Protests at the state Capitol would be mundane by now if the news events that spark them didn’t continue to be so painful for people in this city. It’s been almost a year since George Floyd died beneath former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee. In that time, activists have added numerous entries to their tragic rosters of names to be read aloud through bullhorns.
Last week, 17-year-old Ashira Campbell put out a call for people to gather on Capitol Hill in the name of Daunte Wright, who was shot by a police officer April 11 in a Minneapolis suburb. Meanwhile, Chauvin is being tried for his role in Floyd’s death. Final arguments in his case began on Monday.
“I decided that the community needs to come together, because this is ridiculous,” Campbell told us as she led hundreds in a march east on Colfax Avenue on Saturday. “We’re fed up. We’re tired of it. It’s a name after a name. Adam. Daunte. Over and over.”
The “Adam” she referred to is Adam Toledo, a 13-year old shot by Chicago Police in March. On Thursday, officials released footage from a body camera that showed an officer shooting Toledo in the chest after a chase. Both of his hands appear to be in the air. The Party for Socialism and Liberation, which organized a number of high-profile protests against police brutality in Denver last summer, organized a rally for Toledo on Saturday after Campbell’s action concluded. The PSL marched their group west on Colfax, eventually stopping by the downtown jail, courthouse and police headquarters to make their chants heard.
Both daytime protests were peaceful. After dark, more protesters marched from Cheesman Park into Capitol Hill.
Protesters were hopeful that the jury in Chauvin’s case will convict him, but they made clear it would be a one-time victory in a sea of injustice.
The last year has been especially hard for Otavaiah Davis. When she was 18 months old, she told us, her father was gunned down by a police officer in Jacksonville, Fla. As a student of psychology, and as someone who regularly sees a therapist, she now knows that her sudden loss of focus in school last summer was due to trauma reinvigorated by so much talk of police brutality. She tries to avoid watching the news, especially now that she’s been diagnosed with PTSD, but she couldn’t ignore the urge to join the weekend protest.
“I’m getting tired of seeing my people getting killed on TV. I’m re-traumatized by it, so I had to come out here, use my voice,” she said.
Daunte Wright’s death especially weighed on her. Wright is survived by a baby son who is as old as Davis was when she lost her father.
She said she’d take a guilty verdict in Chauvin’s trial as a sign that protests sparked by Floyd’s death were successful, but she still sees a lot of problems in the criminal justice system.
“If he gets convicted, that seems like the judicial system is doing something slightly right,” she said. Still: “There’s still a lot of work to do.”
Johnny Redd, a street medic with the protest group We The People 303, put it this way:
“This is not going to stop just because of this verdict. There’s still lives being taken,” he said. “There’s so many other deaths that people aren’t nationalizing, that they’re not putting on TV. So what about justice for those families?”
There have been at least 17 shootings by police officers in Colorado so far in 2021, and almost 1,000 people shot by police in the United States in the last 12 months. Nationwide, people killed by police are disproportionately Black and Hispanic.
Yes, Redd said, few of these cases broached national attention. Those that have, like Chauvin’s trial, will continue to have huge repercussions.
“Honestly, if they let him free, all hell’s going to break loose,” he said, adding he feels confident that Chauvin will be convicted.
PSL member Lillian House, who was arrested last year after organizing a protest for Elijah McClain, said the nature of Chauvin’s trial has already validated protesters’ efforts over the last year.
“The fact that Chauvin is on trial is due to the mass uprisings all over the country,” she said. “And we’re seeing something that we so rarely see, which is other cops coming and testifying and testifying against Chauvin.”
She also said she expects a not guilty verdict would result in chaos, while a conviction would still just scratch the surface of her movement.
“If Chauvin is convicted, that will be a victory for the people who have been demanding that. It won’t be symbolic of any change of heart in the system,” she said. If he’s set free: “It will be LA ’92 all over again, except all over the country.” House was referring to the riots that erupted in Los Angeles after four police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.
But Alice Hayes, who held a fist above her head during much of Ashira Campbell’s rally, said she wasn’t so sure the court would deliver “justice” the way she sees it.
“He probably will get away with it,” she said. “I hope to God not, but it’s a white system. It’s built off of inferiority.”
She and her husband are planning to travel to Minneapolis so they can show their support, she said, “Not to burn buildings down but just be in the moment.”
Even though Hayes is also tired of so much tragic news and so many calls to show up and protest, she said America hasn’t given her any reprieve.
“We don’t have a choice,” she said. “I hope before I’m put six feet under that I can see a change.”