michael martin protest thumb
Category: Fall 2020, Georgetown Magazine

Title:Personal Reflections: Michael Martin

Author: Interviewed by Jeffrey Donahoe
Date Published: November 18, 2020

George Floyd was killed the Monday of Memorial Day Weekend.

My girlfriend and I were headed back to Minneapolis after the long weekend. My social media started blowing up about this video of a white officer kneeling on a Black man’s neck while he pleads, “I can’t breathe.” I struggle with watching videos about racial violence. They can fill you with a lot of pain, but it was happening in Minneapolis, and I needed to watch it. It turns out it was taking place close to where I lived then. That was my point of entry into the George Floyd story.

The next day, I went to the protests on the street where he was murdered. I wanted to experience it. I wanted to participate and let my voice be heard. People were standing in the middle of the street saying this is now a memorial site.

Minneapolis is very white, and so to be around people who look like me mattered in that moment. The first day was a little scary, just because people did start to get rowdy. I would say maybe 20 people started to agitate the police officers. I got hit with tear gas. I didn’t realize that tear gas travels so far.

People protested at the third precinct, which is down the street from me. The Target that got looted is right by me. I went to the Cub Foods grocery store that got looted maybe five times a week.

I kept going back to the protests during the week. I was out there probably in total about 10 times, mostly during the day. I was never afraid of the protesters. It was the militarization of the police presence that was frightening. There is a fire station right by me, and that’s where they set up a National Guard camp, with three Humvees and people walking around with big assault rifles.

By that Saturday, Lake Street had been destroyed. The media portrays only images of people rioting and looting, but the protests are all about community. You see people helping someone injured, people handing out face masks, people cleaning things up. The sense of community out there was amazing.

In the George Floyd situation, a lot of people bring up his past. But the police were called on him for using a counterfeit bill. And because they felt like he may have been high on drugs. I feel that those are two symptoms of poverty and not of criminality.

“I was never afraid of the protesters. It was the militarization of the police presence that was frightening.”

Michael Martin

I think about what will happen next. My significant other works in local government. We’ve had a very interesting dialogue about how a city responds to a crisis like this one. A lot of our conversations have revolved around defunding the police, but what does that actually mean? A lot of people think “defund the police” means you want criminals to just do more crime. But I see it as pushing communities to re-evaluate how police departments are funded and what police departments do. People are angry because the crime that was committed did not warrant the killing of an individual.

Michael Martin (C’17) lived in the Lake Street area of Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed while in police custody. He is an information technology analyst at General Mills.

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