ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Over 60 gather at 6th and Washington in Brainerd to protest racial injustice

The death of George Floyd — an African-American resident of Minneapolis who died in police custody on Memorial Day — prompted many in the lakes area to come out in visible opposition to racial injustice.

052920.N.BD.FloydProtest1.jpg
Protesters gather at the intersection of Washington and South Sixth streets to demonstrate Thursday, May 28, in Brainerd following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Monday after a police officer knelt on Floyd's neck for several minutes while he called out for help saying he couldn't breathe. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
We are part of The Trust Project.

When Davonn Epps ventured out to protest at the intersection of Sixth and Washington streets in central Brainerd, she didn't know what to expect.

Fervor over the death of George Floyd — an African-American resident of Minneapolis who died in police custody on Memorial Day — has reached a fever pitch in communities across the nation, but it can be difficult to gauge just where the winds of society are blowing, she said, particularly in a rural town like Brainerd during quarantine.

What she found there was an eye-opening experience, in a positive way. Minutes before the pre-appointed meeting time at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, May 28, the sidewalks were barren and the parking lots lifeless.

But, soon, people started trickling in.

They came in pairs or small groups. Some came by themselves. They carried banners with “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned across the front, or homemade signs scrawled with credos and maxims of racial equality and justice. Every so often, a biker would rev their motorcycle’s engine or a truck driver would blast their horn in a show of solidarity. Smiles flashed all around, followed by a host of waves, thumbs up and nods.

ADVERTISEMENT

In a matter of minutes, there were more than 60 people packing every corner of the intersection, with more on the way.

“You don’t know how many people stand behind you and how many people care about the things you’re passionate about,” said Epps, who is herself a woman of color. “It’s a breath of fresh air and relieving to know that so many people care about their neighbors and their fellow black people, or any person of color really. It warms my soul. It has to keep growing. We have to build up a resistance.”

“I thought there might be 10, or 20 people, if you’re lucky, you know?” said Epps’ companion on the protest line, Brittany Egan, also of Brainerd. “This is better than I could have expected and it’s going to keep growing.”

Farther down, holding up a “Black Lives Matter” banner was 84-year-old Stephen Long of Brainerd. Speaking as an advocate for racial equality since the Civil Rights era, Long said Floyd’s death is the tip of an iceberg of social issues that the pandemic is bringing to the fore.

“This was clearly murder,” said Long, soft-spoken, but forceful. “This movement has been going for over half a century. I’m old. I’ve been in this movement since 1965. The black population has been treated very unfairly. There’s still racism in this country and it needs to be addressed. And it’s not only the double standard with law enforcement, it’s how (black people are) affected by the coronavirus, the economy, health care. The whole world, it needs all of us. We can’t be so isolated.”

ADVERTISEMENT

052920.N.BD.FloydProtest3.jpg
Protesters gather at the intersection of Washington and South Sixth streets to demonstrate Thursday, May 28, in Brainerd following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Monday after a police officer knelt on Floyd's neck for several minutes while he called out for help saying he couldn't breathe. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Floyd’s death and the surrounding issues of racial inequality, the justice system and lingering issues of racism in American society have led to points of reflection for many, including Egan, who saw a very personal parallel with the life and death of the Minneapolis man.

“There needs to be some kind of change. After this happened, I realized some of my own white privilege. Back when I was in active addiction, I’d written a bad check in Minneapolis — the same kind of crime, same kind of thing (that Floyd’s been accused of) — but the cops didn’t even get called,” said Egan, who pointed to a double standard, in her mind, that law enforcement enjoys. “If it were me or you kneeling on somebody like that, we’d already be in prison and wouldn’t see the light of day for a long time.”

In the case of Hayley — who declined to give her last name — the issue took on personal dimensions of a different kind.

052920.N.BD.FloydProtest4.jpg
Protesters gather at the intersection of Washington and South Sixth streets to demonstrate Thursday, May 28, in Brainerd following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Monday after a police officer knelt on Floyd's neck for several minutes while he called out for help saying he couldn't breathe. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“I was married for 10 years to a black guy. I have three kids who are brown,” Hayley said. “I have seen all sorts of awful things and nasty comments and people getting spit on, so I know how black people feel about this. My children get pulled over for no reason just because they’re brown. The cop (in Floyd’s case) was in the wrong. What happened to Floyd shouldn’t happen to anybody — white, black or brown.”

ADVERTISEMENT

For Epps, Thursday’s protest would have happened even if she was the only one on the block, because the issue is that personal and vital to her as a person.

‘I’m sick of seeing my brothers and sisters getting killed every single day for no reason,” Epps said. “I just want to see a change and if I can be a part of that change, I’ll do whatever I can to bring awareness.”

“Murder is murder,” Egan added. “Badge or not, you need to be held accountable.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .

Related Topics: BRAINERD
Whether it's your local city council, all the way up to the Governor's office, government plays a part in every aspect of your life. It's important that the people you elect reflect your needs, your values and your vision, and that's why I'm out covering the people and issues that matter, because they matter to you. But it takes time and resources to dig deeper than face value, to capture the whole picture and do the due diligence, so consider subscribing to the Brainerd Dispatch. Your news. Your reporter. Your paper. To help support local journalism, click here to sign up to receive a Dispatch digital subscription to our e-edition or to receive the printed paper at your door, or to get both.
What to read next
The Cowbot would be a way to mow down thistles as a way to control the spread of weeds, "like a Roomba for a pasture," says Eric Buchanan, a renewable energy scientist at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minnesota.
The Red River Valley Water Supply Project will sue farmland owners for eminent domain if they don’t sign easements before July 8, 2022. Farmers say the project is paying one-tenth what others pay for far smaller oil, gas and water pipelines.
Attendees to a recent meeting at a small country church on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota found armed guards at the church entrance. Then someone saw an AR-15, prompting a visit by the sheriff. It's the latest development in a battle for the soul of Singsaas Church near Astoria, South Dakota. The conflict pits a divisive new pastor and his growing nondenominational congregation, who revived the old church, and many descendants of the church's old families, worried about the future of a pioneer legacy.
“We have critical systems,” said Chief Deputy Shane Richard. “When we have a failure, we need someone with the knowledge of our systems here, someone who can basically spring into action and fix the issues.”