Twin Cities protests against police brutality, sparked by the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis Police on Memorial Day, have captured the nation's attention for more than a week. Several Scott County residents who encountered the demonstrations firsthand said their experiences don't match the images broadcast on TV and online.
"It was 10,000 people easily," Johnson said. "We had speakers there, we sang 'Amazing Grace' and we started walking toward the government center. We marched in the streets, chanting."
"I wanted to go to show my support for the movement and show that the protest are peaceful," said Shakopee resident Carly Johnson, who also marched in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday.
"The atmosphere there was 100% peaceful and respectful, I did not see a single person not on their best behavior. It was quite touching to see everyone come together as a community to fight for a cause we believe in."
As protesters made their made their way onto the 35 bridge downtown, both Johnson and Paulson's groups split off. Moments later, a semi drove down the closed highway into the crowd.
"It was shocking, but it was very frustrating," Johnson said. "We were walking for George, and we were interrupted."
Paulson said the demonstration remained peaceful until police arrived.
"About 15 cop cars zoomed past us, some with officers pointing guns out the window or with their doors propped open ready to ram people," Paulson said. "From what I have seen and heard firsthand, it seems everything is very peaceful up until the protesters are attacked for no reason."
As the riots threaten to overshadow the peaceful protests, Johnson said it's important for demonstrators to amplify their message.
"The change I want to see the most is that there needs to be a special prosecutor on this case — someone who has no ties to the Minneapolis Police Department, someone who has no ties to Hennepin County — so that George can get a fair trial. That's the biggest thing we're preaching."
A new dawn
As the violence and unrest recedes with the night, daylight brings signs of hope. People like Prior Lake resident Bronwen Anderson travel from across the metro to help clean up the streets.
Hundreds of businesses have been damaged or looted in the past several days, often overnight after the day's marches and gatherings disperse, according to the Star Tribune. The violence pushed Gov. Tim Walz to activate the National Guard to help local police.
Bronwen arrived on Lake Street on Sunday with her daughters, carrying brooms and shovels and looking to help in any way they could.
"The world feels upside down, and we couldn’t sit and do nothing after watching what happened to George Floyd," Anderson said. "It's a small thing to do, and maybe it isn't the most helpful thing we could do, but helping clean up showed that there are so many people who care and want to help and with everything on the news."
Over in St. Paul, Savage resident Lisa Rudquist was volunteering with Focus Minnesota, a Christian organization that helps provide food, clothing and other valuable resources to metro communities. Rudquist traveled to St. Paul Sunday to help out with the organization's regular free meal services.
"I anticipated there being some conflict or unrest — that type of environment — but what I found was the opposite," Rudquist said. "The overarching message the community was talking to us about was that they really wish we could all be seen as humans."
Whether they were protesting or volunteering, local residents have returned to their communities over the past week with new perspectives and greater motivation.
"This was a terrible, terrible event that happened," Rudquist said. "It's not human to sit back and watch a man die like George Floyd did, it's something that's got to rock your consciousness as a human being ... Instead of sitting back on social media and getting caught up in all the hype, get out there and do something. Get out there and make a difference."
Johnson raised more that $200 on social media to purchase supplies for communities affected by the riots.
"We bought baby wipes, baby formula, feminine hygiene products, detergent, a bunch of medical supplies," Johnson said. "We dropped it off at Pimento on Nicollet (Avenue) for the people who need it right now.
"There are so many ways you can help outside of protesting."
The Andersons plan on making a return trip this week to offer more help. The ride back from Minneapolis, Bronwen's daughter Erin Anderson said, feels profoundly different.
"Coming back to Prior Lake felt like coming back to another world, even though we were only 40 minutes away."