Minneapolis residents want the reforms that were promised after George Floyd's death
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
It was two years ago today that a police officer killed George Floyd on a Minneapolis street corner, setting off global, racial justice protests. Derek Chauvin is in prison for murder. And even though the three other former officers who were on duty with him are likely to face prison time as well, many Minneapolis residents say the systemic changes needed to prevent such tragedies are still far from reality. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports.
MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: At the intersection where George Floyd was killed, cars and trucks trickle through a makeshift roundabout that encircles a Black Power fist sculpted of steel. Soon after the murder, people from around the world began coming here to pay their respects to Floyd, and they're still coming. LaMyra Sanders (ph) of Columbia, S.C., says she's hopeful that the racial justice movement sparked here will bring a fundamental shift in American policing.
LAMYRA SANDERS: There is a place of sadness that still looms here, and it is our prayer that one day that justice will be served and that this will not be a problem, you know? There's plenty work to be done.
SEPIC: While countless numbers of people have visited George Floyd Square over the last two years, Marcia Howard (ph) has been a constant presence here, leading a protest occupation of about a dozen people who keep the area tidy and watch for trouble.
MARCIA HOWARD: Make sure if you are signed up...
SEPIC: At a meeting earlier this week, they discussed how to handle the crowds expected for the anniversary, starting with tonight's candlelight vigil.
HOWARD: You make sure that you don't overextend yourself. We said that a year ago. You know, there were people who were doing 14-hour days out here in the sun.
SEPIC: Minneapolis city leaders hope to build a permanent memorial here as part of a plan to rebuild the intersection. But Howard, a Black, 49-year-old high school English teacher and retired Marine, vows not to let that happen until there are substantive improvements in the way police treat people of color.
HOWARD: The only thing that seems to change anything in the city of Minneapolis is collective action. We're standing in place, in situ, where a Black man was lynched in public, and we're saying, we're not moving.
SEPIC: But Howard says little has fundamentally changed. She points to February's police killing of 22-year-old Amir Locke during a no-knock raid at the Minneapolis apartment where he was sleeping. Locke, who was Black, was holding a gun, but he was not suspected of a crime, nor was he named in the search warrant. But calls for police reform were loudest in the weeks just after Floyd's murder, when council member Jeremiah Ellison stood on a stage at a park with eight of his colleagues. At their feet in large, block letters were the words, defund police.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JEREMIAH ELLISON: They're telling me to say it again. This council is going to dismantle this police department.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)
SEPIC: That did not happen. The council has continued to fund new recruit classes to replace the 300 officers who've left the force, which is plagued by low morale. And despite a poll showing deep mistrust of the MPD, last November, 56% of voters rejected a proposal to replace it with a new safety agency that would have included law enforcement, quote, "if necessary." Kami Chavis, who leads the criminal justice program at Wake Forest University's law school, says the plan was bold, but its lack of details likely scared off voters.
KAMI CHAVIS: I think it was probably just a bridge too far for some people to say, well, wait a minute. We're going to do away with what we have, and we're not sure what this new thing is you're proposing.
SEPIC: Chavis says any transformational shift will come by court order. A U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department is expected to result in judicial oversight through a consent decree. Mayor Jacob Frey has made some tweaks to policing policy, including banning chokeholds, low-level traffic stops and no-knock raids. But critics point out that the latest police labor contract does not include tougher disciplinary procedures. While calls for significant, lasting change are widespread, momentum has been uneven. Meanwhile, Marcia Howard and her fellow activists say they'll continue to honor Floyd's memory, not only with rallies and vigils, but by being present here for as long as it takes to bring meaningful change to policing. For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.