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