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Rallies, moments of silence honor George Floyd a year later

Speakers at a Thompson Center rally, organized by the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, discussed the nationwide fight against police brutality and other oppression of people of color.

Around a dozen people rally outside the Thompson Center on Tuesday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

MINNEAPOLIS — A family-friendly street festival, musical performances and moments of silence were held Tuesday to honor George Floyd and mark the year since he died at the hands of Minneapolis police, a death captured on wrenching bystander video that galvanized the racial justice movement and continues to bring calls for change.

Floyd’s sister Bridgett and other family members held a moment of silence at a “Celebration of Life” event at a downtown Minneapolis park that included music, food trucks, an inflatable bouncy house and a vaccination stand. A few miles away, at the site of the intersection where Floyd died, dozens of people kneeled around a steel fist sculpture for several minutes — symbolizing the 9 minutes, 29 seconds during which Floyd was pinned down.

“It’s been a troubling year, a long year,” Bridgett Floyd told the crowd downtown. “But we made it. … The love is here. George is here.”

Other members of Floyd’s family met in Washington with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who urged Congress to quickly pass a law in Floyd’s name that would bring changes to policing. A moment of silence to honor Floyd was also held in New York and a rally was held in Los Angeles. Globally, a rally took place in Germany and Floyd’s death was marked by U.S. embassies in Greece and Spain.

In Chicago, just over a dozen people gathered outside the Thompson Center on Tuesday afternoon to commemorate the anniversary and call for police reform and other change in the city.

Speakers at the rally, organized by the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, discussed the nationwide fight against police brutality and other oppression of people of color.

They also questioned Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s priorities on police funding.

“The people in this country, by the millions, are sick and tired of racism and want some change, so we came out here today to talk about what those changes need to be,” Frank Chapman, executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, said.

The group was in broad support of community control of the police, including Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who spoke at the rally.

“I’ve been proud to stand with the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression to fight for community control of the police, to say no more police misconduct, no more police crimes, no more public lynchings and executions of Black and brown Chicagoans by the police,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

People pay their respects to George Floyd in the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on May 25, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
People pay their respects to George Floyd in the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on May 25, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Getty Images

Hours before the Minneapolis festivities, the intersection where Floyd died was disrupted by gunfire.

Associated Press video from 38th Street and Chicago Avenue — informally known as George Floyd Square — showed people running for cover as shots rang out. Police said a man, who they believe was injured in the shooting, went to a nearby hospital with a gunshot wound. Police said he was in critical condition but was expected to survive. There were no immediate arrests.

Philip Crowther, a reporter working for AP Global Media Services, which provides live video coverage, reported hearing as many as 30 gunshots about a block from the intersection. Crowther said a storefront window appeared to have been broken by gunshots.

“Very quickly things got back to normal,” Crowther said. “People here who spend a significant amount of time, the organizers, were running around asking, ‘Does anyone need a medic?’”

Like other major cities, Minneapolis has been struggling with rising gun violence, a problem made worse, in part, by many officers leaving the embattled force since Floyd’s death. A 6-year-old girl was fatally shot and two other children wounded in recent weeks. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey last week unveiled sweeping public safety proposals aimed at fixing the problem. Other groups are pursuing a more radical remaking of the police department.

The intersection of 38th and Chicago has been barricaded since soon after Floyd’s death. It quickly turned into a memorial — and also a challenging spot for the city, with police officers not always welcome.

The square was transformed Tuesday into an outdoor festival, with food, children’s activities and music. At times, people danced in the street. Artwork and signs from protests after Floyd’s death also were on display. One group hosted an open mic next to a greenhouse that community members constructed earlier this year to house flowers left by mourners. Nearby, a brass band played for passersby.

The celebration also includes a candlelight vigil and caps several days of marches, rallies and panel discussions about his death and confronting racial discrimination.

Xavier Simmons, 24, from Racine, Wisconsin, chanted “Say his name!” as people kneeled. Simmons said he hopes people taking part in the festivities will both honor Floyd’s life and legacy and continue to “uplift and empower this movement.”

“We got the verdict that we needed, but it’s never going to change until we make a change,” he said.

Nicolette Peñaranda with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, speaks during a rally outside the Thompson Center on Tuesday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Floyd, 46, who was Black, died May 25, 2020, after then-Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, pinning him to the ground for about 9 1/2 minutes. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted last month of murder and faces sentencing June 25. Three other fired officers still face trial.

Earl Vaughn, 20, of Minneapolis, attended the downtown event and said despite its celebratory atmosphere: “For all this a Black man had to die, so that’s really unfortunate.”

In New York City, elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, joined the Rev. Al Sharpton in kneeling for 9 minutes, 29 seconds. “As we took a knee, imagine how long that was on a human being’s neck,” Sharpton said. “Never switched knees, just dug in. It’s time we correct policing in this country.”

On Tuesday evening, activists and demonstrators gathered with some families of people who had died in interactions with the New York Police Department at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. They called for defunding the police, holding officers accountable and removing police officers from schools. Following the rally, they set off on a march through Brooklyn streets.

Several Floyd family members, including his young daughter Gianna, met with Biden and Harris earlier Tuesday. Biden, who previously pledged to continue fighting for racial justice, said he hopes the Senate can quickly pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and get it to his desk.

“We have to act,” he said of the legislation that would ban chokeholds and no-knock police raids and create a national registry for officers disciplined for serious misconduct.

Floyd’s brother Philonise told CNN he thinks about George “all the time.”

“My sister called me at 12 o’clock last night and said ’This is the day our brother left us,’” he said, adding: “I think things have changed. I think it is moving slowly but we are making progress.”

Also Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Kristen Clarke as assistant attorney general for civil rights, the first Black woman to hold the position. In the last few weeks, the Justice Department under Biden has announced sweeping investigations into the police in Minneapolis and Louisville and brought federal civil rights charges against the officers involved in Floyd’s death.

Separately, the Floyd family announced the launch of a fund that will make grants to businesses and community organizations in the neighborhood, as well as broader grants “encouraging the success and growth of Black citizens and community harmony.” The money comes from $500,000 earmarked as part of the city’s $27 million civil settlement for the Floyd family.

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Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mary Chappell along with Associated Press writers Amy Forliti and Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.