To the Teacher
Cities and towns across the country erupted into massive protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
This lesson uses profiles of protesters to explore what inspires the diverse cross section of people who have taken to the streets to protest police brutality. Students read and discuss the testimonies of protesters to gain a deeper understanding of why people are involved in the uprising.
You or your students will read out loud each testimony and then reflect on what has inspired these individuals to take to the streets. Before stepping into this conversation, explain that some of these testimonies may be triggering. (For more suggestions for teaching about upsetting issues, see these guidelines.)
Today we will be hearing the voices of people protesting police violence and racism to understand what has inspired them to take action following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Review the classroom community agreements.
- What do you think has inspired people from diverse backgrounds to take action at this particular moment?
Portraits of Protesters
Below are the voices of diverse groups of people who are protesting through as part of the movement that has erupted throughout the United States. These voices were collected by reporters from the New York Times and included in an article entitled “In Every City There’s a George Floyd: Portraits of Protesters.” (Visit the site if you can so that students can see photos of those interviewed.)
Now, we will read aloud each one of the testimonies and then have the opportunity to reflect on them. As you listen (or read), notice and consider:
- How did it feel to listen to this testimony?
- What surprised you about this testimony?
- What did you learn from this testimony?
- What interested or inspired you about this testimony?
- What was concerning or troubling about this testimony?
Once students have finished reading the testimonies, invite their responses to questions such as those below.
- How did hearing all of the testimonies impact you, or what feeling came up?
- What did you learn from listening to the testimonies?
- Of all the testimonies we heard, what stood out for you most? Why?
- What brings together the diverse protesters?
- What risks and dangers are these protesters taking to be on the streets demonstrating?
- What questions do you have, and what do you want to learn more about?
- How are the testimonies from the diverse protesters similar and different from one another?
- How does the experience of the protesters connect to your own experience?
- After hearing all of the testimonies, has it made you think about anything differently, or want to do anything differently in response?
- What is one take away from this lesson?
- Or, share your reaction to this statement by Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
Candice Elder, 36
Candice Elder runs an organization that has been trying to protect the homeless from the coronavirus. On Sunday, she pivoted to protecting protesters from clashes with the police. She distributed goggles, masks, first-aid supplies and milk of magnesia, which is diluted with water to ease the sting of tear gas.
Ms. Elder said she saw the death of Mr. Floyd in the context of the constant sting of racism in her work with homeless people. One quarter of Oakland’s population is black. Yet 70 percent of the homeless people are African-American.
An episode in April shook her up to the point of needing counseling. Two volunteers, both of them black, were on their way to meet with her when they were pulled from their car by police officers. The arrest, which took place in the parking lot of Ms. Elder’s nonprofit group, was captured on video. One of the workers was pinned to the ground next to his car, a scene that resembled the later arrest of Mr. Floyd.
The worker was taken to jail but released the next day. The police apologized, Ms. Elder said, saying it had been a case of mistaken identity.
“I’m tired of being sick and tired.”
— Thomas Fuller (reporter)
Don Hubbard, 44
“People are tired of being harassed and murdered by the police, especially black folks. So now you take it across the country, and this is what you get. Anarchy.”
Don Hubbard said he had no choice but to come to Cup Foods, the store where a store clerk reported that Mr. Floyd had tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill, leading to the call to the police.
A Minneapolis native, Mr. Hubbard said 90 percent of his interactions with the police were negative, even though he has been a local government employee for years.
About 10 years ago, Mr. Hubbard said, the police stopped him as he came out of a store, saying that he “fit the description” of a man accused in a domestic dispute.
“I fit the description because I was black,” he said.
Mr. Hubbard said his co-worker, who was white, sat in the truck and looked the other way instead of vouching for him.
“I haven’t talked to that man since this day,” Mr. Hubbard said. “I think he’s a coward.”
Now working for the county, Mr. Hubbard said he was the only black construction employee in a staff of about 90. He drives a BMW and owns a house with a pool in suburban Brooklyn Park. But he still feels like the police define him by the color of his skin, and worries about his two sons and two daughters, ages 4 to 24.
“I come out here today on a nice day like this because I feel like if I don’t come out here, and we don’t all show up, then what are we doing?” Mr. Hubbard said. “We’re letting this man die in vain.”
— Kim Barker (reporter)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Beatriz Lopez, 19
At Hollywood High, Beatriz Lopez was one of two nonblack students performing with the hip-hop majorette dance team.
“Every single year there was an African American assembly for students organized by the black student union,” Ms. Lopez said. “It was very emotional. They would read poems about police brutality. They would make slide shows remembering people who had passed away from police brutality that year. That resonated with me.”
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Ms. Lopez identified with the way black people were treated by the police because she grew up worrying about how officers might interact with her parents.
“We always had something to be scared of because my parents are undocumented,” she said. “Every time I would see police, even now, I get some kind of anxiety. I feel like they will always have the upper hand. I feel that with a uniform and badge, they are in control of everyone around them. That infuriates me.”
The death of Mr. Floyd opened the doors.
“When my friend sent me that flyer about the protest, I felt I had to go,” she said. “I had been asking, ‘What can I do?’ ”
Ms. Lopez marched down Third Street with her three friends and thousands more people chanting for George Floyd and justice. When they arrived at the intersection of Third and La Cienega, they knelt.
“We felt the ground so hot and rough, and how he must have felt in that moment.”
— Miriam Jordan (reporter)
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Chad Bennett, 22
“On one hand, it’s very scary, because I know a lot of really messed up stuff is happening, people are being hurt, property is being destroyed. But at the same time, something else is on the horizon.”
Chad Bennett and his father, wearing matching face masks, stood back in a parking lot as they watched protesters march past the Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., the site of numerous protests since Michael Brown, a black teenager, was killed by a white police officer there in 2014.
“When Ferguson happened, the whole world descended on us,” said Mr. Bennett, a graduate of Columbia College Chicago who works as an animator. “This time, it was like bam, bam, bam, city after city. I knew I had to be a part of it.”
Seeing what happened to Mr. Floyd left him “numb,” he said. “It’s a silent rage, I guess,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m sad anymore. I’m just angry.”
— Whitney Curtis (reporter)
Michael Sampson II, 30
Michael Sampson is a community organizer who works with families whose sons were killed by the police.
“In every city, there’s a George Floyd,” he said.
Mr. Sampson is half Filipino and half African American. His mother works two jobs, at a convenience store and as a housekeeper.
“Police brutality and Covid was the gasoline,” Mr. Sampson said of the protests. “Those videos sparked the fire. That’s why the country is on fire at this point. People are already suspicious of the criminal justice system, of white supremacy and how it affects people.”
— Frances Robles(reporter)
Beth Muffett, 36
Beth Muffett is a white stay-at-home mother and massage therapist. When officers outside City Hall used their bicycles to push back a crowd of protesters, she screamed and noted their badge numbers.
She ended up bruised, pepper-sprayed and outraged.
“I think there’s a real turn right now among moms who want to educate their kids to be post-racial,” said Ms. Muffett, whose daughter is nearly 4. “And so that’s led to a lot of moms on Facebook being like, ‘Your white silence is deafening.’”
“If you’re not standing up for George Floyd,” she said, “who’s going to stand up for you? It’s just a level of wrongness, that I couldn’t say no to going out to try to do something.”
For most of her life, Ms. Muffett had positive interactions with law enforcement — until Sunday.
After she and her friends left the protest, Ms. Muffett had bruises on her stomach and knee from where one officer struck her with his bicycle, and another bruise on her arm after she fell back onto another protester.
“I’m sorry, this is the first time as a white lady I’ve gone through this,” Ms. Muffett said. “There’s a lot of privileged white women, and I’m one of them,” she said. “I’ve never had a cop treat me like that.”
— Manny Fernandez and David Montgomery (reporters)
Erika Zdon, 48
“George Floyd, George Floyd,” rang the staccato chant from protesters ringing a memorial of flowers at the spot where Mr. Floyd died.
Erika Zdon had never joined a protest, but on Sunday, she drove her five children from Isanti, Minn., an hour away, so they could witness this moment.
“I said this could be in the history books and this could be something that changes the world,” Ms. Zdon said, “and you should smell it, and see it and hear it and feel what’s happening in our community.”
Ms. Zdon knew the violence of Mr. Floyd’s death was a difficult thing to share with her children, but their day-to-day life is full of white people. Before she and her family stood at the site where Mr. Floyd lost his life, she took them to a looted Target.
“I talked to the kids a lot about this is what hate is,” Ms. Zdon said. “This is what bound-up feelings look like.”
— Dionne Searcey (reporter)
Ben Willis, 28
Ben Willis grew up in a part of the city where he learned from a young age that African-Americans routinely experienced police harassment.
“I know what the police can do,” Mr. Willis said.
Those episodes helped propel him to the front lines of demonstrations in his hometown, where he has played a role in keeping protesters calm, focused and supported.
There are guidelines that Mr. Willis encourages fellow demonstrators to follow. Keep peaceful. Take steps not to hurt one another.
— Julie Bosman (reporter)
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Sydney Driver, 37
As a child, Sydney Driver’s family warned him to avoid white neighborhoods and the police. His aunt would tell him not to ride his bike over there because he and his friends would be beaten up — if not by residents, then by officers.
“We always had these restrictions since I was a little boy,” Mr. Driver said. “And now I’m married with four kids, and I don’t want to leave them in this world like it is when I go.”
On Sunday afternoon outside Barclays Center, he cheered and raised his fist in solidarity with the messages being yelled over a megaphone.
Mr. Driver said he felt the destruction of property and looting had been given outsized attention by people who refused to acknowledge that previous generations’ efforts to march peacefully against racism had never come close to succeeding.
“The police had dogs at your great-grandfather’s legs when he was trying to do it peacefully,” he said. “He got spit on.”
Mr. Driver said he and his wife had cried together watching the video of Mr. Floyd’s fatal encounter with the police. “If I have to die out here,” he said, he did not care. “I don’t. I just don’t.”
— Caitlin Dickerson (reporter)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Liz Culley, 34
Liz Culley and her wife joined neighbors who protested at Pan Pacific Park.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “Some young kids gave me an extra sign because I didn’t have one.”
It was after she got home that much more chaotic protests moved onto her street. She coughed on the tear gas that reached her home as protesters sought refuge.
“I grabbed whatever I could — bottles of water and paper towels — and ran downstairs,” Ms. Culley said. “Other neighbors came out, it was all of us, the whole building as a unit. I was spraying people’s eyes, wiping their eyes, we had a little station set up.”
The street became a hot zone for several hours.
“People grabbed metal trash bins and barricaded the street so cops couldn’t drive through,” Ms. Culley said. “A girl came up with blood all over her face. We cleaned her up and told her she had to go to the hospital. ”
As the confrontations dissipated, other kinds of protesters moved in. “Opportunists,” she called them.
She felt disappointed. “There were people who wanted to be a part of a political statement, a movement, a march,” she said. “But burning the city, I don’t think that has anything to do with the people we interacted with yesterday. It’s just sad.”
— Adam Popescu (reporter)
Qiana Walker, 40
Qiana Walker and her two daughters were finishing breakfast on Sunday morning when they decided they would scrap their plans for a hike, the beach and baby back ribs and instead join their first protest together.
To Ms. Walker, an out-of-work saleswoman who is having trouble paying her bills, the decision was not easy. She had not attended a protest in more than a decade, and never with her daughters, ages 16 and 22, largely because of the fear of what could happen if things turned violent.
“I can’t teach them fear,” she said through a black scarf, held over her mouth by a black hood pulled tight. “I have to teach them to fight, to stand up for yourself, to know to protect yourself.”
— Jack Nicas (reporter)
Damarra Atkins, 31
Damarra Atkins, who is part black but was raised by her white mother in a predominantly white culture, said that the protests made her aware of her black identity more than ever.
“I think what hit me about this in particular is how incredibly blatant it was.”
She had been sitting alone, on the ground, on Sunday in front of the Fifth Police Precinct, waiting to speak to an official. Ms. Atkins, who works as an administrative assistant in a hospital and is trained in C.P.R., had helped set up a pop-up medical tent for injured protesters at a vacant parking lot. She was looking to negotiate with the police so that they could agree on who not to target during protests, including medical volunteers.
As National Guard troops and state patrols stormed the area, she said, the medical volunteers put their hands up and had visible signs identifying themselves.
Still, she said, they were pelted with flash grenades and rubber bullets.
“I suppose it could have been coincidental,” she said, “but it felt very coordinated and very tactical.”
She waited for an hour to speak to a police official about keeping medical volunteers safe. No one came. She eventually left.
Like the protesters, she had waited long enough.”
— Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura (reporter)