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Nation & World

In Brooklyn Center 'War Zone,' Minnesota Volunteers Step In To Help

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we just heard, emotions are high in the Twin Cities area, and that's especially true in Brooklyn Center, Minn. It's the state's most diverse city, and there have been protests there all week since police officer Kim Potter shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright last Sunday. Sizi Goyah leads the math department at Brooklyn Center High School.

SIZI GOYAH: My school district serve predominantly students of color, and I'm talking at least 85%. And also the fact that the apartment complexes that are directly across the street from the police station host a lot of our students and families. And a lot of these parents are immigrants. Some of them fled countries where there was violence. And now, you know, to be in an apartment that is somewhat on the front line, it has been tough, has been re-traumatizing in a lot of cases for some of our students.

MARTIN: Goyah worries about his students. With the nearby Walmart boarded up, options for food have been more limited, so he helped organize a food drive with dozens of volunteers bringing groceries and labor. Down the street, Miamon Queeglay has been canvassing nearby apartments.

MIAMON QUEEGLAY: Community members since really Sunday night have been living in a war zone. It's not safe. These are pregnant women. These are babies. These are mothers that are - Black mothers that are also grieving right now. And so we wanted to make sure if people didn't feel safe that we could get them relocated.

MARTIN: Queeglay researches public health at the University of Minnesota, and she's built her life in the area.

QUEEGLAY: It doesn't have to be this way because another layer for me is not only am I from this community, but I worked with these police officers for two years. There are good officers, or as good as they can be in a racist system, but there's only so many of them. And I know that I can speak - for those officers in Brooklyn Center Police Department, I can speak for at least five of them that have worked their asses off to be good cops. And I can feel their pain, even though I have not seen them or talked to them, how far this sets them back and how defeated they must feel.

MARTIN: Queeglay says the whole community is grieving.

QUEEGLAY: (Crying) It's really hard. I haven't healed as a Black woman and a Black mother from George Floyd. I haven't healed from Jamar Clark. I haven't healed from Philando Castile. But this one hits me harder because this is my community. Like, the street where Daunte Wright was murdered was the street where I was on maternity leave, I would take my baby at 11 o'clock and 2 p.m. We'd walk around that block, and I'd stop at that park because my infant would be sleeping. And my kids are biracial, but they're Black. I'm Black. And so to see that they look just like Daunte - like, I don't want this to be my babies.

MARTIN: Both Queeglay and Goyah say this past week has been traumatic, but there's unity in Brooklyn Center - the volunteers, the high school alumni showing up to help, people who came to the city and worked hard to build businesses and homes and lives. Queeglay says the community deserves better.

QUEEGLAY: When I was a kid, Brooklyn Center was a place that had a huge mall, tons of restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and you don't see that anymore. And when we talk about social determinants of health in regards to place and where people live, you know, it's a food desert. Affordable housing is an issue. There's lots of barriers and disparities within the city of Brooklyn Center. And so I'm hoping that we see some policy and some good trouble happen from this.

MARTIN: That was Miamon Queeglay and Sizi Goyah in Brooklyn Center, Minn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.