DULUTH – Two and a half hours north of Minneapolis, where police clashed with thousands of protesters Wednesday night, about 100 people gathered in a busy intersection earlier in the afternoon to express anger over the death of George Floyd.
"If you're anywhere in Minnesota, you should be mad about this. You should be trying to protest," said Jaylah Willis, an 18-year-old from Duluth. "This isn't the first time this has happened."
Floyd died Monday after a white officer knelt on his neck outside a convenience store in Minneapolis. A video showing the 46-year-old black man pleading for breath went viral, sparking an FBI investigation and backlash from across the country.
The Duluth protest was organized by two college students on Facebook. What started as a small group waving signs on the corner of London Road and E. 21st Avenue turned into a march that drew a dozen police cars, which blocked off traffic as the group trudged a few blocks west.
Protesters chanted and waved signs that said "Justice for George" and "Prosecute the police." They elicited honks of support from passersby, as well as middle fingers and swear words. At one point, before squad cars arrived, a man drove a few feet with a protester on his windshield after she refused to get out of his way.
"It's been really overwhelming," said Aurora Moon, one of the 19-year-old organizers who said she wasn't expecting the event to evolve like it did. She, like many others at the protest, called for the prosecution of the now-fired Minneapolis officer that knelt on Floyd's neck.
"We want them to know Duluth is watching them and we won't be silent," Moon said.
After almost three hours of standing and marching, the protesters — a group that dwindled down to about 50 people — crowded around Duluth Police Sgt. Tony Radloff's car, yelling and chanting more.
"Is my son next?" cried Brayleigh Keliin, a 19-year-old with a seven-month-old named Kingston. The baby's father, Joe Carter, who is black, had a target painted on his back in red.
Growing tensions between protesters and the handful of nearby officers were punctuated with moments of communion. Five-year-old Shaylee Diver told her mother, Ashley, she wanted to be a police officer when she grew up — then she ran and hugged Officer Joe Miketin, who gave her a sticker badge.
"Not all police are bad," Ashley Diver later snapped at a protester yelling in officers' faces.
Radloff eventually exited his car and was surrounded by protesters. Keliin stood next to him, waving a sign listing more than 40 people of color who were killed by police.
"Say their names," she repeated.
"George Floyd … Philando Castile … Jamar Clark," Radloff began to read, and the crowd quieted down.
"I know they're blaming the uniform I wear. I signed up for this. I can't take it personally," the officer said afterward, as most of the protesters dispersed.
As she walked away with Carter to go pick up their son, Keliin said she appreciated what Radloff did.
"But reading names doesn't change things," she said. "Police officers are the ones who turned those lives into hashtags."
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478