Manitoba

Winnipeggers say they're sickened, traumatized by George Floyd's death at hands of Minneapolis police

The death of George Floyd during an arrest by police in Minneapolis has sparked violent protests in the United States while igniting anguish and calls for change in Winnipeg.

Uzoma Asagwara and Adeline Bird can't bring themselves to watch video

Uzoma Asagwara, left, and Adeline Bird are calling on people to stop saying 'I'm sorry' and to start making a change in their communities. (Submitted by Uzoma Asagwara and Adeline Bird)

The death of George Floyd during an arrest by police in Minneapolis has sparked violent protests in the United States while igniting anguish and calls for change in Winnipeg.

"The stories — that seem nearly daily — of violence against black people who look just like me, and in some ways with lives similar to my life or the lives of those people in my family and my community, is emotionally, mentally and spiritually haunting," said Uzoma Asagwara, Manitoba's NDP health critic and MLA for Union Station. 

"I'm devastated, sick and sad."

A third night of arson, looting and vandalism gripped Minneapolis on Thursday as protesters vented rage over the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man who told an officer "I can't breathe" as he was knelt on after being placed under arrest.

Floyd, 46, was accused of trying to pass counterfeit money at a corner store.

His arrest was captured in an onlooker's cellphone video that shows the officer pressing his knee into Floyd's neck as the handcuffed man, flat on his stomach, pleads for the officer to ease up.

"Please, I can't breathe," Floyd says to the officer.

Protestors gather outside a burning Minneapolis police precinct on the third night of protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody Monday. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Floyd eventually went unconscious and was sent to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Four police officers were fired Tuesday.

Asagwara won't watch the full video.

"I can't. I can't do it. It is absolutely too much. We've seen so many of these videos and there's only so many you can take to absorb violence against bodies that look like our own," Asagwara said, pointing also to the death of Ahmaud Arbery in February.

Arbery, 25, was jogging in Georgia when two white men chased him and confronted him with a gun. A cellphone video shows Arbery struggling with the man holding the gun. Shots are heard and Arbery falls to the ground.

Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, later told police they thought Arbery looked like the suspect in a series of recent break-ins in the area.

Adeline Bird, an Afro-Indigenous community advocate in Winnipeg, also expressed her distress over the videos. 

"I've been traumatized by images in the past and I'm starting to wonder why we are even showing these images," she said.

"I am a very black woman and when you see things like this happening to people that look like you — being killed for absolutely nothing, for no reason — that stuff takes up all of your consciousness and your energy."

Ahmaud Arbery was killed while out jogging in Georgia, on Feb. 23. (Marcus Arbery/Handout via Reuters)

Asagwara and Bird said they are far from the only people feeling this way.

Asagwara posted on Facebook on Wednesday about how "extremely difficult" the days have been in the wake of Floyd's death.

The post was met with comments from a wave of people with the same reactions and Asagwara has been helping to counsel them.

Asagwara calls it a privilege that people trust them "with their raw feelings and emotions and pain and grief, fear, confusion, anger."

"I've been doing a lot of listening over the past few weeks, certainly over the last few days, making sure I can hold space with people so that they can safely cry and share exactly what they're experiencing," Asagwara said. 

"Just being there for folks in a time of need and letting people know that they're absolutely not alone."

In turn, Asagwara is providing them with support, resources and community.

"I think a lot of people are feeling what black and Indigenous people have been feeling since colonization," Bird said.

"It's something that takes up your space; you think about it [and] talk about it all day or you numb yourself. This is the constant emotional war Indigenous and black people live with every single day."

Asagwara and Bird are now working on setting up a virtual safe space to support the black community in Manitoba.

"These experiences are traumatizing and it's important that our black brothers and sisters see themselves and know that they're valued. We hear, we care," Bird said.

"We are not separated from what's happening in the United States. I hope people realize that. We are all living under the same system."

Tony L. Clark holds a photo of George Floyd outside the Cup Food convenience store on Thursday in Minneapolis. Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died Monday in police custody near the convenience store. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune/The Associated Press)

She and Asagwara are also calling on people to help make a change.

"I'm always seeing people saying 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry this is happening,' but folks, your sympathy only goes so far," Bird said.

"Come to me with something that you're going to actively do today to challenge these things in your home. I'm not asking you to go out there and protest or any of that stuff. What I would like is just for once — for once — for white people to take accountability. We can't be sitting here in your guilt. We don't have time for that anymore."

Asagwara said it's time for people with privilege to make change.

"It is long overdue and it is time for the people who participate in, and actively benefit from, these systems of oppression … to step up and start making change within their own communities, within their own circles, around their own kitchen tables," Asagwara said.

People of colour and Indigenous people have spoken for years about what actions can be taken, and they have been outlined in reports, books, art, workshops and on websites, Asagwara said.

"The information is there. Listen, access the information that exists, and start making the change."

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

With files from Marcy Markusa and Wendy Parker

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