A crowd gathered peacefully on Main Street in downtown Anoka Monday, June 1, to protest the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Assembling next to City Hall near the Rum River bridge, protesters held signs and chanted phrases such as “No justice, no peace,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Prosecute the police.” There were also call-and-response chants with George Floyd’s name.
“Anoka doesn’t want to hear none of this, so I really think we should make them hear it,” Jalyiah Taylor, one of the leaders of the protest, shouted to the crowd. Taylor grew up in Anoka and now lives in Coon Rapids. “I’m so tired of feeling (expletive) unsafe in Anoka. Anoka High School tormented me.”
Many motorists honked in support as they drove by the group, which swelled to more than 100 people, but a few shouted angrily at protesters.
Organizers called for a peaceful protest and asked those in attendance to wear masks, which some did, to minimize the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.
The protest took place despite a last-minute cancellation notice online by Hannah Helmer, one of the original organizers, citing a desire for more time to plan in order to keep people safe.
But people showed up, and Helmer’s friend Libby Florman stepped into a lead role. She told ABC Newspapers that people often complain about protests, whatever form they take, but she said police violence against black people isn’t going to simply go away.
“We need to stop the sheer horror of it,” she said.
Florman addressed the crowd at the start of the rally, along with Anoka Police Chief Eric Peterson and Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.
“We’re here to celebrate someone’s life and to talk about some of the injustice that’s happening in the world right now,” Florman said.
Peterson and Stuart said they stand with the protesters in calling for justice.
“We are here today to make sure that your message does get out, that we keep you as safe as possible,” Stuart said, adding that the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t had an excessive force complaint in “many years” and wants to partner with the community.
Peterson encouraged protesters to approach him or the other officers present with any concerns, no matter how difficult the subject.
“We want to hear it, because the sheriff and I are very committed to making sure our organizations are professional and that they respect all people and life and rights,” Peterson said. “And so, going forward we understand there is a need for reform, and we’re committed to that. What happened to George Floyd sickens us. ... And we understand that your trust in us is very fragile, and we want to build that.”
Many of those at the protest were white, and Taylor, who is a person of color, thanked them for showing up.
“I’m so happy to see all my white allies out here with me,” she said. Then she called on them to join in demonstrations in Minneapolis.
“We really need a lot of suburban support downtown,” she said. “If anybody has any medical people, we need people with supplies. We need people who are ready to go down on the front lines. We need white faces in front of black bodies on the front lines.”
“We don’t need you guys going downtown and leaving when it gets scary,” she added. “We need you guys to be barriers.”
She also said destruction is not the protesters’ goal and claimed that suburban residents are largely to blame for coming in and destroying South Minneapolis communities.
“It’s not fair,” she said.
Anoka resident Lucina Chol, who is black, said she came out to the protest in her city because she fears for her children.
“I’m a mother,” she said. “We live in fear. Who’s going to be the next?”
A few local elected official also attended the rally, including Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.
“I admire the people for ... coming out and peacefully demonstrating,” he said. “Thoughtfulness goes a long way as we try to make sure this never happens again.”
Down the street from the protest, the Anoka County Government Center closed for the day “out of an abundance of caution” in the wake of some protests in the Twin Cities becoming destructive during the previous week, including one at Northtown Mall Thursday, May 28.
Protests, riots and looting have taken place in the Twin Cities after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in police custody May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, restrained Floyd with a knee on his neck.
Chauvin and three other officers were fired May 26, and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrested Chauvin Friday, May 29. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Friday that Chauvin faces third-degree murder charges and manslaughter charges and said the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office was reviewing further charges in the case. Gov. Tim Walz announced Sunday, May 31, that Attorney General Keith Ellison will take the lead in any prosecutions related to Floyd’s death.
This story has been updated.