A memorial for George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody last week, filled the Huber Park stage in Shakopee June 1. It was small, but it carried weight. As onlookers walked or cycled past the space, the memorial remained untouched and the space remained silent. Chalk art underneath the pavilion read “I can’t breathe.”
For Shakopee City Council Member Angelica Contreras, Floyd’s death created unforeseen emotions that bubbled to the surface. Parts of her story mirrored Floyd’s. Both grew up in Houston, Texas — Contreras from the fifth ward, Floyd from the third.
Contreras’ family was one of very few Latino families living in a mostly-black neighborhood. All her friends in school were black, she said.
“Some people say I’ve got that spunk,” Contreras joked. “That’s where I get it from.”
It was there, in Houston, where she realized the roots of systemic racism run deep, she said. Contreras needed to get out of there. So in her early 20s, she and her husband moved to Minnesota for a better life.
She moved to Minnesota from Houston for the same reason as Floyd, she said.
“A lot of people have that dream, have that desire, to move on up, to become better,” Contreras said. “Socially, economically, all of those things. You don’t want to live poor and uneducated. You want better for yourself.”
“I know that’s what I wanted, and I know that’s what George was looking for.”
The Shakopee Diversity Alliance held a small vigil May 31 with community leaders, including city council members, District 55A Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, District 55 Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate and other city and community officials. The vigil, which grew emotional at times, was a way for the community leaders to process and mourn the death of George Floyd, show support for Shakopee’s police department and provide a chance for dialogue.
“How could you watch that video that was released on Tuesday and not be angry?” Pratt said.
Tabke said the outrage that has ensued following Floyd’s death is not the result of one murder, but of generations of systemic racism.
Tate weighed in, saying the Shakopee Police Department is the “exact opposite” of what is shown in the video of Floyd’s death, when a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“I’ve never been more appalled, disgusted, angry and embarrassed in my 22 years in law enforcement,” Tate said. “I do believe… that we do things the right way in Shakopee.”
The Shakopee Police Department designates an officer who works directly with the SDA to try to reach the communities who might be underrepresented in Shakopee. Contreras said this method, in her opinion, has been working.
“I trust our law enforcement,” she said. “I do feel safe here.”
The vigil with community leaders flew intentionally under the radar as the SDA tried to avoid some of the violence that made its way into Minneapolis and St. Paul, Contreras said.
Contreras and Ana Vergara, the president of the SDA, said they support the protests but condemn the violent rioting that has led to the destruction of buildings — although Contreras said the anger behind much of the rioting is righteous.
The SDA is hosting a supply drive to collect diapers, wipes and water bottles this Friday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Shakopee Community Center parking lot, 1255 Fuller St. S., to donate to families impacted by the damaged buildings.