Young, Black Minnesota: A View from the Frontlines
By Hannah Kil
On May 25, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin stood on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds, while three other officers stood by. After Floyd became unconscious, Chauvin’s knee remained on his neck for two minutes and 53 seconds. Floyd’s last words were,
“Please, I can’t breathe.”
“My stomach hurts.”
“My neck hurts.”
“They’re going to kill me.”
Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Christopher Burns, and now George Floyd are among the dead, black men who have been killed by Minneapolis police officers in the last five years. The issues of police brutality and racial injustice is not a black-only issue, but an issue that everyone should strive to dismantle.
Mahjur Ahmed, a University of Minnesota-Duluth student, attended the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests on May 28-31 and from June 1-3. Ahmed marched with other protesters to Highway 35W, Downtown Minneapolis, the Third Precinct, Chicago Ave S, and wherever else the march carried them.
After the tragic murder of George Floyd, Ahmed explained, “I attended the protest because I felt that it was a must for me to stand up and express what I had felt, after seeing the video of George Floyd being murdered by the hands of the police who swore to protect, serve, and keep the community safe.”
Citing the protests as ‘peaceful,’ Ahmed was deeply touched by how his community was able to come together and speak out against racial injustice. For him and many others within the movement, Ahmed stated the purpose of the movement was, “...to let people understand that black people have faced too many years of oppression, racism, and inequality throughout the United States. That a change is needed, and that change needs to be now!”
The motivations and purpose of the BLM movement may be clear to those on the inside, yet when it comes to its portrayal via social network sites or on mainstream media outlets, the truth of the message can be misconstrued or misunderstood.
Regarding the misinformation about the BLM movement, Ahmed emphasized that “Some news outlets seemed to portray us as the villains. Showing people that the only reason we were out there was to cause violence and harm to our community when in-fact, it is the complete opposite.”
A tweet from President Trump describing the BLM protesters as ‘thugs’, ignited a narrative perceiving protesters as violent, unjust, and chaotic without reason. The additional coverage of lootings and damages to vehicles or businesses by the mainstream media has also contributed to this narrative. As any other business, news outlets like CNN, FOX, and MSNBC are essentially driven by viewership to keep them afloat. By emphasizing the looting and damage done by the BLM protesters, these media outlets can profit from the viewership that these images bring.
Ahmed continued by stating, “I believe that the protests were not being covered accurately and fairly by some news outlets. It seemed that the big media companies only reported on times where there was chaos. They failed to show the community coming together and helping each other. They rarely showed the good where people would take the time out of their days to help clean the streets, do drop-offs of supplies to people that were in need, donations from the people to help rebuild the community and also nurses and doctors who were out there risking their lives to be there to aid people who were hurt and injured.”
Ahmed emphasized that, “We were out there protesting, putting our lives in harm's way so we can have our voices heard and change our society for the better. So that our children and the next generation coming up wouldn't have to face things like this in their lifetime. So that they could live in a society where they could have an equal opportunity as the person standing next to them.”
The inaccurate portrayals of the BLM movement by mainstream news networks have tarnished the reputation and authenticity of the movement itself. However, for many protesters in the front lines, the use of social media has been an effective tool to show the reality of the protests. With the implementation of social media, anyone has the ability to expose racial injustice.
Ahmed commented that “Social media has been a great way for people to get the message across and also a way for people to come together. It is there to let the people see what is truly happening in the world without censorship. Without social media, I believe many crimes would have been hidden from the people and a lot of racism, injustice, and oppression would have been gotten away [with].” Ahmed believes that the use of social media has impacted the movement positively in the battle against misinformation.
Ahmed passionately expresses that “...black people have faced too many years of oppression, racism, and inequality throughout the United States. The purpose of this is to show the world that we are not thugs, looters, or savages. We are human beings who have goals, families, and dreams just like everyone else. We love our community and just want our voices to be heard. We are tired of making a list of our brothers and sisters dying in the hands of a racist. We are tired of opportunities turned down because of our skin color not being the same. We are tired of our dreams being crushed because of the system not being meant for us.”
Ahmed closed by stating, “We need our voices to be heard for a change, because at the end of the day, we are artists, we are scholars, we are creators, and we are driven just like everyone else. We have lives, and our lives matter. Black Lives Matter.”
*Mahjur Ahmed is a junior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth who is pursuing his B.S in Computer Science. He is a passionate photographer and videographer. Follow him on Instagram (@mahjurr).
**All photo credits to Mahjur Ahmed.