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Following George Floyd's Death, Racism Is A Major Topic Of Discussion


Steve and I are in two of the many cities where people protested over the weekend. The demonstrations started here in Minneapolis where George Floyd died in police custody.


The protests have now spread around the world and include hours of demonstrations outside the White House here in Washington yesterday. We begin with some of the sounds in Lafayette Park, which is the place where a few thousand protesters confronted police in riot gear yesterday afternoon.


INSKEEP: This is a young crowd. This is a very diverse crowd. The people I've spoken with include a man who gave his name only as Che (ph). People are a little tense here, only giving their first names for the most part. He came here to look after his college-aged daughter, who is also among the protesters.

CHE: What we're seeing across the country is embedded racism. We're fed up. If you look around, you see people, young and old, all different shades of humanity, out here protesting for justice. And it's going to happen one way or another.

INSKEEP: I want to note, this is very peaceful protest. What have you thought about the more violent protests?

CHE: That doesn't help anyone, like looting, breaking into stores and stealing things. But I will say this - look, America has been founded on violence. America is a violent place. If you go back to that Boston Tea Party - right? - we're protesting. It's a rebellion. And so we're living in a modern-aged rebellion. And so, yeah, it's going to be dirty. And there's going to be people against it. But we're living in a 2020 rebellion.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Don't shoot. Hands up. Don't shoot.

INSKEEP: The protesters have pushed past a first layer of metal barricades around Lafayette Park outside the White House and pushed forward to the second barricade, which is defended by police in riot gear with shields.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) George Floyd. George Floyd.

INSKEEP: This has been a very peaceful protest, although we're in a pose here where a single person on either side could very quickly change the character of it.

That was the scene in the late afternoon. Hours later, after dark, a few people did change the character of the protest. Crowds in Washington set fires to cars and the basement of a historic church. They threw bottles at police, who shot tear gas, it is believed, at protesters. So that was the end of the weekend in Washington, D.C. And Noel, what about Minneapolis?

KING: Well, Steve, the demonstrations that I've seen have been during daylight. And so like, you said in D.C., they're peaceful. The thing that keeps striking me is that people of every age are coming out. So, for example, yesterday I met a granddad, Miguel De Leon (ph), with his wife his, daughter and his grand baby. Also yesterday, I sat down with three demonstrators from three generations. Leslie Redmond is the youngest.

LESLIE REDMOND: I'm 28 years old.

KING: You're 28. So you're born in what year?

REDMOND: 1992.

KING: She's the president of the Minneapolis NAACP. Nekima Levy Armstrong was there also. She used to be Leslie's law professor.

Born in 1976, 43 years old and don't look a day over 30. And that is what counts.


KING: She teaches law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. The two of them asked me to meet at the Zion Baptist Church, where 64-year-old Pastor Brian Herron ministers.

BRIAN HERRON: Our elders taught us endurance and patience.

KING: We got three generations together because we wanted to hear their experience of how these protests and their causes have changed over time. The thing is, what Leslie, Nekima and Pastor Brian told us is that things have not changed all that much. Five years ago, police in Minneapolis fatally shot a 24-year-old black man who got into a scuffle with officers after they responded to a disturbance call.

ARMSTRONG: Jamar Clark was shot and killed by the Minneapolis Police Department in November of 2015. We wound up having an 18-day occupation in front of the 4th Precinct police station in freezing cold weather, you know, in a blizzard. At times, there was volatility, but we refused to leave until we were ultimately forced to leave. So you may not have seen buildings burning, but you did see comfort and safety burning away for some people who had been complacent with the levels of police violence here in the city. And it really turned the city upside down.

KING: Five years later, the city is upside down again. But in a way, it seems like Minneapolis and this country are always some kind of upside down. Pastor Brian Herron was a kid in Kansas City in 1968 during the civil rights movement.

HERRON: I remember very vividly when the National Guard was called out because of the rioting after they had murdered King. And I remember my father allowing me to go with him to a particular march downtown. The National Guard were blocking the way downtown. All the black pastors were in the front. And I was standing there with my father. And my father looked down at me, and he said, don't be afraid, son. And he said, we're going to walk right through them. And they did. And they parted like the Red Sea. And they did their march with no violence, no incident.

KING: That was a good day. But we know that the civil rights movement didn't mean this country fixed racism. Nekima Levy Armstrong was born eight years after that good day.

As a girl growing up in the late '70s and '80s, was racism in your face? Was that your experience as a young person?

ARMSTRONG: Well, my context is a little bit different because of growing up in South Central Los Angeles at the start of the war on drugs and seeing the impacts to the black community and police, you know, breaking down people's doors, SWAT teams coming in looking for drugs. So the war on drugs is really a war on black and brown bodies. So my experience with the police is more like NWA, FTP because of the way that they terrorized our community and capitalize off of our poverty.

KING: But that's what's so fascinating is there is the Jim Crow version of racism. There is the early '90s drug war version...

ARMSTRONG: No, all of it is a Jim Crow version of racism...

REDMOND: New Jim Crow.

ARMSTRONG: ...Made to dehumanize us as a people. We don't compartmentalize racism like that. All of it is white supremacy racism. It takes on different forms, but it's the same root.

KING: Here's what the root looks like for Leslie Redmond. Born in 1992, an attorney, an MBA, a community leader and also a woman who is scared.

REDMOND: I'm fighting for the humanity of every little black boy and girl that I see that should be able to be a child and smile and thrive and my heartbeat that beats super fast when the police are riding behind me because no matter how many degrees I got and no matter how much I achieve, they will shoot me on the street.

KING: After all of the fighting that your generation did and your generation did, can I ask you both - and I want to start with you - when you hear a young woman who's 28 say that she lives in fear, she has done all of the work, she has gotten all of the degrees and she's still afraid that if she gets pulled over by the police she will be killed, your generation fought to not have this happen to hers, what happened?

ARMSTRONG: Well, our generation is still fighting. But the reality is that there's a small number of folks who are fighting. And so because the fight never ended, we're still in the midst of it. And I think all of our generations have worked consistently but, again, a small number of folks, to fight for justice and to keep passing the torch. And sometimes we're passing it back and forth between generations, depending upon the situation.

REDMOND: Amen. That's exactly what we doing.

KING: The three of them passed our questions back and forth. And I ask them each, what is the situation now?

What does the death of George Floyd mean?

REDMOND: We are done dying. For me, it represented how America and white supremacy literally and figuratively has their knee on black America's neck - right? - and how I'm not really in a mental space to really keep sitting aside and watching police officers murder black men in front of our face. Like, when did we become that comfortable, right? When did we start thinking we had that luxury? What Harriet Tubman said is give me my death or give me my freedom. And I think for our generation, there are no more choices. There are no more choices because if we don't put our bodies and our lives on the line now, we're dead anyways.

KING: Nekima, you're nodding in agreement. But that is a young person talking. Young people are brave. They are gutsy. They're not worried about kids at home. They're not - do you have kids?

REDMOND: You're correct. I don't have a mortgage or kids, so yes.

KING: OK, you're slightly older generation. Do you have kids at home?


KING: Do you feel comfortable saying I'm willing to go out there and lay my life down the way Leslie just did?

ARMSTRONG: I have been saying that.

KING: You have been saying that.

ARMSTRONG: Exactly. So we're not - again, we don't compartmentalize our generations. We have elders who have been on the front lines from day one who are still on the front lines, still taking the hits. It doesn't stop just because you get older.

HERRON: Right.

KING: What do you tell your kids about the risks that you take?

ARMSTRONG: My kids see the risks that I take. They've seen me shut down freeways with fellow freedom fighters. They know why I'm doing this. When they were young, I showed them documentaries about African American history. We talk about it all the time when they have to write papers for school, so they understand why I do what I do. And I'm always amazed when they tell me that they just left a protest without my permission. I'm like, you were where doing what, you know? But I'm like, well, I did teach them that.

KING: That was civil rights lawyer Nekima Levy Armstrong, Leslie Redmond, who's president of the Minneapolis NAACP, and Pastor Brian Herron of the Zion Baptist Church.

INSKEEP: They all spoke with Noel, who is reporting from Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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