MINNEAPOLIS — One was crowned homecoming king. One was voted class friendliest. One was a member of the African American club.
All three played crucial roles in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer found guilty of murdering George Floyd.
And all three — Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo, lawyer Eric Nelson and high school student Darnella Frazier — spent their formative years at Minneapolis’ Roosevelt High School.
Chauvin’s conviction this week sent a ripple of relief throughout the school and its south Minneapolis community and ushered in a wave of pride for Frazier, who helped make it so.
“She set the stage for girls like me looking up to her,” said Markeanna Tyus, 16, a junior and friend of Frazier. “She’s a hero.”
Frazier was 17 when she recorded a cellphone video of Floyd’s arrest that drove much of the public’s understanding of what took place May 25. She and Arradondo, the city’s first Black police chief, testified for the prosecution, with Frazier tearfully expressing regret for not physically intervening before Floyd died.
“I go to school with a revolutionary,” Markeanna said. “I feel powerful to know I have a Black woman attending my school who endured all of that.”
Roosevelt High School is 2 miles from the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, where Chauvin pinned Floyd under his knee for what prosecutors said was 9½ minutes. The area is now known as George Floyd Square.
Arradondo graduated from the high school in 1985. He was part of the gymnastics team. He joined the Minneapolis Police Department four years later and was inducted into the Roosevelt High School Hall of Fame in September 2018.
Nelson was part of the student council, sang in the choir and was inducted into the National Honor Society. He graduated in 1992.
It was Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, who made the connection between the three during his closing argument Monday.
“We all went to the same high school, obviously at different times,” Nelson told jurors. “We had the same perspective, sat in the same classrooms, saw the same chalkboards or whiteboards, the same perspective. But our perception of our experiences there is going to be much different.”
Some members of the school community were less than eager to claim the attorney as their own. (Markeanna said he is an “imbecile” and that he weaponized Floyd’s feelings.)
“Our school has some of the most fervent social justice activists that I’ve ever seen among young adults,” said Marcia Howard, 47, whose teaching career began at Roosevelt High School in 1998. “What’s special about that school is our commitment to creating civic-minded students. Our model is: Enter to learn and leave to serve.”
Howard, who teaches English, said that at the onset of the civil unrest over Floyd’s death, she encouraged her students to learn from the moment. She said she told them, “Class is over, you all have credit. Just take care of yourselves, practice social distancing and seek justice.”
Members of the school community were galvanized into action.
Greta Boogren, 18, a senior, said she participated in protests every weekend last summer and took part in the statewide walkout Monday to protest racial injustice.
“We’ve had so many protests this past year and people are still going,” she said, “which is great because we can’t stop now.”
She believes the profession of policing needs widespread changes. “From its very roots, it’s just evil,” said Boogren, who is white.
Markeanna said she has attended hundreds of protests since Floyd was killed and has been pepper-sprayed and hit with rubber bullets at some of them. She lives down the road from Cup Foods, where Floyd is alleged to have used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes in May.
She said she wishes the school had done more to support students this past year who have been dealing with the pandemic, distance learning and a racial reckoning spurred by Floyd’s death. School district spokesman Dirk Tedmon did not return requests for comment.
“I don’t think people realize that this right here, this racism, this white supremacy right here, that’s a virus, too,” she said, adding that it’s the equivalent of two pandemics “stacked on top of each other.”
Howard, who said she lives “260 walking steps” from where Floyd died, is still navigating the emotional stress from his death.
“I never really went back to teaching after that,” she said. “Because I was dealing with trauma.”
Chauvin’s conviction Tuesday on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter won’t diminish calls for racial justice, members of the school community say.
In fact, Markeanna wishes people would stop describing Chauvin’s conviction as justice.
“It was bittersweet. It wasn’t justice, but it was accountability,” she said. “George Floyd isn’t here. His daughter doesn’t have a dad.”
Markeanna, one of the presidents of the Black Student Union, said the group plans to hold a walkout Wednesday in solidarity with Floyd and the racial justice movement. Students will walk from the high school to George Floyd Square, she said.
Howard, who has kept in close touch with her students, plans to participate. She’ll be waiting for them when they arrive at George Floyd Square, which she helps oversee.
Minneapolis Public Schools said students would not be disciplined for participating in protests “as long as the protest remains peaceful.” Walking out of school is counted as an unexcused absence, according to the district’s policy.
“You have to understand that on May 25, students were dealing with a global pandemic, distance learning, quarantine from their friends and loved ones,” Howard said. “They had already gone through a lot.”
They were exposed to flash-bangs, rubber bullets and the drone of helicopters night after night, she said.
“Our students are probably still dealing with the trauma of the early days of the uprising,” Howard said. “They saw the National Guard rolling up their street. They saw a phalanx of police marching toward protesters. It’s a lot to process when they could’ve been thinking about prom or a test or graduation or applications for college.”
Howard said she was initially ambivalent about Arradondo because Black and brown people in the city have suffered under the Minneapolis police and he is the captain of a force that “continually abuses people.” Her opinion changed after he testified.
“In a way, he sort of acquitted himself on the stand,” she said. “He crossed the blue line.”
As the students walk Wednesday, many very well may be thinking of Frazier, who told the Minneapolis Star Tribune a day after Floyd’s death that she started recording “as soon as I heard him trying to fight for his life.”
“The world needed to see what I was seeing,” she said. “Stuff like this happens in silence too many times.”
Boogren, Markeanna and Howard all said they are amazed by and admire Frazier.
“There’s not a thing she could have done differently,” Boogren said. “Everyone at Roosevelt is so proud of her.”
Markeanna believes Frazier did more than she had to do. “She could have kept walking,” Markeanna said. “She could have went home and went to bed.”
Below a yearbook photo of Frazier from her sophomore year reads the quote, “Some people say that you just can’t win, when people choose to judge you by the color of your skin.”
Howard said Frazier was one of her students last year and she also taught two of her older siblings. She holds Frazier, whom she said “did a service to our city and a justice to our country,” in high regard.
“Being in Minneapolis at Roosevelt, the epicenter of a global social justice movement, and knowing that one of their classmates helped strike the match that lit the world’s fervor for social justice,” Howard said, “I personally can’t be more proud to be from the school at which I’ve taught for 23 years.”