© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KCUR 89.3 and 41 Action News examine George Floyd’s legacy, one year later.

One Year After George Floyd's Murder, Kansas City Protesters Say The Fear Hasn't Gone Away

Elderly man with white hair and blue bandana covering face sits in a wheelchair at night. A small American flag sticks out of the back of the chair.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Phillip Irwin watches protesters in Westport gather at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Westport Road during a July 25 demonstration.

KCUR revisited hundreds of photos from last summer's demonstrations and found that no two protesters see the world today like they did a year ago.

Phillip Irwin is angry at the police. The 68-year-old attended a protest in Westport on July 25, 2020, two months after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. Nearly a year later, his outrage hasn’t subsided.

“I think I've gotten more angry, less tolerant," Irwin says. "I go almost everywhere, I carry my camera, my GoPro. I have two dash cams now in my car. I didn't use to be like that. I'm paranoid."

Irwin is white and tells KCUR that “injustice for anybody is injustice for everybody.”

May 25, 2021, marks a year since Floyd was killed, sparking weeks of protests and a reckoning over race, privilege and policing. KCUR spent weeks reconnecting with people in photographs from those initial protests.

Some people, like Irwin, were eager to speak about the events of one year ago and talk about how they’re feeling today.

But many declined interviews for fear of being identified by law enforcement, or retaliation in their personal or professional lives.

Here’s what KCUR learned along the way.

Oluwatoyin Akinmoladun, organizer

Young Black woman in black shirt and yellow shorts using a bull horn to talk to a crowd of people standing around her.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Oluwatoyin Akinmoladun organizes a crowd of protestors in front of Kelly's Westport Inn last year during a July 25 demonstration. Akinmoladun organized the May 30 protest in Mill Creek Park and has continued to be active in protests.

Oluwatoyin Akinmoladun organized the May 30, 2020, protest in Mill Creek Park, and later, one in Westport. She says people in the Black community are still reluctant to speak out or be recognized publicly because they are scared of the people who are supposed to be protecting them.

She says many people are thinking twice before calling the police in an emergency.

“Black people are looking for other resources to contact in need of help besides the police,” she says. “We don’t know what’s going to happen when the police come, and a lot of us don’t want to take that risk.”

Jordan Geiger, trumpeter

Jordan Geiger, who stepped onto Mill Creek Parkway to play "Taps" during the May 30 protest is arrested by Kansas City Police. Geiger says he felt conflicted because the man who killed George Floyd "looked like me."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Jordan Geiger, who stepped onto Mill Creek Parkway to play "Taps" during the May 30 protest is arrested by Kansas City Police. Geiger says he felt conflicted because the man who killed George Floyd "looked like me."

Jordan Geiger was walking home from the bookstore when he got swept up in the protest at Mill Creek Park on May 30, the most violent day of demonstrations in Kansas City.

He pulled out his trumpet to play "Taps" reverently, but when he stepped onto the street, police immediately arrested him. Geiger was initially hesitant to talk about last summer — he says he feels a mix of confusion and guilt.

“I can't help but notice that I look like the person that killed him," Geiger says. "I just, I don't understand how people are supposed to grieve in the midst of all this just trauma.”

Wall of Moms KC, allies

Cloese-up image of a woman photographed from her back. She has a helmet on labled with duct tape spelling out "MOM."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A member of the Wall of Moms KC stands by as protesters chant during a protest in Westport on July 25 last year.

Also at a Westport protest were members of the Wall of Moms Kansas City. The group formed after seeing the Wall of Moms in Portland form a protective barrier between protesters and police.

One of the local Wall of Moms members, Julie Sponagal, was initially hesitant to talk — less out of fear than because she is concerned about taking up space of Black voices.

“I know for, for white people, I know some of us are nervous that this isn't our story,” Sponagal says.

Sponagal says protesters are justified in their fear of being targeted by police.

“I know too many people who were at protests that have had situations where the police continue to interact with them and just sort of give them hassle," she says.

Brian Kantanka, protester

Black muscular man wearing a black mask and black tank top with white stars on it. He's carrying a sign that says "We will end white supremacy wherever it hides by any means necessary."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Brian Kantanka moves through the crowd during the May 31 protest in Mill Creek Park last year.

Brian Kantanka attended the May 31, 2020, protest in Mill Creek Park. He says he was energized by the swell of the crowds.

“I really felt a sense of unity, man. Like there were Caucasians, there were Asians, there were so many individuals from all across the city,” he says. “And like, I was just proud, man. I was. It was a feeling of, I'm not alone.”

Kantanka still feels some of that optimism of people coming together over shared pain.

Kantanka’s image from May 31 is one of hundreds KCUR reporters have been revisiting over the last months. Together, they fuse into a dizzying display of emotions and textures accrued over the year of on-and-off coverage of social unrest in Kansas City.

The mixture of sentiments reveals a brew of paranoia, uncertainty and optimism since protests erupted last summer. Many people say nothing has changed. Some say there have seen seeds of reform. Others are simply weary and anxious to move on to other causes or concerns.

What’s clear, though, is that no two people see the world today like they did a year ago.

This story is part of 9:29 — The Minutes That Moved Kansas City,a KCUR 89.3 and 41 Action News collaboration about the legacy of George Floyd.

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.