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Black men in Minneapolis outraged over Floyd killing, distrustful of judicial system

“Black men in this city feel like targets. I feel like I could be next. It’s that bad.”
A protester yells at a member of the Minnesota National Guard Friday, May 29, 2020, in Minneapolis.John Minchillo / AP

Since Samar Moseley moved back to Minneapolis from upstate New York in 2015, the police-involved killings of black men have placed the city on the cusp of anarchy.

But today feels different, Moseley said.

“This has the potential to be worse than Ferguson” he said, referring to the town in Missouri that erupted in riots in 2014 after an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a white police officer. “It’s happened too many times here.”

Samar Moseley
Samar Moseley.Courtesy Samar Moseley

Protesters — black and white — have stormed the streets in Minneapolis and other cities across the country in the nights since the death of George Floyd in police custody on Monday. Floyd, who was black, died after a white police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee for more than eight minutes during an arrest.

That officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

For many, that was a victory. But many others, it was far less than that. Three other officers involved in the encounter, two who on video appear to be holding Floyd down and another who stood by, have not been charged, and that does not sit well with a large faction of a distraught and angry public.

Their rage stems from video captured on cellphones by witnesses in which Floyd is begging for relief, saying he couldn’t breathe. The FBI and prosecutor have asked for patience as they pursue their investigation.

Patience is in short supply in Minneapolis, however, while anger is plentiful.

Full coverage of George Floyd’s death and protests around the country

“Black men in this city feel like targets,” said Moseley. “I feel like I could be next,” he said. “It’s that bad.”

Moseley and other African American men in the Twin Cities feel that way because of a recent series of killings of their peers by police: Jamar Clark, 24, shot in 2015 during a scuffle with two white officers; Philando Castile, shot in his car after being pulled over in 2016 in St. Paul as his girlfriend recorded it on her phone; Mario Philip Benjamin, 32, shot last year by officers responding to a domestic incident. In each case, the officers were either not arrested or found not guilty.

In the lone exception in such cases, Mohamed Noor, a black Somali-American, became the only Minnesota police officer in recent history to be convicted in an on-duty shooting after he killed a white Australian woman in a dark alley behind her home in 2007. Noor, who was sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison, called the shooting “a mistake.”

Greg Agnew
Greg Agnew.Courtesy Greg Agnew

Greg Agnew, 56, a Minneapolis native, said that lack of accountability by the police is a concern, adding that he considered the firing of the officers in the Floyd case as purely “symbolic.”

“But we need more than that," said Agnew, who works in construction. A black cop gets arrested and sentenced to prison. White cops have done this a hell of a lot more and with no consequences. The system is always in their favor.”

“When Jamar Clark was shot, there was pain and protesting," Agnew added, "and after a few weeks, it eased up. It won’t be that way this time.”

Ray Richardson, a friend of Floyd’s, has lived in Minneapolis since 1990. A former sports writer turned radio deejay, Richardson said that the city needed to see justice in the Floyd case.

“The rage is real and has been simmering over the past four years,” he said, adding that city and state leaders had made promises after past police shootings “that things would be different.”

“Floyd's death is a reminder that the promises were not legitimate,” Richardson said. “This is why the Floyd case has generated so much anger. This was the last straw for most black people here.”

Ray Richardson
Ray Richardson.Courtesy Ray Richardson

The discord between police and black men in Minneapolis, already tumultuous, seems to have reached an irreparable point with Floyd’s death.

“I’ve lived in Minneapolis all my life, and I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Lehman Riley, 57, a children’s book author. “Black men are on their own here.”

“If I was one of those young thunder cats, I’d be out there protesting, too,” he said. “You can’t keep pushing the finger in the wound and expect not to get hit back. It’s too much.”

Keary Saffold, 41, is from the Twin Cities and said he is concerned for the safety of black men in the Minneapolis area — and across the country.

“I make it a point to not watch videos of police brutality,” Saffold told NBC News. “I forced myself to watch this clip because it was happening in my backyard.”

Saffold is married with two sons, 21 and 14, and a 4-year-old daughter.

While watching the video of Floyd, “I was horrified, I was petrified, scared beyond words. I also know the history behind police not being held accountable for these types of incidents," Saffold said.

"I'm a peaceful man that will seldomly stand up for any kind of violence,” he said. “This is my city; I 100 percent understand why people are doing what they are doing. There are just so many conversations that can be had."

"I have zero faith in our judicial system,” he added. “I won’t dance in the street until I see that man in an orange jumpsuit headed for a penitentiary. Until then, I’m not falling for the okey-doke."

Saffold’s sobering sentiments are echoed by many black men in the Minneapolis area.

Talib Cadogan, 53, moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Plymouth, Minnesota, 13 years ago. Plymouth is a 15-minute drive to downtown Minneapolis.

"When you say 'Minnesota Nice' you are saying 'Minnesota ice,'” he said. “It’s a very tightknit community and it's not easy making friends. It took me seven or eight years before people would really be friends with me. There is also a huge Somali community and a huge Hmong community, and they are seen as outsiders as well."

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"I'm not surprised by anything anymore,” Cadogan told NBC News.

Agnew said he is waiting for law enforcement and prosecutors to follow the typical playbook of “demonizing the victim,” in this case, Floyd.

“They will try to dig up something on him, as if anything they could find would have anything to do with what happened to him. But if they do that, it’s only going to make black folks madder,” he said.

“And when you think about the brutality of what happened and throw in having been stuck at home for so long because of the coronavirus, it triggered all those emotions to come out. We’re angry.”

“They don’t see the black man as equal,” Agnew added. “But you look at that video and it’s a total disregard for an entire culture.”