Deona Marie Knajdek took to the streets.
Winston Smith Jr. was dead, gunned down by law enforcement on the same day city work crews plowed through George Floyd Square, clearing the streets for traffic because it was time to get Minneapolis moving again. It was time for Minneapolis to move on.
It is summertime; the weather is beautiful, and we are weary of death and dread and plywood that blots out the sun while we shop and eat.
But Winston Smith isn't here to enjoy the sunshine or hug his children. So for the last 10 days of her life, a 31-year-old mother of two wanted to make sure the city wouldn't just move on from his killing.
Not without a hard look at another Black man who didn't survive his encounter with law enforcement. Not without asking why members of the North Star Fugitive Task Force are allowed to draw a gun without turning on a camera to document what they are about to do with it.
"Today my heart is with your family, friends, your children and other loved ones," she wrote in a Facebook post dedicated to Smith. "You wanted to see a change … We ARE going to get change for you and all the others."
So she joined the protests at the intersection of Lake and Girard, where people talked and mourned, wreathed the parking garage where he died with flowers and candles, and spattered the pavement outside with blood-red paint and handprints. Don't look away. Don't you dare look away from this.
Sunday night, she pulled her car into the intersection to block traffic and shield the people who were still there, playing children's games in the street. Volleyball. Red Light Green Light.
Then came the roar of an engine in the night as a Jeep accelerated toward them at murderous speed. The driver crashed into Knajdek's car, plowing the vehicles into her before the horrified eyes of her new friends.
It was three days before her 32nd birthday, which would have been Wednesday.
In the hours between her death and her birthday, people took to the streets. They marched and lit candles and brought flowers and dragged in dumpsters and debris to block the intersection as they painted their pain across the asphalt.
And the city came, with dump trucks and street sweepers and police with zip-tie cuffs, to try to keep the roads clear. Because it was time to get Minneapolis moving again. It was time to move on.
Across America, drivers rammed into crowds more than 100 times in the first months of last year's mass protests over the murder of George Floyd. State lawmakers across America responded with bills that would reduce criminal penalties for those drivers and increase criminal penalties for the protesters.
That is the sort of thing you do when political rhetoric reduces people holding Black Lives Matter signs in an intersection to a faceless mob out to ruin everyone else's commute. Faceless targets of our rage.
Deona Knajdek was a face in the crowd. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister. She worked as a manager at a home health care service, helping vulnerable adults. She believed in the power of peaceful protest. She was loving, and she was loved.
This was going to be her year.
"This coming up week we shall forever call 'Deona In The Making week,' " she posted the day before she was killed. In the photo, a calendar with a bold sharpie notation on Wednesday — "Deona's 32nd B-day! — and another for Friday, celebrating one year of sobriety.
The man police identified as the driver who killed her has a suspended license and five drunken driving convictions.
Knajdek's mother faced the media wearing a protest shirt she'd made for her little girl. She asked for compassion for the driver's family, and for the driver.
She asked that Deona Marie's legacy be her life, not her death.
"We will scream her name for the rest of my days. We will continue to pound the ground and make a fight for my daughter and for everyone else," Debbie Kenney said Monday. "She wanted something to matter, and she wanted Black lives to matter and for this all to stop."
Deona Knajdek died in the street, three days before her birthday.
She wouldn't have died if she hadn't been in the street.
She wouldn't have been in the street if she hadn't cared.
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