Duluth Protesters March from the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial to City Hall

“Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying.” — Marvin Gaye

Will it be different this time? I think this is the question many people have been asking this past week in response to the death of George Floyd who had been in the custody of the police at the time, in broad daylight and on social media. The Memorial Day incident ignited a firestorm that went internationally viral.

The unspoken question many have is this: when all the clamor subsides, will everything go back to normal, as if it were just another news story? I’d like to believe it will be different this time, and there seems to be evidence this is so.

Scott Shackford’s article Even Police Unions Trash the Actions of the Cop Who Killed George Floyd begins by asking “Are we seeing a tipping point where police begin to grasp why the public is so outraged?” Police departments rallying around the misconduct of their own is so commonplace that it had become cliche to read it in novels and see it in Hollywood movies. The article in Reason begins with an example of the NYPD defending its own in a similar incident 6 years ago.

This time it really is different. Instead of rallying around their own, police departments from across the country have been criticizing and condemning what happened in the George Floyd case.

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The start point, which seemed relevant, for Saturday afternoon’s killing of George Floyd protest was the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial at the corner of 2nd Avenue East and First Street.

For those unfamiliar, this is the location where three black circus workers were lynched 100 years ago this summer.

An elderly woman working her way past me with her walker asked m how many people were there. “100?” she asked. I replied, “Between 500 and a thousand. Probably closer to a thousand.” Sunday’s Duluth News Tribune estimated the same… about a thousand, a strong show of support for the injustice that occurred on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.

Ojibwe drummers and singers near the memorial set the tone as people began arriving to assemble for the march. The crowd continued to fill the intersection, and though not exactly social distancing, they were all masked and conscientious. (There were a couple people handing out face masks for the very few who arrived not wearing one. Stacks of pizzas from Pizza Luce were piled on the sidewalk nearby.

Eventually a woman with a bullhorn drew attention to a pickup truck parked on the avenue just above First Street where Brayleigh Keliin and Joe Carter were standing, accompanied by a large quantity of bottled water for those who might be thirsty on the warm afternoon. A mixed crowd of black, white and Native peoples filled the intersection, in solidarity with the aims of the organizers, to essentially change the systems of injustice that have condoned racism.

Joe Carter, a young black man, welcomed the crowd and introduced Brayleigh. “Duluth, you have come together”” After a round of cheers she said, “I’m scared for my son and all blacks,” citing “what living in America is like as a minority.” This is why we must demand justice for George Floyd, she said.

Two key words: Justice and Change. “We will have a new tomorrow. We are tired, angry and united,” he said. “Racism is a war on the people.”

Joe Carter and Brayleigh Keliin were both articulate and passionate, and seemed to project a good-heartedness of spirit.

The bullhorn was passed to Kym Young from Superior, who identified herself as an elder. She spoke about the history of racism in America going back to the founding, and made her appeal to “tear down injustice” and systems of oppression. “We are traumatized and not OK.”

A Native woman then spoke briefly about the Ojibwe concept of “Megwiich” which then yielded to the beginning of the march to the St. Louis County Courthouse and City Hall eight blocks away.

What’s interesting about this for me personally is that when we moved to Duluth in 1986 and I learned about the lynchings here in 1920, I never understood why the actual event took place here, eight blocks away from the jain? The answer came years later when I learned that City Hall used to be one block below this corner as was the city jail. At that time a mob formed also, perhaps the biggest in our city’s history, to carry out a terrible crime… taking the law in their own hands.

It was fitting to see a peaceful march yesterday, to the Courthouse and City Hall where an appeal for justice was made. As part of the gathering there the crowd was asked to kneel for nine minutes, the length of time the officer in Minneapolis knelt on the neck of George Floyd. Try kneeling for nine minutes like that and think about what goes through your head while a voice chokes out “I can’t breathe.”

IN ANOTHER PART OF THE CITY there was evidently another gathering of protesters. I only heard about it later on social media and was concerned when still later there were people marching up to Central Entrance and heading toward the Mall. It would not have been a good action, as the point has been made, and I believe Chief Tusken has been remarkably responsive to the minority factions in our community. Things really are different in Duluth.

Rumors were circulating that cars and/or buses were coming from the Twin Cities with more protesters, outsiders that were a concern to city officials. For this reason a curfew was announced for 10:00 p.m. and earlier for the next night.

The continued looting and burning across the country is heartbreaking. Many here were grateful for the more respectful demonstration here in Duluth. As for the turmoil elsewhere, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?” comes to mind.

Related Links

Carla Hamilton’s Gezielt (Targeted) Creatively Makes Us Think and Gives Us Something To Talk About
A Few Thoughts on the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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