Thousands sit-in at Capitol to protest police brutality, push for systemic change

The student-led protest maintained a quiet and positive atmosphere.
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Thousands gathered for a student-organized sit-in against police brutality at the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday afternoon. 

Throughout the three-hour protest, volunteers supplied water and snacks to attendees sitting on the mall. Some chose to stay socially distanced in the lower mall, further in the back. 

The massive crowd maintained a quiet atmosphere as several speakers expressed their frustration and grief over the long history of police brutality towards black people. They called for systemic change, starting with the arrest of the three other officers on the scene when officer Derek Chauvin - who has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter - knelt on his neck amid pleas from Floyd and bystanders to stop. 

"It just has to start with the smaller steps," said attendee Dima Iresso, 23. "It doesn't have to be, change all the systems right now. That has to be done. But what we’re looking for ... when it’s clearly a murder, hold them accountable." 

He said the protests this week are directed towards justice for Floyd, as well as changing systems that have historically oppressed black, Indigenous and people of color. 

"It’s about generation after generation, being oppressed by systems: education, housing, anything that comes to it," he said. 

Minnesota has some of the widest racial disparities in the country. For instance, racially restrictive deeds in Minneapolis has led to one of the country's highest gaps — at 51 percent — between black and white homeownership. One quarter Minneapolis black families own their home, while 76 percent of white families are homeowners, according to the Washington Post.  

In Minneapolis and St. Paul combined, the incarceration of black people was at a rate 11 times higher than white people in 2019, a report from the NAACP found. The 2019 report outlines further disparities in housing, employment, business ownership, criminal justice system, poverty and income. 

"This is a time that, together, we can make a difference," Iresso said. "Even if you don't feel like you’re making a difference being here, you are making a difference."

Longtime Twin Cities resident Elette Taylor, 60, came to the 1 p.m. sit-in after working an early morning eight-hour security shift. 

"I wasn't going to come, and then I thought, no. I would want someone to support me. I just want to show support and solidarity," she said. 

Taylor, who is black, said the strong turnout for protests in the last week have made her think this could be a real turning point for change. 

"I think we're gonna change this now," she said. "I really believe in my heart something's good is gonna happen."

"Minnesota is under a microscope, not just in the United States, but the whole world. And it's going to be us. We're going to start the ball rolling," she added. 

She said it was "heartwarming" to see the wide turnout was racially diverse. 

Nebiy Tesfaldet, 24, said he wanted to protest in part because of his own experiences with the police, such as being pulled over because, police said, he "matched a description."

"They need to change the whole system altogether," he said. "It just seems like this is an old system of where people are constantly getting hurt and nobody's getting blamed for any of it. And it's like, when does it stop?" 

In November 2015, Minneapolis police fatally 24-year-old Jamar Clark. Weeks of protests, including an encampment at MPD's 4th Precinct in freezing temperatures, followed.

Five months later, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that the officers would not be charged. That July, Falcon Heights police officer Jeronimo Yanez repeatedly and fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop. 

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Yanez was charged in November 2016, and then acquitted by a jury in June 2017, which drew more protests. One month later, Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault outside her house. Noor, who is Somali-American, was ultimately convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter and was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison in June 2019.

The dynamic of how a black officer was charged after shooting and killing a white woman following two incidents where white officers were not charged after killing two black men drew increased scrutiny of disparities in the criminal justice system. 

"It's kind of horrifying to hear your immigrant parents tell their oldest kid that we ran away from violence to come here for safety, and the fact that (their) kids have to deal with this kind of harm is scary for them," Tesfaldet said, whose parents emigrated from Eritrea. "I don't want to deal with that for my siblings or anyone I love." 

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