The murder of George Floyd

4 ways George Floyd’s murder still reverberates 4 years later

An aerial view shows a memorial area
An aerial view shows a memorial area in honor of George Floyd on Thursday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

May 25 marks four years since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd as he lay handcuffed and face down on the pavement, pleading that he couldn’t breathe. From police practices to local activism to life on Lake Street, Floyd’s death that day continues to reshape Minnesota.

MPR News’ Minnesota Now program spent days digging into four areas most affected by Floyd’s murder. Here’s what we found.

1) Changing police practices, accountability

Bystander video of Floyd’s final moments put a sharp focus on the techniques police use to subdue suspects and the sometimes disastrous consequences.

Authorities vowed to overhaul police practices in the wake of Floyd’s murder. Change has been slow, as expected, and efforts to reform the Minneapolis police department are still playing out. Among the major developments: 

Officers involved in Floyd’s death are in prison 

Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng either pleaded guilty or were convicted on both state and federal charges. Convictions against police officers who use lethal force on the job are rare.

Chauvin was convicted of murder and is serving the longest sentence, more than 20 years. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd lay prone and handcuffed on the pavement outside a south Minneapolis store where he’d been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Kueng and Lane pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter. A jury convicted Thao of the same crime. Lane is set to be the first to complete his prison sentence and be on supervised release starting this coming August.  

Suits, payouts continue as Minneapolis tries to rebuild the force 

The city of Minneapolis has paid out tens of millions of dollars to settle claims stemming from Floyd’s killing and Chauvin’s police work. That includes a record $27 million civil settlement with the family of George Floyd.

In February, journalists who were arrested or injured while covering the uprising also received about $1 million each. (No MPR News staff were parties to that lawsuit.) On Tuesday, a woman sued for $9 million alleging Chauvin and his then-partner officer Ellen Jensen used excessive force against her in a January 2020 traffic stop, a few months before Floyd’s death. 

The city continues to pay workers compensation claims for post-traumatic stress disorder to Minneapolis police officers.

Officer counts have dropped significantly the past four years. The city went from 904 sworn officers in May 2020 to 561 sworn officers this May. Minneapolis launched a new recruitment campaign this spring aimed at bringing younger, more diverse officers into the force. Chief Brian O’Hara said the city is almost at the point of turning the tide on staffing.

State, federal probes brought court-ordered reforms

A Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation led to a negotiated and court-enforced agreement, which requires the Minneapolis Police Department to change its policies and practices. The initial changes include banning choke holds and requiring officers to intervene if a colleague is breaking the law.

The city has implemented some changes, such as expanding mental health teams who respond to 911 calls. On Monday, it announced a new process to track when officers are struggling in their jobs with the hopes that more high-profile events can be avoided. 

A similar federal agreement, called a consent decree, is still being negotiated. If it's successfully negotiated as expected, Minneapolis will be the first major American city to be under both a federal and state consent decree on policing. But examples from other cities shows it takes many years and many tens of millions of dollars to have these court orders lifted.

Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said the city has made progress in setting up the foundation for systemic changes to public safety, but she said there’s a very long way to go.

“There’s so much hunger from community members to see really big substantive changes, there’s this urgency for that, because lives are at stake here, and to get there it takes a lot of really important small steps,” Lucero said.

The city has also revamped its public safety system, creating a new Office of Community Safety that oversees the police department. They’ve also brought on a new chief, Brian O’Hara, who helped guide Newark, N.J., through a federal consent decree on policing.

A new Community Commission on Police Oversight was formed but has not yet made much progress in working through a backlog of complaints against officers or recommending policy changes.

Future of burned 3rd Precinct building still uncertain 

Mayor Jacob Frey’s office supports using the building for voting services and some other form of community space, but the City Council has been skeptical and wants more details and public engagement.

Meanwhile, the city is collecting feedback on a proposal to house 3rd Precinct officers in a new “South Minneapolis Community Safety Center” that would include other public safety services. They’re expected to start working out of that space early next year.  

a man walks in front of an empty building
The former 3rd Precinct police station sits empty at the corner of Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue.
Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

2) Renewing activism 

The protests and uprising that followed Floyd’s murder sparked a global movement focused on police and police actions, although the momentum has slowed and some local activists have retooled their approach.  

Leslie Redmond, president of the Minneapolis NAACP at the time of Floyd’s murder, is looking to create change and transformation with her nonprofit “Win Back.” The organization is holding a Day of Remembrance on Friday. She described the event as a jumping off point. 

“We continue the conversation, because we recognize this day of remembrance is the beginning, but it's definitely not the end,” said Redmond.  

“Justice would be if George Floyd was still alive, if he still had breath in his body, if he was still able to raise his daughter,” she told MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer, “and when I think about peace ... there’s still a lot of heartbreak, there’s still a lot of hurt and pain in the community.”  

Clergy members gather in the Rotunda at City Hall
Leslie Redmond introduces an interfaith prayer in the Rotunda at City Hall in Minneapolis on Friday.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News

She traces the groundswell of activism locally back before Floyd, to the Minneapolis police killing of Jamar Clark in 2015.

“When you take into perspective how long community members have been fighting and been crying and being yelling out, there is a portion of the community that is exhausted,” Redmond said, “but I think that we’re all still committed to change and transformation, it might just look a little different nowadays.” 

3) Restoring Lake Street 

In summer 2020, the state of Minnesota estimated it would cost $500 million to repair the damage from fires and vandalism in parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Lake Street corridor in south Minneapolis was hardest hit. The Lake Street Council counted $250 million in damages.

It was a new difficulty for business owners and organizations whose buildings burned in the civil unrest, on top of a global pandemic that was redefining life and spending habits.  

Allison Sharkey, the Lake Street Council’s executive director, told MPR News about half the buildings that were lost have been rebuilt. Some of her worst fears, that investors would buy up burned out properties and price out small entrepreneurs, did not come to pass.  

“What we have found is that that selloff of property, luckily, hasn’t happened at all. Any property that has transitioned has really stayed within local hands,” she said. 

Sharkey credits partnerships between nonprofits and entrepreneurs, citing the historic Coliseum Building on the corner of Lake Street and 27th Avenue.  

Alicia Belton is now part owner and lead architect of building, which is set to reopen June 19 as part of Juneteenth celebrations. She is working with nonprofit developer Redesign Inc. on the project, along with other part-owners, including consultant Janice Downing and Du Nord Social Spirits owners Chris and Shanelle Montana. Du Nord’s nearby distillery burned during the riots.

Redesign Inc. will manage the Coliseum Building and eventually divide its share of the ownership among the other owners.  

Brick building on Lake Street
This July 2023 photo shows renovations underway on the Coliseum Building on E. Lake St. in Minneapolis. Built in 1917 as a department store, the building most recently housed restaurants and other businesses until a 2020 arson fire forced them out.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Belton says the group sought community feedback on how to fill up the empty building, with a focus on entrepreneurs of color.

“I think what we want to be known for is we’re creating these welcoming environments where you know that you are seen and valued and that the space is owned by BIPOC-owned businesses,” she said. “That’s what we want to attract to the building and we're hoping that inspires others to do the same.” 

As of May 22, Belton said about half their spaces were leased. 

For a dozen other properties along the corridor that still need to be rebuilt, Sharkey says recovery has been slower than she expected.  

“There’s a really steep learning curve to go from running a business to being able to rebuild a whole building, especially in the current environment where construction is expensive,” she said. “A lot of folks don’t have a ton of equity in their family to bring to the table to get all the financing that they need to build a whole new building.” 

 4) Remaking workplaces

Floyd’s murder intensified calls for change in business communities in Minnesota and around the nation. According to a report, more than 1,100 companies pledged a total of $200 billion to racial justice initiatives immediately following his killing.

Those keeping tracking of those efforts, though, say they’ve lost traction.

“Many corporations are still trying to live up to that pledge and promises,” Sharon Smith-Akinsanya told MPR News. Smith-Akinsanya is CEO of Rae Mackenzie Group, a Minnesota-based diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, marketing firm. 

Data shared with the Washington Post by Revelio labs found that in corporate America, jobs focused on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace peaked in early 2023 before falling 5 percent that year and shrinking by 8 percent in the first two months of 2024.  

Smith-Akinsanya said despite this national picture, Minnesota corporations are doing better. “Here in Minnesota, I can say that we feel some real sort of dedication to sort of keeping that commitment, because this was ground zero.” 

Smith-Akinsanya believes one of the biggest barriers now is the politicization of DEI. “Let’s stop conflating social justice, marching and protesting, with the business of diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said.

Data from the Metropolitan Council forecasts that by 2050, 44 percent of the Twin Cities will be people of color. That fact shows how critical it is for corporations to implement DEI efforts, Smith-Akinsanya added.

“We’re talking about trillions of dollars in buying power is coming from the African American community, the Latino community, the LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “How are you going to remain competitive, if you have no relationships with this community?” 

Smith-Akinsanya believes she’ll know when real change is happening when there are more people of color at the highest levels.  

“CEOs have to make that decision, because we know once they do, change happens, I’ve seen it firsthand,” she said. 

Volume Button
Now Listening To Livestream
MPR News logo
On Air
MPR News