BEMIDJI -- Hundreds of people gathered in Paul Bunyan Park on Saturday afternoon and marched to the Bemidji Police Department to show solidarity with George Floyd, the man who died after a former Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck despite his repeated requests for the officer to stop.

The demonstration began with speakers and music near the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues. BSU professor David Frison was one of a dozen speakers.

"The virus of racism is passed down from mother to daughter, from father to son," Frison said. "When liberty is denied to all citizens, we can't breathe, America."

BSU professor David Frison speaks in Paul Bunyan Park during a demonstration Saturday against racism and the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
BSU professor David Frison speaks in Paul Bunyan Park during a demonstration Saturday against racism and the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

As “Where Is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas and other peace-promoting and anti-discrimination songs played over speakers, demonstrators chanted Floyd’s name, Black Lives Matter and more. Some stood with signs along Paul Bunyan Drive and cars honked as they passed by.

Organizers of the protest estimated that 300 people attended the first hour in Paul Bunyan Park, and that possibly 500 people overall attended the demonstration.

Masks were also handed out by organizers to attendees who didn’t have one to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The officer who knelt on Floyd's neck, Derek Chauvin, was arrested on Friday, May 29, and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after days of protesting and riots in Minneapolis and other areas in the Twin Cities.

Floyd, 46, was shown in a viral video where Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes on Monday, May 25.

Three other officers involved in the case -- Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng -- also were fired on Tuesday, May 26, from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Hennepin County Medical Examiners released an updated autopsy report, which echoed an independent report, where doctors labeled Floyd's death a homicide. They reported he died due to "cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s)."

The march in Bemidji remained mostly peaceful until a handful of protesters surrounded and began throwing items at a D.A.R.E. truck as it backed away outside the police department. The truck backed into a small crowd of people and struck an event volunteer, who didn’t need medical attention and was “sore but okay,” according to a Facebook post by Our Revolution Bemidji, a group that organized the protest.

After the confrontation organizers of the demonstration and police officers shook hands.

Another peaceful demonstration is planned for 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, at Paul Bunyan Park. Bemidji State’s Black Student Union is hosting the Social Injustice Demonstration, where attendees, if they are able, will be silent for nine minutes while kneeling in memory of Floyd.

City of Bemidji enacts curfew

Late Saturday, Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht signed a declaration to enact a curfew for the city starting at 8 p.m. through 6 a.m. Sunday, May 31, and again at 8 p.m. Sunday through 6 a.m. Monday, June 1. During the curfew, no travel was allowed on any public street, sidewalk, path or any public place.

“We will have and will continue to support the peaceful protest of our community. I ask for the community’s cooperation and support in following the curfew,” said Albrecht in a release. “Plan to stay safely at home tonight with your families and loved ones.”

All law enforcement, fire and medical personnel, as well as other personnel authorized by the city of Bemidji Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Minnesota State Patrol or Minnesota National Guard, were exempt from the curfew, the release said. Individuals seeking emergency care or fleeing dangerous circumstances were also exempt.