Two years ago, a video of George Floyd rocked the world.
Two years after Floyd’s death, protesters reflect on what changed
His last words, captured on cellphone video by a teenager, spurred protests across the nation. Millions of Americans marched to call for an end to racism and police brutality against people of color.
The Washington Post photographed some of these demonstrators in Minneapolis in the summer of 2020, documenting who was on the streets and why. Some told photographer Joshua Lott that they wanted to see a change in policing. Others hoped to show their outrage and demand an end to racism.
Two years later, we asked the same protesters how their lives had changed since the summer the country caught fire. Here’s what they said.
Maria Tovar, 20
Tovar is a musician. And in recent months, she’s found herself writing songs that capture the despondency she feels about her beloved city, channeling her pain and sharing it on social media.
“Hoping that there’s more sunshine than rain in the city, I’d be lying if I said my city wasn’t bleeding,” she recently wrote following a double homicide at an intersection in north Minneapolis.
“We’re not healing,” she said about the spike in violent crime.
Tovar, who is Native American and Hispanic, knew long before Floyd’s death that racism existed. She would feel glares from White students at her high school in St. Paul, and she says family members have been mistreated by law enforcement.
But after Floyd’s killing, she grew even more cautious. In the summer of 2020, she was pulled over with two Black friends for going 10 mph over the speed limit, she said.
“I told everybody in the car: ‘Don’t say nothing. Make sure they can see your hands,’” she recalled, adding that the officer had called two squad cars for backup. “I’m rolling down all the windows just so they can see we don’t have nothing.”
Josh Melton, 31
Melton has been waiting for change.
Two years ago Melton, who is White, and his wife, Hope, who is Black, took their 5-year-old daughter, Izzy, to the protests. The drywall finisher wanted Chauvin to pay for his crime and Minneapolis to hold officers accountable for their behavior.
Though a jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder and sentenced him to 22.5 years in prison, Melton isn’t feeling hopeful. More Black men have died in the Minneapolis area since Floyd’s death, including Daunte Wright and Amir Locke, he said.
Melton’s days of making protest signs with his daughter have lessened. His activism these days is more about calling people out when they say something he considers racist or offensive. That has led to some strained relationships.
He recalled a false story his stepmother posted on Facebook claiming that a Muslim cashier had denied service to a White person. Melton told his stepmom that she shouldn’t be spreading fake stories, he said. They fought, and communication has been limited since.
“Ultimately, there still has to be a lot more change,” he said. “I think things are changing for the better. I would like to see them change faster.”
Susan Larson, 55
For months, Larson tried to get the police to respond to her calls about the domestic violence and guns in her Bolero Flats apartment building, calling 911 multiple times. The Minneapolis Police Department did nothing, she said — until an officer fatally shot Amir Locke just four days after she moved out.
“They kept telling me they had bigger fish to fry and more important things to do,” she said.
Since Floyd’s death, violent crime has spiked in Minneapolis alongside rampant police staff shortages and other issues.
“Whoever in Minneapolis who used the phrase ‘defund the police’ should’ve had their tush spanked because, of course, we all know now that’s not what they intended,” Larson said.
Larson is still deeply committed to quashing bigotry anytime she hears it and wants to get back into diversity and inclusion work.
She said most of the work to end racism starts with White people. “We’re the ones who did the wrongs,” she said. “Who cares if it was primarily our ancestors? Just because I see myself as not being a racist doesn’t mean I don’t do racist things.”
Starla Wesley, 43
Wesley saw herself, her son and her father in Floyd as she watched the video two years ago.
As a 15-year-old in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Omaha, Wesley said, she was held in a chokehold by a police officer. She believes that her foster mother’s anguished cries saved her life.
She has lived with suspicion of police officers since. And watching Floyd plead for air brought back a rush of feelings.
Yet two years later, as the marches have dwindled, Wesley is working with police in her suburban neighborhood near Minneapolis. For the last 10 months, she has sat on a multicultural and multiethnic committee that works with police to address racial profiling.
Wesley sees her work as a way to honor Floyd’s legacy. And she hopes her committee’s improvements will have a domino effect, unleashing change that could lead to better police practices.
“You can’t blame and point fingers at everyone or anyone when you’re not doing nothing that impacts your community,” she said. “When you work with the police, you’re working with the politics. You have an impact on politics when you’re working with the police. … That is our system. You work with the system and not against the system.”
Doran Schoeppach, 58
About six years before Floyd’s murder, Schoeppach witnessed police brutality outside the window of his South Minneapolis home.
He saw eight or nine officers surrounding a handcuffed Black man on the ground; some were kicking him while other officers watched. Schoeppach wanted to go out and yell at the police, he said, but he was frozen in horror. “I don’t know if I’ve even forgiven myself,” he said.
After Schoeppach watched the video of Chauvin on Floyd’s neck, he knew he had to do something, attending multiple rallies and marches in honor of Floyd.
Nearly two years later, 80-hour workweeks as a middle school teacher have made attending marches more challenging.
Floyd’s death, Schoeppach said, has made him more aware of issues that disproportionately affect people of color, such as no-knock warrants. He is pushing, through committees and proposals, for more diverse voices in his school district. He recognizes that school officials must try to connect with the growing Muslim community.
“For me, that’s a steppingstone,” he said. “It’s hard to peel away [from work].”
Vincent Kim, 20
As the son of Vietnamese and South Korean immigrants, Kim has always wondered about his place in Minneapolis. “I think Minneapolis is one of the poster cities for how to redline a metropolis pretty effectively,” he said. “It’s pretty clearly a segregated city.”
Kim, who is interested in English and political science, wants to remain active in activism after graduation. But he also wrestles with how to stay positive about the future as he reflects on the spate of violence against Asian people and other minorities.
He was dispirited when he saw women who looked like his mother and grandmother gunned down by a White man — who one official said was just having a “bad day” — in three Atlanta spas last year.
And when he thinks of Floyd, he mourns the humanity that was stolen from him in his last minutes of life.
“I’m not sure what the impact of George Floyd’s murder will be because some people make him into a martyr,” Kim said. “It’s unfair to him and his family that his impact will be forever relegated to that … on so many different levels, there is an unfairness that is so great and deeply twisted you cannot ever escape it.”
Becky Waters, 47, and Deevo, 55
Waters and her fiance, who goes by Deevo, both demonstrated in the summer of 2020 to demand justice for Floyd — but for different reasons.
Waters, who is White, wanted her children to understand the inequality that exists in America for Black people. “[Deevo] said, ‘This happens all the time. You’re just seeing it now,’” she said. “I remember how stunning that comment was. I knew that it happened, but I’d never seen it happen or witnessed it. There’s just no denying … the realization of what happens when you just have a different skin color.”
Deevo, who grew up in Chicago, had grown tired of seeing Black people killed by police. Suffering from carpal tunnel in his arms since a 1999 encounter with White Minneapolis police officers, he was reminded that much hadn’t change as he pumped his fist for justice during the protests.
“Most of the time we’re pretty numb to [the pain],” he said. “For whatever reason, we get to a point where we get fed up.”
Jada Nutter, 41
Nutter can still recall the clamor of sirens and the smell of fire that permeated her yard in the summer of 2020.
The stay-at-home mother of four spent the weeks after Floyd’s death explaining to her children how people of color have been historically mistreated in the United States, often by people in power such as police officers. Nutter said she and her husband wanted to have balanced conversations, without branding one group as good or bad.
Nutter, who has a Black father and a White mother, remembers how hard her mother tried to organize her neighbors for a safer community and how frustrating she sometimes found the work. “The lack of change with the system, I think that burned her out,” she said of her mom, who was raising her and her siblings as a single parent. “She took a massive step back and didn’t do anything after that.”
As she looks around two years later, Nutter can understand that frustration.
“I wish we could say [Floyd] was the catalyst to change,” she said. But “even two years now, we haven’t seen much change.”