WORTHINGTON — Hundreds of Worthington residents spent the latter part of Tuesday afternoon gathering to protest the death of George Floyd and police brutality in the United States.
The group, all dressed in white T-shirts, met in the Worthington High School parking lot and walked down Oxford Street with signs and shouts of "What's his name? George Floyd!" "Black lives matter!" and "No justice, no peace! Prosecute the police!"
From the beginning, protest organizers were clear that the event's purpose was to be a peaceful, non-violent event. Although rumors circulated throughout the community that additional protesters would be bused in from Sioux Falls, South Dakota or Minneapolis, those rumors were unfounded. Everyone who participated was from the local area.
Organizers had coordinated ahead of time and worked with the Worthington Police Department and the city government. Some city, county and school board officials, along with police chief Troy Appel, walked in solidarity with the marchers. A number of roads were closed to accommodate the group's march, and employees of nearby businesses handed out cold water bottles to protesters as they passed.
"We are on Oxford Street, one of the most historic streets in Worthington," Cheniqua Johnson, one of the event's organizers, told the protesters, "and you've stopped traffic. Let that sink in for a minute."
As part of the program, protest leaders asked the crowd to lie face down on the pavement with their hands behind their backs, demonstrating the position Floyd was in as his life slipped away.
"He was in that position for nine minutes," Achan Alwal told the group, after a few minutes of holding steady. "You haven't even been there that long. Someone's body was on his neck for nine minutes."
"I pray that none of you ever know what that feels like," Johnson added.
Some youth speakers also delivered remarks, including a challenge to WPD to meet with community youth and come up with a plan to end police brutality locally.
"I want to thank my beautiful community," said organizer Aida Simon. "We're in this together."
Simon noted the diversity of the group and thanked elected officials such as District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, for attending.
Appel asked to say a few words, as well.
"Thank you for showing our state and our country how this can be done," he told the protesters. "This was a success. Worthington did this right."
To close the protest, organizers asked all the local pastors in attendance to stand in front of the group, and Pastor Friday Omot offered a prayer for peace and a just resolution for Floyd.
Reflecting on the event in a Friday interview, Hamilton said, "It was the most beautiful and powerful thing I have ever been exposed to. I was moved in a positive way.
"We collectively proved a lot of people wrong," he added.
Hamilton also noted the diversity of the group of protesters and said he learned that "we should all be expanding our circle and including more people in it."
The legislator predicted that as a result of Tuesday's protest and other public demonstrations in the wake of Floyd's death, the 2021 legislative session will include "a deep dive into the culture of law enforcement. Status quo is simply not going to happen."
He emphasized that legislators should not make law enforcement reforms alone, but must hear a lot of public testimony from people who have been impacted by the current system.