floyd Changed Us was produced by Megan Burks with editing and technical help from Elizabeth Dunbar, Veronica Rodriguez, and Britta Green. I'm Angela Davis. Thanks for listening.


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