Indianz.Com Live with Kevin Abourezk: A Native Expression of Solidarity for George Floyd

'They're killing us': Urban Indian community caught at center of police brutality firestorm

In the years after the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, Native people left their reservation communities and found new homes in cities across America. Many of them – Ojibwe, Chippewa, Lakota – landed in Minneapolis.

They went in search of jobs, education and hope. Many found racism and violence, often at the hands of police.

Frank Paro was there. If you were lucky, police would beat you and then take you to jail, where you might receive medical attention, he said. If you weren’t, they left you by the river.

But times have changed, he said.

“They’re not beating us no more,” he said. “They’re killing us. That has to stop.”

Posted by Native Roots Radio on Thursday, May 28, 2020
Native Roots Radio: Minneapolis Indian Community Press Conference - May 28, 2020

Paro spoke Thursday at a press conference held near downtown Minneapolis, where leaders of the National American Indian Movement expressed solidarity for black residents of their community enraged over the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old man whose grisly death under the knee of a police officer Monday was captured on a video that incited outrage and protests.

Indeed, many members of the local Native American community, including Paro, attended protests held Wednesday. But by Wednesday night, many of those protests turned violent as protestors began looting and destroying businesses, including a Target, an Aldi grocery store and an auto parts store that was seen burning.

But AIM leaders, like Paro, who is co-director of the American Indian Movement, called Thursday for protestors to stop destroying local businesses and offices.

“The Indian business owners on Franklin Avenue have asked the American Indian Movement to provide security this evening,” he said. “The last few months a lot of community members asked when we would start the AIM patrol again. Tonight, we’re the starting the American Indian Movement patrol again on Franklin Avenue.”

He called on those gathered at Wednesday’s press conference and those watching it to gather in the parking lot of a coffee shop later Wednesday night, and AIM would send them to various Native businesses and offices to provide security.

“This is your community,” Paro said. “These programs are for us, for our families, our kids, our grandkids. We can’t lose no programs.”

But he didn’t blame the protestors for the damage they were inflicting on local businesses and offices.

“The Minneapolis Police Department is the cause of all these actions,” he said. “They murdered that young man, just like they have murdered a lot of us, people of color from the Twin Cities area.”

“We remember this young man that was killed along with others they have killed among us.”

And he called on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to file charges against the four officers involved in Floyd’s killing.

Those officers have been identified as Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng. Chauvin is the one seen in the now viral video with his knee pressed firmly against Floyd’s neck until Floyd is seen going limp.

"NATIVE WOMEN MISSING AND DISAPPEARED": A Native woman is seen at a George Floyd rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 26, 2020. Photo courtesy Jeff Schad / Jeff Schad Imagery (jeffschadimagery)

All four officers at the scene have been fired, and the FBI has launched a civil rights investigation. On Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also called for charges to be brought against Chauvin, saying “George Floyd deserves justice. His family deserves justice. The black community deserves justice, and our city deserves justice.”

Lisa Bellanger, co-director of the National American Indian Movement, said she understood the pain and anger minority people in Minneapolis are feeling following the killing of Floyd.

“I couldn’t even watch the complete video. It made me so sick,” he said. “If that was one of my relatives, one of my blood relatives, I’d be devastated, and it hurts my heart.”

But, she said, responding to violence with more violence won’t resolve anything, and she criticized the looting and destruction of local businesses.

“We want justice for George Floyd, but we don’t want to do so destroying our own community,” she said.

Darlene Day of the St. Paul arm of the American Indian Movement asked for Native people to take their drums and sing healing songs for protestors bent on looting and destruction. “I would ask you to work with your tobacco. I would ask you to sing your healing songs,” she said.

“Everybody is feeling the actions that took place,” she said, before singing a healing song of her own with her sister, Charlene Day-Castro. “Everybody understands that historical trauma hits us right here and stays with us.”

One of the offices that was near the center of the violence Wednesday night belongs to MIGIZI Communications, a nonprofit that teaches Native youth the skills they need to be successful. Robert Pilot, the host of Native Roots Radio, a local talk show that focuses on Native American issues and news, said MIGIZI was the first radio station in Minneapolis to serve Native people and trained many of Indian Country’s first radio personalities.

The nonprofit’s offices are filled with valuable recordings of interviews with leaders of the American Indian Movement, which was founded in Minneapolis in 1968 to curb police violence, Pilot said.

MIGIZI has been a staple in the Minneapolis American Indian community since 1974. It was founded to help combat the...

Posted by Binesikwe Means on Friday, May 29, 2020

While many businesses and offices were destroyed and looted all around MIGIZI Wednesday night, protestors used the MIGIZI offices as a makeshift triage center, providing medical assistance to those suffering from the effects of tear gas, he said.

But the leaders of the nonprofit worry it still could become the focus of protestors’ anger.

“It was a positive place to be (Wednesday night),” Pilot said. “They’re worried that might not be the fact tonight.”

"I CAN'T BREATHE": A Native woman is seen at a George Floyd rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 26, 2020. Photo courtesy Jeff Schad / Jeff Schad Imagery (jeffschadimagery)

The American Indian Movement plans to send representatives to guard those offices Thursday night, Paro said.

Pilot said violence and looting has begun spreading beyond Minneapolis, into neighboring suburbs and into his own community of St. Paul.

“This has gotten really crazy,” he said. “It’s all over the Twin Cities now.”

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