A First-Person Account of a Black Lives Matter Protest in Minneapolis Turned Violent by Police

A Black man successfully hangs George Floyd art over traffic light.
A Black man successfully hangs up George Floyd art over a traffic light in Minneapolis on May 30.Ziyne Abdo

Before starting her internship with Inside Edition Digital, Ziyne Abdo decided to go to a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis. "It was peaceful and filled with love until the police came," she writes.

Editor's Note: Before starting her internship with Inside Edition Digital, Ziyne Abdo decided to go to a protest in Minneapolis. This is a first person account of what happened that day. 

I decided to go to a protest on May 30. Personally, I had to, for myself, for Black people. The killing of George Floyd earlier that week churned my gut in a different type of way. I live in Brooklyn Park, a city just outside of Minneapolis. On May 25, I was in Minneapolis, testing out my new camera, completely unaware until the end of the day that on the other side of the city, a Black man was pleading for air under the knee of a white cop.

I had been anticipating the start of my internship with Inside Edition Digital. The thought of bringing my camera to the protest crossed my mind, but I chose not to. Though I study journalism, film and TV production, I did not want to go as an observer, but as a participant.

It was scheduled for 2 p.m. I packed my backpack with water bottles and snacks to prepare for the day. A friend of mine and her sister picked me up and we headed toward W 31st Street and Nicollet Avenue. We parked a few blocks away from the intersection. My parents and I agreed to meet each other there. This was an event we felt we had to be at; it hit close to home.

There were easily thousands of people in that intersection that Saturday. The mood was optimistic. Everyone circled around a woman standing against the fence who was speaking into a megaphone. From where I was standing, it was hard to make out what she was saying, but people clapped and cheered. 

People tried to stay as far from each other as they could. Everyone seemed to be patient with each other. When someone wanted to pass through people, others would make way for them without second thought. Anyone who was bumped into let the other know that there was nothing to worry about. 

Then suddenly the crowd started to part. I didn’t know why until I saw bright and colorful headdresses. A group of Indigenous people wearing their traditional clothing formed a circle at the center of the intersection. The crowd made space for them. We were encouraged to sit on the ground and we did. One person from the group placed a drum in the center of the new circle and he started playing it. The Indigenous man who seemed to be leading the group called out commands and they started to dance. I felt appreciative that a community who have had to face centuries-long violence against their people and whose land was stolen took the time to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. It was beautiful seeing people of many backgrounds coming together.

Everyone in the crowd started to cheer. The Indigenous people in the center moved to the rhythm of the drum and the bells on their ankles followed along. In between what seemed to be dances, the lead would pause and belt out, “say is name!” “George Floyd!” the crowd would respond. After about 30 minutes, they finished their cultural display, receiving applause and cheers as the rest of the crowd stood up. It was then when I realized how hard the sun was beating down on us. 

A young Black woman walked into the center of the circle and encouraged the crowd to again cheer for our Native brothers and sisters. She then announced we would have a moment of silence. Everyone fell down onto one knee, bowed their heads down and held their fists up. It was so quiet all that could be heard was birds chirping and sirens coming from a distance. I personally had never experienced something like that before, a group that large all collectively thinking, grieving about the same thing. This, surprisingly, was one of the most emotionally weighing parts of the day for me. I prayed, which I don’t normally do. I prayed for the safety of everyone around me, for the people who looked like me and for change to happen without the cost of death. 

Eventually we all stood back up and speakers started to take turns with the microphone. People took turns with the microphone to tell their own stories of police brutality and racial injustices against them. The crowd listened to them All of them. A Black woman who seemed to be in her 50s cried into the microphone. She said she was tired of seeing Black people in pain and that we have suffered for too long. The crowd patiently waited for her to finish her sentences. 

A Black man also took the microphone. He reminded us that police were stationed on top of the fifth precinct on the other side of the intersection. “We’re showing love; we want every single one of [the police] to know this ain’t the way it goes,” he said. “We want [the police] to know this ain’t never gonna be okay.”

To my right was a group of people holding a large painting of Floyd with the words “no going back,” “change starts now” and “justice for George” on it.

The painting of Floyd made its way from the center of the crowd toward the front. One man took it upon himself to climb to the top of a traffic light to hand the painting over it. Some closed their eyes, fearful for any fatal accidents but crowded under the light, ready to catch him at any second. A white man climbed up the light to hold onto the first to increase safety. Everyone intently watched with anxiety growing as he further and further away from the base of the traffic light. Eventually it was up and cheers erupted.

Instead of climbing back down, the man hung from the top bar of the traffic light with his arms looking at the people under him, and he let go. He was safely caught and as he walked through the crowd, everyone patted his back in support.

More people spoke. A Sudanese woman who was working at the medic tent behind the crowd told us about how she risked her life to arrive in the United States to see that Black people were treated unfairly. What moved her to come to the protest was hearing Floyd say “mama” as one of his last words. “He called me,” she said in tears. To her as a Black woman, with Black children, a Black person calling out to their mom called for any Black mother. In Floyd she saw her own kids.

This moved me to tears, seeing her in pain— seeing a Black woman in pain. Listening to her speak created some sort of pull in my chest that wanted me to go up to her. I was in close proximity to her experience in a way that was different from the other speakers. She was a Black woman living in the United States. She fled war from an African country, the same way my parents did when they fled Ethiopia as Oromo people to escape ethnic cleansing. She was a mother, a title I may hold one day and hope to hold until my own passing. 

We were encouraged to remain peaceful, even when the 8 p.m. curfew hits to show the world that it is the police who started the violence, not the protesters. People from various media outlets were encouraged to station in the front, to get the message out on TV screens across the country.

People were passing around food and water for anyone to take, we were all taking care of each other, especially since the heat felt like it wasn’t going away.

We kept getting updates about what was going on in the city. This road was closed, that road was closed, all of the major highways were closed. A Black woman took the mic and told everyone to sit down and stay seated for the rest of the night. We were reminded to stay calm and as long as we were all there collectively, we were going to be safe. 

Before 8 p.m., everyone got an alert on their phones about the city’s curfew. I got a phone call from my mother who was at the protest earlier but went home. She was watching the live feed from a local news channel telling me that she could see police marching down a street from the aerial view. 

I could tell she was trying to hide her worry. She did not tell me to leave, but to be safe. I knew she was proud of me for protesting, for defying the stupid curfew, for being out with a group of people committed to protect each other. She continued to call me with updates about how close the police were getting and I continued to tell her that everyone was still there. I could hear my dad behind my mom during one of the calls saying that if anything happened—which I took to mean, if we were to be arrested— to me or my friends, they would be ready to pick us up. I felt appreciative of my parents then. Of course they were nervous— their daughter was in the position of potential harm— but they knew that it was for a cause that needed to be addressed. 

The clock struck eight, and nothing happened. Some people in the crowd started to stand to look down the street but they were met with people telling them to sit down. 8:05 p.m. hit and nothing happened. 8:10 p.m. hit and nothing happened. The crowd started to hush and brace themselves. We could hear what was coming— the police— but we stayed put. 

The feeling of fear did not come over me. The police marched closer and closer and I did not want to move. We heard what sounded like a gunshot go off in the area of the police, and some people started to leave, but a majority of the demonstrators there continued to sit. I found myself surprisingly calm. After the phone calls I was getting from my mother, I knew what was coming and I wasn’t planning on leaving. 

But suddenly, the sound of guns going off raged and did not stop. The police kept marching without stopping. If we wanted to avoid injury, we had to run. The crowd got up and made a run for it. As people got up, the police threw tear gas at us. 

Every few feet there was someone on the ground crying because they couldn’t see. I had glasses on so my eyes hardly stung, but my chest felt tight. A friend I was with said her eyes burned and all I had was water, so I poured it on her face. I looked at the intersection that was once so peaceful now turned into a war zone and I was angry. I was angry that after an entire day of sharing stories and showing love for one another, the police came, and without pause, tore the community into shreds. There was a part of me that thought maybe if the police saw we were sitting and remaining peaceful, they wouldn’t attack us. But, I was completely wrong. They were being ruthless. 

Someone was holding a megaphone and in the midst of the gas and shooting, he announced to the world, anyone who could possibly be listening, “look what they are doing to us.”

We ran down W 31st Street and police cars blocked off the street, afraid of getting arrested. We turned onto a street that seemed to be quiet. As we walked down a sidewalk, a man came out of his out and offered a jug of water with baking soda in it which supposedly helps eye irritation after tear gas. Luckily it worked. 

My friends and I got back to our car, but we wanted to go back, so we did. After each block we looked around for police cars before advancing onto the next. We got to one block and were met with trucks one after the other, carrying the National Guard troops and we watched. 

After they passed we went onto the next block and we heard sirens. We looked behind us to see about seven police cars driving down the street and we ran into an apartment building to hide.

We waited for the coast clear until we made it back to the car. We drove home because it wasn’t safe to stay. The car ride was silent as we tried to figure out how to get home with major highways being closed. I kept re-imagining the police marching towards us and people running. I wish we didn’t have to run away and could instead stand our ground and continue to build on the energy we were putting out into the world.

When I got home, I called one of my close friends to tell her what happened. As I explained how the day went, it became harder and harder to speak without my voice quivering. I started to cry, though it was not out of fear. It was out of hatred. I felt a hatred for the police in a way I never had before. I kept thinking “we didn’t do anything to them but they fired at us like our lives meant nothing to them.”

The impact of that night did not hit until two days later, the day my internship with Inside Edition Digital started. My eyes welled with tears every half hour of the morning. I couldn’t focus during my orientation and was afraid to speak because I didn’t want anyone to hear the sound of my voice shaking.

But over the next few weeks later, the effects of that trauma subdued. The event did not prevent me from going to protests. For me, personally, going to protests and community events is an important way to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement. I liked the feeling of community empowerment.

On June 4, I went to Floyd’s memorial with my mom. The space where a Black man died turned into a space where Black people could live in whatever way helped them process that grief. Flowers were laid on the street. I walked by people with a mix of emotions.

A young Black woman stood at the center of an intersection crying, saying “This shouldn’t be here.” There was a tent set up where a Black man was giving free haircuts. People played basketball. A couch was placed outside for people to sit and spend the day. Without police, people supported each other by passing out masks and hand sanitizer, having a designated medic station and setting up booths to display art and pass out free food.

I am committing my work as a journalist to write stories centering Black people and Black life, all Black stories, not just the traumatic ones. I came into this internship thinking that and will now hold onto that commitment even tighter. 

For more of The Issue, click here