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Remembrances Of George Floyd's Life Held In Minneapolis On Anniversary Of His Death

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today marks one year since George Perry Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Across the country, people are marking this day and remembering the man whose murder kicked off a national reckoning on racial inequality and police violence. In Minneapolis, celebrations of Floyd's life are being held at the intersection where he died. Jon Collins is a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio News. He has been covering Floyd's killing and its aftermath, and he joins us now from George Floyd Square.

Welcome.

JON COLLINS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So tell us what's been going on in Minneapolis today.

COLLINS: Well, there's a gathering that happened downtown. It was music. It was food, bouncing houses for kids. And it was focused on supporting Black-owned businesses. And we talked to Warren Perry (ph), an organizer of that event. He's a college student. He came all the way up from Dallas. And Perry told us he couldn't be more excited to be in Minneapolis to celebrate George Floyd's life.

WARREN PERRY: Typically, when we deal with Black Lives Matter and things that affect African Americans related to police brutality, it's always a tragedy. It's always demonization. It's always tearing down the image or the reputation of them. But we wanted to turn what was a tragedy into a triumphant moment. Although George Floyd's life was ended, there's so much more to celebrate because of the work that's been done afterwards.

COLLINS: Yeah. And then at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, there's another gathering. And that's where I am now. It's family friendly. There's art, barbecue, a kids area. And it's a really, really nice day here. So organizers urge people to walk or bike over to the square, and lots of them did. And there's going to be music later. And then, when it gets dark enough, there's going to be a candlelight vigil.

CHANG: So even though a lot of today sounded festive, I understand that there were gunshots near that intersection this morning where Floyd was killed. What happened exactly?

COLLINS: It happened this morning as people were still setting up their tents. And journalists who were at the square reported hearing several rounds of gunfire. It happened over a span of a couple of seconds and sent people running for cover and shelter. And police say that witnesses saw a suspect speeding off in a vehicle. One person later showed up at the hospital with a gunshot wound, and that person is expected to survive. But to be clear, George Floyd Square, as it's called, has been closed to traffic and occupied by activists since last May. And there's a big memorial to Floyd in the center of the street, so it is a pretty important place, at least symbolically. And there are currently lots of contentious discussions in the city of Minneapolis about opening it up again.

CHANG: Can you talk more about what the mood's been like all through today? Like, how are people feeling as they're remembering what happened a year ago?

COLLINS: Sure. Down here, the memorial started with people kneeling and counting down. But almost immediately, organizers says - said that we're here to celebrate and also remember what happened to George Floyd. But the atmosphere out here is the closest thing that I personally have seen, due to COVID, of a block - like a block party almost. You know, there's a palpable sense of relief and joy at Derek Chauvin's conviction and the fact that he's sitting in prison waiting to be sentenced, which people see as a victory in holding police officers accountable. And I spoke to Faith Allen, who was out here. She's 18. She lives just across the river in St. Paul. And this is what she said about the hundreds who gathered today at George Floyd Square.

FAITH ALLEN: That we actually have people that care. I'm not sure I should say it like this, but we have to have good white people that care and that want to help us change, and they want to see the change in us and supporting us.

COLLINS: That said, Allen said there's a lot more work to do. She said she doesn't feel like enough has changed with policing in the city.

CHANG: And real quick, in the 30 seconds we have left, there's been a lot of discussion about policing reforms across the country. What kind of changes have you seen in Minnesota?

COLLINS: So in Minneapolis, the mayor's in charge of the police. He announced some policy changes. But the bigger battle going on is an effort by activists and some city council members to change the city charter to create a new Department of Public Safety that, advocates say, would use social workers and mental health workers more often than licensed police officers. So that's the big thing happening.

CHANG: OK, that is Jon Collins of Minnesota Public Radio News.

Thank you.

COLLINS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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