Reflections
The Two-Year Anniversary of the Death of George Floyd

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Amy Seegmiller Renner

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?

Dumbstruck. I could not rationalize how a potential misdemeanor could result in the murder of an unarmed man.

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?

Yes, I did watch the video, as I felt I needed to see it with my own eyes and make my own conclusions versus what was being said on the news and in social media. I now can never unsee that footage and cannot fathom what it must have been like for Darnell Frazier and others as they firsthand witnessed the murder George Floyd from a police officer who had sworn to protect the people. My immediate emotions were one of feeling physically sick to my stomach and then crying as I attempted to understand what I was watching. Unfortunately, there is nothing to be able to understand from the murder of George Floyd.

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced?

For two minutes, elated and victorious. Then a heavy sigh as I realized this was one step for justice, however, there are so many more steps that need to be taken and so many others who are victims of racism and hatred.

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?

Personally, I have had several conversations with loved ones exploring what it means to live in a society that protects the majority culture and how this affords us benefits that are not equitably given to everyone. As a family, we also attended one of the rallies in Rochester, Minnesota.

Professionally, I have had the immense honor to work alongside other passionate colleagues to create, curate and disseminate I-DARE (inclusion, diversity, anti-racism and equity) curriculum to learners within the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. 

Amarachi Orakwue

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?              
I was hurt, disgusted and appalled, though not surprised to learn that another Black person had died at the hands of a police officer. 

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?

I felt deep anguish for George Floyd who had to endure such horrendous terrors from a fellow human being. I was moved to tears hearing Floyd beg for his life and call out to his mother. I also felt a mix of sorrow, anger and bewilderment at Chauvin’s complete disregard of Floyd’s life. 

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced?

I felt that justice was not swift enough. It was troubling to witness and read about some people debating and devaluing Floyd’s life due to their flawed concept of race. I was glad that Floyd’s family received the justice that they deserved.

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?

Floyd’s death brought about a national reckoning of systemic racism. Following his death, some of my friends (premedical students at that time, now medical students) and I created a social justice club with other professional students where we discussed addressing health care disparities and the current social climate. We also had conversations with our physician mentor on how we could mitigate such disparities as medical students and physicians. Through this club, we began mentoring underrepresented premedical students to support health care disparities mitigation efforts and diversifying the medical profession. 

Jackie Trotter

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25th, 2020?

I felt profoundly sad that this evil epidemic of killing African American people by the police was continuing to thrive. The evilness of it was gripping.

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?

Yes. I was struck with the casual attitude of the policeman. To have his knee on George Floyd’s neck with such an expressionless face and his hand in his pocket suggested such an indifference to the importance and consequence of having another person’s life subject to your will. And, he was doing it in the face of people imploring him to act differently. It reminded me of Revelation and evil roaming the Earth.

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced?

Certainly not elation. I felt that justice had won, but it was kind of an empty feeling. Because I knew this would not be the last killing, and of course, as we know, it wouldn’t be.

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?

I have tried to encourage young people in my family and in the community in their pursuits. I have written biographies of my parents and shared them with my children so that they will understand and appreciate what their grandparents endured to pave the way for them and so they understand more clearly their responsibilities to their community and family. Continued our support of HBCUs.

Verna Simon

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?

I was angry and disappointed that another killing happened and specifically, that another killing happened in my backyard.  

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?                 
I did view the video. I typically don’t look at those things (obviously, too depressing and upsetting). But this time I think I needed to really feel what had happened. I was shaken. I think all the other killings basically piled on my head, and I just broke down. I really couldn’t take the abuse (of others) anymore. As well, I was fearful because I realized that if someone could so easily and callously be killed over $20, it wasn’t about the “crime.” . . . It was about his being Black and not being seen as whole or human. That could have been my brother or one of my nephews. That was what really shook me. 

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced?

I felt a bit of relief, but I still didn’t think this was a bellwether of things to come. Starting from the immediate aftermath of the killing, I was so disappointed in the reactions of some of the white people around me (many of whom are no longer friends). I really felt that socially and politically, this verdict was just a drop in a very deep and empty bucket. 

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?

Immediately afterwards, I was not only shaken and upset but I joined in local protests and events to show my support. I worked through the organizations I belong to as a board member to guide discussion and action (example, discussions with the GM and the board of the People’s Food Co-op about hiring and retaining more employees of color, as well as purchasing from Black producers and vendors).  

And maybe most importantly (at least for my own well-being), I started to speak up and not just ignore bad behavior. I let a lot of folks know what we [Black people] go through, and I let a lot of folks know that I will no longer tolerate their casual (and sometimes obvious) racism. I stopped talking to colleagues at work. I stopped answering phone calls from so-called “friends.” They don’t deserve my attention if they can’t respect me and people like me. And I’m reaching out more to other people of color in allyship. I’m listening to their stories as well. Some of their histories are similar to ours, and I’m always learning. I read some good books (by Ibram X Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Resmaa Menakem) and began to challenge my own ideas about where this country is headed and where I fit in the grand scheme of things. I’m far from perfect, but I’m also far better informed and more resilient. I feel like a much different person than I was before his murder. I’m much lighter in spirit; much more open to speaking my mind; much more militant about setting the record straight; much more willing to stand-up for myself and others. 

Jessica Phillips

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?

I immediately resented the type of power that has been given to police officers who misuse the power that they have been given and the fact that there seems to be no system in place to keep unruly officers in check. Mind you, I have several family members and friends who put their lives in danger daily as police officers, so my initial aggravation was not toward all police officers—only those who misuse their power.   

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?

I did view the video. I consider myself to be a caring person, and as I mentioned before, I have family members that are officers, and I’ve had an opportunity to see them at work. And I’ve never seen anyone display such a lack of emotion. To kneel on another human being through the pleading—the begging of the victim, the cries of the crowd to stop—and show absolutely no emotion is a type of evil that I hope to never witness again. It would be one thing if the victim were being uncooperative, but for someone who is completely vulnerable and behaves that way is evil, and there is no other way I feel that could describe that. 

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced? 

After learning that Chauvin had a pretty lengthy history of this type of behavior, I felt that there were several other people to blame other than him. For all of the people who knew of his behavior and did nothing—they are responsible. I also felt ashamed of my own reaction. I realized that I’ve been conditioned to expect that an officer who could kill another human being—another Black body—would get away with it. I was surprised that there was any justice at all.    

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?  

I participated in many of the protests that were held in Minneapolis. Since that time, I’ve made sure to have the conversations with anyone who is willing to speak on what happened with Mr. Floyd and Chauvin. I’ve shared my reaction of expecting to see yet another cop get away with murder and then being shocked that something happened differently with my white colleagues. I’ve cried with other Black and white people and made myself open to continue those conversations. I’ve been interviewed in my restaurant with the local news stations to give my perspective on the tragedy. I let people know that I am willing to do my part to educate with love about the things that we should come together as a diverse community to resolve. I’ve talked with my children to make sure that they feel comfortable doing the same—with teachers, their friends and anyone that is also willing to listen.   

Lori J. Carrell

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?

I was overwhelmed with sadness, hoping that the first tragic report was somehow a mistake. Then, I saw the video.

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?

I was appalled and grieved, imagining the heartbreak and outrage that George Floyd’s family must be experiencing. I moved through many emotions and thoughts—one of my deepest concerns emerged from learning that 17-year-old Alyssa Funari had to witness this egregious violence firsthand—and thinking about the lasting impact and trauma for her and the millions of young people who would view the video of the killing, including students on our campus. 

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin Verdict was announced?

Justice can be of some consolation, and I felt hope that such was the case for the Floyd family though the conditions that allowed such an abuse of power need to be eradicated so these kinds of incidents—whether videotaped or not—do not occur. 

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?

On May 25, 2020, the pandemic-interrupted, spring semester had ended, and our diverse student community was separated. Since then, our campus has simultaneously been navigating the pandemic and finding new ways to support, listen to and learn with our students. We have created a multi-step action plan that we will continue to refresh. Student leaders recently hosted a deeply meaningful Ebony Night celebration for Black History Month, with a moment of silence for George Floyd and others lost to injustice. Those student leaders provide a realistic hope that young people who have come of age during this historic season are modeling new ways to live University of Minnesota – Rochester’s Grounding Value of respect: “a value for habits of interaction that demonstrate the worth and dignity of each person.” 

Personally, I’ve been digging into the history and current state of racism—reading, listening, viewing, conversing. Some of the people whose thoughts and writing have been meaningful to this learning include George Thompson, Freeman Hrabowski and Sun Yung Shin as well as several UMR student poets, artists and leaders. As these students graduate and move on to lead and serve as health care professionals, the illumination of injustice through George Floyd’s death has been formative on their habits of mind and heart. I look forward to future alumni gatherings to discover how these tragic events will have impacted their lives and careers. 

Jeanine Gangeness

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?

Horrified, that this continues to happen after years of shining a light on carelessly taking away individual rights and life. Grateful, that there was video evidence so action could be taken. Devastated, that people were traumatized by the video and memories of others, personal interactions that may have resulted with the death of friends and family.  

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?

Yes, I did view the video. I was sad that the situation wasn’t de-escalated by professionals. It should not have resulted in George Floyd’s death. So many situations should not result in death.

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced?

I was relieved that the court convicted him. Based on my understanding and my work, I am grateful that Minnesota State is acting through the Minnesota State Taskforce on Law Enforcement Education Reform. https://www.minnstate.edu/le/index.html  

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?

Our organization has joined a community action group. I continue to listen and learn. The actions we have taken include reviewing and updating our practices and policies to align with Equity 2030 (https://www.minnstate.edu/Equity2030/index.html), hosting book clubs and seeking voices to provide feedback on creating a welcoming culture. 

Bonnie Johnson

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?

All I know is that I was yelling at the TV watching this man [Derek] and that cocky and arrogant look on his face committing a crime that he is paid to prevent from happening. 

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?

I felt the emotions and the yells of the small crowd as I also began to cry and continue to yell at my TV. I remember saying out loud, “Damn, here we are again, another demise of a Black man and on camera this time for the entire world to see it.” A situation that didn’t have to happen if it was not for Derek’s arrogance.

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced?

Because of Derek’s arrogance, I felt no sympathy for him at his trial. I was actually surprised that he was found guilty of his crime because of his “cop” status.

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?

I did gather some people and took a trip up to the George Floyd Memorial. The two blocks were nicely set up and the artwork was beautiful. I felt such a sense of pride of the beautiful wall murals of past civil rights heros from Marcus Garvey to Angela Davis to Shirley Chisholm to Malcom and Martin. All of the florals and planters. I felt a gut-wrenching pain when I went to the make-shift graveyard. To see a memorial marker for all the fallen Black men/women (that made the news)—Eric, Trayvon, Breonna, etc.—in this sea of headstones is something powerful and so hard to forget.

Carmen Ganga

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?                          
My husband and I were living close to the neighborhood where George Floyd was murdered, and so it had a profound impact on us. When I first learned about his death, I was traumatized. I attempted to watch the news and videos of what occurred, and I simply could not tolerate them. I was angry, sad and found it difficult to focus at work. I did my best to find solace in prayer and my community of friends and family, which was difficult to do as we felt like we were living in a war zone when the protests started.

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video? 

I attempted to watch the video but could not as it literally made me feel physically ill. I was disgusted by the fact that ANY human being could do this to someone else.

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced? 

When the verdict was announced, I was relieved that the family received some form of justice but also disheartened because I knew the reality of the African American experience—it would happen again.

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd? 

Since the murder of George Floyd, I have been increasingly engaged in the efforts of inclusion, diversity and equity at work. I started co-leading a task force last September for our business unit, focused on these efforts, while also being much more vocal about discriminatory practices in corporate America. I have also re-focused my career trajectory towards becoming a physician leader and innovator that is a champion for the eradication of health inequities.

Kindra Ramaker

How did you feel when you first learned of what happened to George Floyd on May 25, 2020?

Horrified. Traumatized. Mortified. I felt the most visceral and deepest anger that I think I have ever felt in my whole entire life.

Did you view the video? If so, what emotions and thoughts did you have upon seeing the video?

I initially watched perhaps 20-30 seconds, I’m not sure exactly how much but not the whole thing. I think because I had heard the outcome without seeing it—when I had clicked into the video and saw what was happening, I turned the video off and sobbed. I think for many of us who are parents, our parent instinct kicked in, and all I could think about was Mr. Floyd’s mother and the horror of having a video of your child being brutally and slowly murdered going viral. I sobbed at the trauma of that for her and his family. 

But much later, I ended up having a different experience and perspective about the video that I am still really sitting in discomfort about. During the trial of Derrick Chauvin, my two teenage children came home from school and my son said to me, “Mom, did Derrick Chauvin really murder George Floyd?” and proceeded to tell me that kids at his school were insisting the Mr. Floyd died because he was on drugs and that he was a drug addict. I still feel this sense of shame about this, but I pulled up the video and just played a short part of it and had a discussion with my kids. I asked them a lot of questions about what they saw and how they understand “innocent until proven guilty,” and I asked them which of the two people in the video got to experience the privilege of “innocent until proven guilty.” Then we talked about this . . . the fact that their friends insisted that Mr. Floyd died not of murder but because he was “guilty” of being a drug addict. I explained that this is systemic racism. Mr. Floyd’s family doesn’t deserve to bear the burden of having to be the teaching example of systemic racism. I both hate that it’s true that they don’t deserve that . . . and the impact of my kids seeing for themselves what happened and that their friends were unequivocally wrong was the lesson I needed them to get and to sink in solid and deep. 

How did you feel when the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced?

I felt a little hollow honestly. It was important that he was convicted, and it was important that his sentence reflected the crime. And, it is also true that so many people in my personal circles will point to this and ONLY this as the justification for their belief that the system works and works equally well for everyone.

What actionable steps have you taken since the murder of George Floyd?  

Immediately after Mr. Floyd’s murder I co-hosted several white talking circles at my home. These were places for white people to safely talk through their questions about vocabulary and their simultaneous desire and fear in speaking up and showing allyship. Since then, I am trying to use up any ounce of privilege I have, standing either beside or behind historically marginalized people in allyship with them. God gives me opportunities every day to practice patience and understanding as I try to meet people where they are in their understanding of race in this country and ratchet my own emotions down to encourage them to be vulnerable and curious enough to learn and unlearn what we’ve been taught as white people. If you want to practice things you aren’t good at, God will give you the opportunity, but it doesn’t mean the opportunity is easy or comfortable.

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About Author

Barbara is the community editor for RWM. She has lived, worked and played in the community for over 30 years. Although a Texan at heart, she loves her adopted hometown of Rochester, Minnesota.

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