George Floyd called out for his mother 10 times during his encounter with Minneapolis police and as he struggled to breathe while officers pinned him to the ground.
On Sunday, moms from across the country took Floyd’s pleas as a call to action and marched to the State Capitol in St. Paul, demanding justice for loved ones and accountability from police.
“It means a lot to me and my family to stand with other families to demand that they reopen all cases, because you see that there’s a lot of corruption going on,” said Greta Willis, who flew in from Baltimore in honor of her 14-year-old son, Kevin Cooper, who was shot and killed by police in front of her in her home on Aug. 12, 2006.
The National Mothers March Against Police Violence brought together more than 100 families in the U.S. who have lost a loved one to law enforcement officers, said organizers with Take a Knee Nation.
Mothers and widows united in that loss and the fight for justice sat in a truck flatbed leading a crowd of 1,000 protesters down St. Paul’s University Avenue to the Capitol. Over megaphones and speakers, chants of “Love your …!” were followed with “Mother!” as well as calls to prosecute the police involved in the deaths.
Philando Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, was dancing as she marched toward the Capitol, where she thanked the crowd for supporting the movement and all the mothers.
“This is what my community looks like. We are a community and we support all the families that are here,” she said wearing a “Justice for Philando” face mask while flanked by families from Georgia, Florida, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Missouri, California and Maryland.
Willis said her teenage son was having an emotional breakdown when he was shot by an officer who was promoted and remains on the force today.
“There needs to be accountability,” she said. “If this didn’t happen to George Floyd, we wouldn’t be at this point because the world could see the officer on his neck. In Kevin’s case, we had no camera. But they didn’t take my word, they took the officer’s.”
Maria E. Rosario-Rivera, the mother of 30-year-old Brian Quinones, was not at Sunday’s march, but she was there in spirit while other members of her family helped organize the event.
Quinones was fatally shot by Richfield and Edina police officers last September. In February, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said deadly force was justified and none of the officers involved would face charges.
Sobbing over the phone from her home in Puerto Rico, Rosario-Rivera said Quinones was her firstborn child. It hurt to see her son’s name included in a long list of other victims of police violence at the Floyd memorial on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. She visited the site and was invited along with other family members to Floyd’s funeral. She recently left Minnesota because she said her “heart can’t hold it no more,” but plans to return for the anniversary of her son’s death.
“It’s really hard for me to understand why the police do that to my son. That destroys me. I don’t know what’s going on in this world,” she said. “From my heart, I got a feeling that things will change, but change takes time. It is sad that this has to happen. Nobody deserves to leave this world that way. God bless all the mothers being in these situations.”
Her 13-year-old grandson, Cameron, reminds her of his late father, and she’s proud of daughter-in-law Ashley Quinones’ continuing fight for justice — most recently with a wrongful-death lawsuit. Ashley Quinones, founder of the Justice Squad, was one of several organizers of Sunday’s march, along with Minnesota Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, 10K Foundation, Black Lives Matter Chicago and Communities United Against Police Brutality.
The protest was one of many across the Twin Cities over the weekend, six weeks after Floyd died. Gun violence this summer has plagued Minneapolis, where 224 people have been shot in 2020, including 33 homicides. Last year, 269 people were shot in the city. The spike prompted the “Guns Down, Love Up” rally Friday. Organizers of the Mothers March held a retreat Saturday for families affected by police violence.
Activists are planning a march in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28 outside the Department of Justice to demand officials reopen cases involving police violence.
On Sunday, Ashley Williams held her 8-year-old son’s hand as she marched. She said while she’s been attending many protests the past month, this was the first one where she brought her son along.
“I’m out as much as possible marching every chance I get until changes are made that benefit us and that treat us Black people the same way that white people are treated in America,” she said.
She said so many families were part of the Mothers March, and they only represent a fraction of those who lost a loved one to police violence. “If they’re killing your family members, you can’t trust them. There’s no trust,” she said.
“There should be no reason you have to march week after week after week after week letting people know our lives matter,” she said.
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751