“National guard, go home!” hundreds of teenagers chanted in a heavily fortified Minneapolis on Monday, as part of statewide high school walkouts over the police killings of Daunte Wright and George Floyd.
In neighboring Saint Paul, more than a hundred students took their grievances over police brutality to the capitol, where lawmakers inside the fenced-in statehouse could be seen peeking out through the curtains to look at protesters outside.
The high school walkouts against racial injustice and police brutality took place as a Minneapolis court was hearing closing arguments in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. The city was bracing for the verdict, with hundreds of national guard soldiers deployed.
The student protests were organized on Instagram by Minnesota Teen Activists, a local group founded after the George Floyd protests last summer. Students from at least 110 schools across Minnesota had planned protests to honor Daunte Wright on Monday, the group said.
At 1.47 pm, the time Daunte Wright was shot eight days before, hundreds of Minneapolis teenagers sat together on the ground to mark three minutes of silence. A light snow had been falling, and their faces were grim.
Raysean, 16, a student at the Fair high school for the arts, said he had spent those three minutes thinking about “the change we’re going to make”.
As a young Black man, he said, he had to come to the protest, even though his mother, worried about the risk, had tried to convince him not to. He wanted “to fight for what I believe in”, he said.
“It’s a shame that the children have to come out and fight for our lives,” a student from North Community high school told the crowd of at least 600 young people.
While many of the speakers who led the chants were 16-year-olds, some adult organizers spoke as well, including representatives from the local NAACP.
After George Floyd’s killing, “America will never be the same again,” said Kimberly Bernard, a New York organizer with the Black Women’s March. “There is no going back to the way it used to be.”
In Saint Paul, student protesters, some as young as sixth grade, said they were frustrated that state lawmakers had still not passed police reform legislation.
“There’s one trial going on and they killed another Black man. It just goes to show that [the police] don’t care about us,” said Laniya Allen, 16. “They don’t have any guilt.”
Anisa Lewis, a student at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, said: “How can I just sit down in school and learn about world war II … when I can be out here protesting for my future?”
Only two state legislators emerged to talk to the students through the security fence around the capitol.
“George Floyd was murdered a year ago, in South Minneapolis, and since then we have not done one single thing at the Capitol,” Senator Omar Fateh, who represents the district where George Floyd was killed, told the crowd of students.
“We are really grateful to have you here today. We cannot be successful without your support,” Fateh said, speaking into a bullhorn held up to the fence between him and the young activists.
Lewis said she believed that if lawmakers had taken action sooner, Daunte Wright might not have been killed the previous week.
“We could have prevented [Wright’s death] if they could have done reform as they said,” Lewis said. “We’ve done our part. It’s their chance or else it’s just a bunch of empty words.”
A few teachers joined the teenagers at the state capitol protest, but they stayed at the back of the crowd.
“I think they’re able to stand up and lead and we need to give them that space,” Christina Efteland, a math teacher at Upper Mississippi Academy (UMA), said. ‘They have plenty of power on their own.”
Seeing the students organizing protests brought “a sense of hope and a sense of hopelessness as well,” Jean Fawver, a special education teacher at UMA, said. “Is any of this going to matter for George Floyd and his family? There is nothing we can do to make that right.”
The Minnesota Teen Activists group previously raised more than $80,000 to support small local businesses damaged in the protests last summer, one organizer said.