This Washington Post reporter lived in Minneapolis for a year to cover the George Floyd case

Holly Bailey, Washington Post national political reporter. (Photo by Bill O’Leary / The Washington Post)

Holly bailey is a national political journalist for the Washington post who has lived in Minneapolis for the past year to cover the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent murder trial of Derek Chauvin. Washingtonian spoke to him about what it’s like to fit into a community, cover up police brutality as a white person, and being in Minneapolis the day Chauvin was convicted.

I’d like to know how you ended up in Minneapolis. When you went there, how long did you expect to stay there?

It’s kind of a convoluted story. Last spring I was working for the To post covering the presidential campaign. [But] I ended up driving across the country and writing about the pandemic and what it looked like in America, and I was based in Milwaukee for a while writing about the pandemic. And then I got a call to go to Minneapolis. It was May 26, 2020, the day after George Floyd died. I arrived a little less than 24 hours after this video [of Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck] began to circulate. Since then, I have been mainly here. The only time I really left was when I got back to Wisconsin and got my things back. I packed my bags for what I thought was a two or three month mission, and it’s been over a year now.

Do you still have an apartment in DC?

Yes, I haven’t seen him for over a year. Fortunately, the [building] the managers left my mail in my apartment. I will see him at some point, I guess, but I don’t know when. I am in an Airbnb [in Minneapolis].

When you first arrived in Minneapolis, right after George Floyd died, what was it like down there in the city?

When I walked in the first place I went was 38th and Chicago, which is the intersection where George Floyd was killed. There were hundreds of people gathered in the street. It was raining and a little cold, and people were standing there without an umbrella. It was hard to tell if they were crying or if it was rain, because it was so touching. People were starting to put flowers where he died on the street. I took a lot of photos that day, and it was so striking to go back and look at those photos and realize that some of these people that I saw on the first day that I spoke to I have seen again and again on the streets this past year calling for police accountability and racial accountability. He speaks the way [this community has] go out all the time, in the rain, snow and freezing temperatures.

That night, people headed for the third ward, which is the police station where Derek Chauvin and the other three policemen [Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao] were based. Things started to get very tense in terms of the police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and that sort of thing. It started out a bit that night, but it really increased over the next few days.

From there, I know that covering the protests in Minneapolis was difficult for many journalists, and some people were arrested or injured. What was your experience?

I hadn’t really been prepared with a lot of gear, so I kind of stayed behind the front lines. I continued to receive tear gas over and over again. I remember the swell of the fleeing crowd, and it was mostly peaceful, [so] it was difficult to understand why this tactic was used. The second [night] I was there, we felt that things were turning and becoming more aggressive. I saw people running down the street with televisions from a nearby target. I was not injured like some of my colleagues. We had a freelance writer who was hit by a rubber bullet, and we had people later who were detained.

Were you scared ?

I don’t think we can be in such a situation without worrying. I’ve covered protests before, but I’ve never covered something like this. I remember calling my editor at one point, [and] I took a step back. The rule with us is that we are always told never to put ourselves in danger. You still want to be able to be there, you want to see things, but you also want to be able to report. One of the striking things about the protests was that there were a lot of people with young children and families coming out. And when things started to change, they were also getting out of there.

How did you go about making yourself happy in the community, finding sources and getting people to trust and talk to you? I know Floyd’s death was a very personal and deeply upsetting thing for a lot of people there locally.

Perhaps this is my experience of covering emotional and tragic events, [but] I feel like one of the strongest things to do as a journalist is to talk to people and listen. I remember arriving at 38th and Chicago the first day I was here, and there was a lot of suspicion of journalists. I remember seeing people yelling at people with TV cameras to get it off their faces. They felt like the media was rushing into this emotional moment again, and they didn’t want a reporter to have their tape recorder or camera in their face. And I absolutely respect that. One of the things I have tried to do is go back to this community a few times and spend a lot of time at this intersection. When you are a journalist, it is such a gift to spend time on a story. And I spent time in this community, and I observed how they felt and what it was like for them. It was beyond the death of George Floyd. Police brutality, race and all of those issues have returned time and time again here in the Twin Cities and [have] sent people to the streets to demand justice. It’s this great thing that’s been going on for many, many years. And so being here and being able to feel grounded in this community, where you feel the tension they feel and the emotions they feel, it’s been really, really interesting and I think my stories have been better.

To report on the death of George Floyd and the civil unrest that followed – how did you try to approach this as a white person, and what did you learn about it?

Here people are so traumatized. And it’s not just about George Floyd, it’s about the other shootings of colored people here, and people feel like they’ve been brutalized. At trial, there was this juror who spoke during the jury selection, and he was ultimately not chosen. He was a black man who once lived in South Minneapolis, and he spoke about police conduct while playing “Another One Bites the Dust” when there was a shootout and a person of color was killed. . And when I got here last year, I tried talking to a black woman on the street at 38th and in Chicago, and she was deeply suspicious. She said, “You know, we’ve been telling these stories to the media for many years, and nothing ever changes. You walk in, you write about us, then you leave, and nothing has changed. And so it was me who was trying to just be empathetic, to listen and to gain people’s trust in that way. And that’s the only thing you can really do: earn their trust and write stories about what they were going through and tell how it was really here on the pitch. From the start, I was really aware of the trauma that people feel over and over again, not only because of these events, but also their distrust of the media.

How has your mental health been during this year?

There are days when it was tough. I have watched police body camera videos, videos of passers-by, and I am very conscious of trying not to view this in a cold and emotionless way. But there are days when it catches up with you. Especially during the trial, when you heard the testimony of Darnella Frazier [the teenager who filmed Floyd being killed] talk about how her life has changed, about the intense guilt she feels and blaming herself for not being able to do more and not being able to save her life. It’s just heartbreaking and heartbreaking. I think one of my strengths as a journalist has always been trying to put myself in people’s shoes and trying to imagine what they are going through. And in this case, it’s very hard. So I tried to take it into account and take breaks.

What was it like to be in Minneapolis the day Chauvin was found gulity?

I was not in the courtroom that day. I was on a media file across the street, and we had heard of the verdict. The first thing that struck me was that downtown Minneapolis turned into a traffic jam, which was rare during the pandemic as many workers did not return to downtown Minneapolis. These were people who were trying to get out of the city center in anticipation of what might happen. When the verdict was read, we were right in front of the courthouse, and you hear giant cheers going up from the people gathered outside. I had to run to my car to drop this important story, so I was sitting in that parking lot facing that concrete wall, but I could still hear the noise of people on the streets. I regret not being in there, but instead I was writing this first draft of a story.

How long do you plan to be there?

I’m not leaving anytime soon. George Floyd death case is still progressing – Chauvin’s conviction pending, and then there will be the other trial [of Lane, Kueng, and Thao]. But for Minneapolis, it’s a bigger story than that of George Floyd. There’s always this debate about policing and calculating about race and social justice. The To post approaches things from a national perspective of what does this say for the country as a whole?, and I feel like Minneapolis has this amazing goal [through which to view it]. But the feeling of people here is that there are a lot of Derek Chauvins working in law enforcement in Minnesota. And so the quest for police reform is still ongoing, and the debate over the future of what the police looks like is still ongoing. The history of Minneapolis, in this regard, is therefore not over.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Associate editor

Mimi Montgomery has joined Washingtonian in 2018. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Petworth.

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