The killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, along with other recent police killings of Black men and women, has sparked protests across the country.
Floyd died on May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him down with a knee-on-neck hold, an incident that was caught on video. Chauvin, who is white, has been fired and is now charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Locally, the initial reaction played out in the form of a demonstration Friday evening, when a group of around 150 protesters gathered at the southeast corner of the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington. The gathering looks like it was spurred by a more-or-less impromptu call to action on local social media websites.
Protesters eventually moved one block
east from the intersection near the Alexander Memorial, to the corner anchored by The Tap. They later walked two blocks north. They wrapped up the roughly 90 minutes of protest in the middle of College Avenue, across from the Monroe County jail.
An event scheduled for next Friday, June 5, led by Indiana University Black student leaders Selena Drake and Salina Tesfagiorgis, is planned to start at Dunn Meadow, and make its way to the courthouse. Drake is studying law and public policy. Tesfagiorgis is a masters student at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.
The kickoff at Dunn Meadow is set for 3 p.m. It’s described as a “peaceful march/protest” that will give people concrete actions they can take. Drake’s Facebook post about the event describes how participants will hear about ways they can join the “long-haul work to bring more white folks into multi-racial movements for justice.”
People who don’t want to join the march due to concerns about COVID-19 infection can decorate their cars and drive behind the march in solidarity, according to Drake’s Facebook post.
On Friday, a highlight of College Avenue protest activity, across from the Monroe County jail, came when protesters took a knee to observe “seven minutes of silence.” The taking of a knee was symbolic of the knee-on-neck hold that killed Floyd, and paralleled the take-a-knee protests against police brutality started by National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick four years ago.
The seven-minute period was chosen to match early media reports of the timespan during which the Minneapolis police officer had pinned his knee on Floyd’s neck. Subsequent reports, based on the formal charges, put the amount of time closer to nine minutes.
Prisoners inside the Monroe County jail, three stories above street level, could be heard hammering out their solidarity with the protesters on their cell windows.
Earlier in the evening, activists tied their protest in other ways to specific recent injustices. The knee-on-neck hold that caused Floyd to gasp, “I can’t breathe!” was ignored by officers and taken up by protesters as a call-and-response chant: “I. can’t. breathe!” — “I. can’t. breathe!”
Other impromptu call-and-responses also tied the protest to an injustice: “Say his name!” — “George. Floyd.” “Say her name! — “Breonna. Taylor.”
Breonna Taylor was killed in mid-March by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, who raided her home in the middle of the night.
On Friday, some of the chants centered on the protest itself. “This is what democracy looks like!” “Whose streets?” – “Our Streets!”
The claim to the roadway was tied to the traffic-blocking tactic that protesters used to make their point to passing motorists. Drivers arriving at an intersection had a choice: turn left, right, or confront the protesters. Chants of “Go a-round! Go a-round!” were enough to convince all but a couple of drivers to chart a course that did not take them straight through the group.
Some turning drivers gave the protesters a thumbs-up of approval, or honked in solidarity. Other honks weren’t supportive.
southeast corner of the courthouse square, a pickup truck driver pushed southward across the intersection of Kirkwood and College and parked his grill just short of the protesters. He responded to protestor chants of “Go a-round!” by telling them, “I’m trying to go home!”
The stalemate escalated with the exchange of twin one-finger-salutes between the driver and a protestor. When a man began trying to shove people out of the way so the truck driver could make his way through, the truck rolled over the leg or foot of a Black woman activist, according to another protestor who had a better view than The Square Beacon did. The extent of her injuries was not clear at the scene.
In reverse gear, the truck driver got clear of the protesters who were now banging on his hood, and sped east down Kirkwood with a couple of squad cars in pursuit. A few seconds after the first indication of a physical clash, Bloomington police officers and Monroe County sheriff’s deputies, who had up to that point kept their distance, swooped in on the intersection with maybe a half dozen squad cars to take control of the situation.
At least one arrest was made—the man who had tried to shove people out of the way to make way for the pickup truck.
After the arrest, law enforcement yielded the intersection back to the protest and again took up positions farther away.
North of the spot in the middle of College Avenue, where protesters were wrapping up their evening, Monroe County sheriffs deputies diverted traffic east or west, so that protesters had the road to themselves.