"It has been a life-altering experience," says one police chief after joining marchers protesting the killing of George Floyd in police custody

By Jeff Truesdell
June 03, 2020 09:59 AM
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Bobbi Brown has been marching since she was a freshman in high school. But for many of the girls aged 9-18 she mentors through a nonprofit in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the peaceful protest they attended together Saturday to call for change following George Floyd's death while in police custody was a first.

"They were really inspired," Brown, 30, who founded #100GirlsLeading, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "Within our city alone, we have seen young people be racially profiled and lose their lives because of police brutality. We feel it has become the norm."

Far from Minneapolis, where prosecutors allege that Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who pinned him down with a knee to the neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the protest in Bridgeport -- and countless others in more than 100 cities across the country -- have given voice to fear, outrage, despair and anger.

While scattered violence and looting have erupted, the chants and signs of the majority who've peacefully filled the streets emphasize justice and reform to counter racial disparity in policing. "Our skin color should not be considered a weapon," says Brown. "It's not fair that black people have to walk in fear because of the way we were born."

For more on George Floyd's death and the nation's response to it, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up the current issue, on newsstands now.

From coast to coast, and representing multiple ages and races, others in the expanding protest movement spoke to PEOPLE about their experiences on a path to healing.

Protestors in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd
John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

Art Acevedo, 55, is the Houston police chief who has been marching alongside protesters

"People who don't understand the righteous anger of so many people of color, I wish they could walk with me with the protesters. So they can hear with their own ears, and see with their own eyes, the deep pain that especially African-American communities are feeling. ... It has been a life-altering experience."

Tim Hall, 28, a medical office assistant, attended a May 30 protest in Washington, D.C., with his mother Olga, 43, a nurse

"I had an experience with the police almost two months ago. They busted into my house and had my mom at gunpoint, and -- it's not like I did anything. [Police later admitted they had the wrong house.] No sense. Then we're out yesterday, peacefully protesting, and they had the nerve to put gas in the air to make us cough and choke when we have a pandemic going on that's already an airborne illness. ... It got really, really angry. There was a lot of stuff on fire. Glass breaking. The protest last night needed to happen."

NYPD Police Chief Terence Monahan joins protesters in Washington Square Park on June 1.
John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

Tanness Walker, 23, is a community activist who attended a May 30 march in Los Angeles

"We were having protesters talk about their experiences with police and their experiences with injustice. ... As we left, the looting started. People shouldn't loot. It's happening because these people are mad. But people look at the looters -- 'Oh, it's just a bunch of black people looting' -- and the message kind of gets lost. ... Chanting for George Floyd, wanting justice for him, that needs to be clear. We need to fight for that."

Bakari Sellers, 35, is an attorney and author whose father, Cleveland Sellers, was shot during a 1968 protest at South Carolina State University

"To be black in America, for many, means becoming a hashtag. #FreeSomebody or #SomebodyHasJustPassedAway. Being black in this country is a perpetual sense of grief. ... You can either be racist or anti-racist. Those are the only two choices, because these systems of oppression are killing people, are killing black folk. People are tired of this."

Charles Stotts, 50, and his wife Kacey White own Minneapolis' Town Talk Diner, near the Third Precinct police station where Officer Chauvin was stationed

"Thursday night around 5 p.m. there was one of the most amazing, peaceful protests outside the Third Precinct. ... Then around 4:30 in the morning Kacey's phone dings, and it's a text from a friend of ours: 'Your building's on fire.' It's really, really hard. A lot of healing needs to happen in Minneapolis. Anybody asks me, 'What can I do?,' my answer is you can pray for the family of George Floyd. The focus still needs to remain on the fact that there's a gentleman that should still be with us on this planet, and he's not."

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

•Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

•National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.