The FBI is investigating the death of George Floyd after he was restrained by police in Minneapolis.
MINNEAPOLIS – Bernard Miles has lived in the Powderhorn neighborhood for 30 years and at age 50 said he still fears harassment and aggression from the Police Department.
“If I had my knee on somebody’s neck, I’d already be in prison,” he said.
He was referring to the incident Monday, when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck as the 46-year-old black man gasped for air and said he couldn’t breathe. Video of the encounter showed some of Floyd’s last moments and prompted the firing of Chauvin, who is white, and three other officers amid a national outcry.
In the neighborhood where Floyd was killed and in Minneapolis at large, residents and community leaders say a mistrust between police and the black community persists.
“You cannot talk to any African American young person, especially male, who will not have a story about their interactions with police,” said Pastor Hans Lee of Calvary Lutheran Church, a block south of the intersection where Floyd died.
Clifford Tyson, 43, grew up in Powderhorn but moved because of violence in the streets and from officers. He recalls a time a time as a teenager when he was hanging out near the Cup Foods with a group of friends with officers approached them saying they were loitering.
“I wasn’t selling drugs. I had my letterman jacket on. It was just too many black people on the corner I guess,” he said.
History of police killings
In nearby Falcon Heights, Minnesota, Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer while being pulled over during a traffic stop in 2016. A jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez in Castile’s killing.
The year before, the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark, 24, by Minneapolis officers responding to a paramedic call led to a protest occupying the area around the department’s 4th Precinct. After the officers were cleared of wrongdoing, Bob Kroll, head of the city’s police union, called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization,” according to theMinneapolis Star Tribune.
Kroll was also at the center of controversy in 2019 when a department policy banned off-duty officers from wearing their uniforms to political events. The change was made before a rally for President Donald Trump, and Kroll responded by selling red “Cops for Trump” shirts before appearing at the event.
In 2010, David Smith, who had bipolar disorder, was held down and restrained by Minneapolis police officers before he died of asphyxiation. Smith was face-down, groaning on the floor of a YMCA as an officer drove his knee into his back and another was on his legs, the Star Tribune reported. The officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing, but the city paid a $3 million settlement to Smith’s family.
In 2002, Christopher Burns was killed when two officers used an authorized chokehold on the 44-year-old, the Star Tribunereported.
“I’ve never known the city of Minneapolis not to have issue with police brutality or overaggressive policing,” said John Thompson, who was friends with Castile and became a prominent activist in the area after his death. “Why do I have to feel this way? Why can’t I just be black in the state of Minnesota?”
Though Thompson said he felt that steps were being taken toward meaningful reform in the department under the leadership of Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Floyd’s killing could be a setback.
A ‘vibrant’ black community
Wednesday, more than 50 people milled outside Cup Foods at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the site of Floyd’s arrest. Some solemnly held signs, others made speeches. The police responded Monday to an employee at Cup Foods allegedly receiving a counterfeit $20 bill.
Carmen Means, executive director of the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization, said the intersection is not “foreign to tragedy.” A young woman was shot there in April, now this.
“Minneapolis historically has been home to a small but vibrant African American population. From the 1930s to the 1970s, an African American neighborhood flourished” in the area surrounding the intersection, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.
Means said a highway built west of where Floyd was killed divided the neighborhood, and many faced the issue of redlining, the discriminatory denial of services, especially bank loans, to communities of color.
The historical society said the neighborhood changed from the 1980s to 2000s, facing higher crime and the crack epidemic. In 1982, Central High School, Prince‘s alma mater, closed.
“We don’t have a trust for the police in this neighborhood. Period,” Means said, adding that her community is not an isolated one but part of a larger mistrust many in the black community feel toward police throughout the city and the entire USA.
Tyler Davis reports for The Des Moines Register.
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