The Protesters at the Heart of America’s Uprising
It was a protest that sparked a wave of dissent across the country, culminating in something never seen before: Americans across all 50 states coming together to denounce police brutality and the culture of impunity that shrouds their institution.
Last week, photographer Nina Robinson headed to the streets of Minneapolis to capture this historical moment. “From the beginning, there has been a profound lack in most coverage of how people are feeling, how they are affected by the murder of George Floyd,” she says. “Coupled with that, a lot of mainstream media appears to be solely concerned with destruction and property. I wanted to know what the community of Minneapolis were feeling. I wanted to make sure they were seen globally. People want to be heard, and it’s imperative for all of us to listen.”
How are you feeling?
Angry, disappointed, exhausted … but more than anything, just hurt. Because we all know somebody who’s been through the same thing, or we know somebody who could possibly go through the same thing.
I have two teenage sons, I have a brother, I have a boyfriend, a father. It just has to stop. This is home for me and seeing what happened to Jamar Clark [who was fatally shot in Minneapolis in 2015], seeing Philando Castile [who was fatally shot in St Paul, Minnesota, in 2019], and now seeing this right here – where we’re supposed to be “Minnesota nice”.
Some people have turned a blind eye to racism, and we’ve done that long enough. I want everybody to just stay vigilant. We can’t get distracted. We have to stay the course. That’s the only way this is gonna ever get resolved: if we just stay vigilant and stay the course.
Jonathan McNeil Hardy
Did you participate in the protests?
I just got back to Minneapolis last night. You leave your city in one condition and then, you come back and it’s in two different conditions: one that you’re not used to but you don’t like seeing, and the other, which is just destruction. I’m frustrated. I just don’t want this to end, I don’t want it to go away – I want people to fight. I want people to fight responsibly, fight safely and fight without violence if necessary. I want them to come together. And I want them to not let this be the end of it right here, on 38th and Chicago Avenue. I’m hoping that people are seeing what this is, and how important it is for change.
Kiyai Dorsey (left)
How are you healing?
I’ve been active each day as much as I can, whether it’s protesting or passing out water. I’ve been down to Lake Street at Cub Foods to clean up the streets. My friends have been organizing donation drives. I just want people to know – this is national. This is not just about this one situation. Philando Castile still never got his justice for what happened to him.
This is our reality every day, whether people want to face that or not. And it’s felt worldwide this time. It’s just beautiful to see that solidarity everywhere else. It means a lot, for real. We just want to be heard. We want our lives to matter. You know, we want to be treated like everyone else.
This is our reality every day, whether people want to face that or not.
Keta Daniel (right)
What is a message that you want to give to your community?
I want to give a personal message to all of my black community at this time: to take care of themselves and to take care of each other. This is really tough for all of us mentally. So don’t be pressured to be out on the frontlines, as much as we want to. Make sure to take time to rejuvenate and recollect. No matter what’s going on outside, it’s so important to do what makes you happy. Don’t lose that.
What have you seen happening to your city?
I protested and I went out the first day after the wreckage. I started noticing when I was out there that a lot of the damage wasn’t done by us. Black people was getting a lot of the blame for a lot of this damage that we didn’t even do. There was a specific set of people out there who were white supremacists – I’m gonna call it what it is. That’s just me. They were anarchists and white supremacists. And they had a completely different agenda. I saw white people out there burning stuff up and then spray painting Black Lives Matter. It made me mad. All that stuff blowing up? That wasn’t us. And that didn’t have nothing to do with Floyd or his memory or his legacy, period. And that’s what kind of gets me a little bit emotional.
A lot of people are scared to speak about white supremacy on any level. That’s why I applaud our mayor, Jacob Frey, who called white supremacy out, I applaud our governor, Tim Walz, for calling white supremacy out and admitting that he knew that this was white supremacists who was destroying and trying to burn down our towns.
[Excerpt from his speech at a gathering in Minneapolis on Monday 1 June]
Why aren’t you out here? Why aren’t you kneeling with your city, with your people? Why are you killing us? We pay you. You got houses because of us. Our taxes go into your pockets and you can’t protect us? What happens when we’re gone? Nothing. What happens when all the police kill us? Nothing. Because they don’t wanna let us have that power. And they’re not gonna stand by us.
It’s really easy to forget that we have the power. We’re the voice. We make this country happen. What do politicians do, other than sit behind desks and tell other people what to do? They all have money. They all fund everything. They all own everything.
We are being heard. We are making changes. We got the power, y’all. We got the first one [police officer] locked up. We’re gonna get the other three locked up. We will change the police. We will make this country a better place together. And I know we can because look at us. All across the nation, all across the world. People are standing up for this because they know it’s wrong.
Why aren’t you out here? Why aren’t you kneeling with your city, with your people? Why are you killing us?
Anthony Mendoza with his family members
St Paul, Minnesota
How are you feeling?
I’m incredibly angry, frustrated. Sad. It feels just like the fabric of the community was just ripped apart by what happened last Monday, and our political leadership is failing us. We have a president right now who seems to want to throw gasoline on the fire instead of trying to say anything in terms of words of healing. So I’m glad that people are rising up and letting the world know what happened here and doing their best to make sure that there are changes to the institutional systems of racism that we have – not just in Minnesota but everywhere around the world.
Did you participate in the protest?
My grandma did this in the 1960s.And I’m out here doing the same stuff that my grandma did. She’s 70 years old. Slavery goes back hundreds of years. It’s 2020. With the way racism is publicized by the media – as it needs to be so people are aware of it – it still makes me wonder if it’ll ever go away, I’m not sure that this was will be over soon. I’m not sure it will ever be over.
Nina Robinson is an award-winning documentary photographer and educator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Co-published with The Guardian.