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Terry Hempfling class of 2004

Terry Hempfling ’04. Photo by Jaffa Aharonov

MW: “Okay, so Terry Hempfling, class of 2004 – I thought first it would be good if you could just give us a little personal background: who are you, where you’re from, what you’re into?”

TH: “My name is Terry Rosa Hempfling. I am 39 years old. I was born in New York City. I grew up mostly in the Northeast of the United States. I moved to Yellow Springs in high school and then I went to Antioch. Since graduation in 2004, I’ve lived in New York City, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. I just moved back to Yellow Springs a month ago or so.

MW: “And your major at Antioch?”

TH: “Theater and Dance major.”

MW: “What about your folks?”

TH: “My mom lives in Yellow Springs. She is a nurse, has been a nurse her whole life and is active in local politics. She was on the village council for many years and was the president of the Village Council during that time. My dad passed away last November. He was living in LA but most of his life he spent in the New York/New Jersey area. He was a civil rights and labor activist as well as a union organizer. He was also a jazz fiend and classic American movie lover.”

MW: “Can you give me some background on your case with the ACLU?

TH: “I was living in Minneapolis in May 2020. George Floyd was killed on May 25th, 2020. This was during the COVID-10 pandemic. I was living alone in a one-bedroom apartment and hadn’t really had interaction with other people for a couple of months. I hadn’t left my apartment very much. And then George Floyd was killed. I was taught by my parents growing up that we have the right and the duty to speak up when something wrong is happening. Especially on such a large governmental level. People were getting out in the streets so I went out immediately the day after he was killed. I was involved in the uprising in Minneapolis every day for that week following the murder. I was going out a lot in the streets, both during the day and at night. But I was particularly going out at night after curfew to try to help dilute the bodies of color that were on the street. I noticed during the day there were lots and lots of white people joining the protests, and then people would all leave essentially as soon as nightfall came and the curfew was put in place. Then it would just be the police using extreme force against brown bodies at night in Minneapolis.”

“Minneapolis was really a very intense place to be living at that time. There were helicopters going all day and all night. The streets were full of military vehicles. There were military personnel on every corner with machine guns, usually in groups. The breakdown of what happened in the week following George Floyd’s murder is inside of the ACLU case. The police interaction with the protesters was kind of shifting every day. The Friday after the murder I went out with my friend, Rachel, to join the protests. We had some medical gear on us and we were essentially just trying to support the other protesters.”

“There are two different police precincts that most of the protests were happening at, although there are many police precincts in Minneapolis where protests were happening. One of the precincts had been burned down by protesters a night or two before this. We were at a new precinct than we had been at for the previous couple of nights. And essentially what happened was that at around 11pm there was an announcement that came from the police precinct saying that everybody must disperse immediately. Rachel and I had locked our bikes kind of far away from the precinct. I thought it was a safe place to lock our bikes and the only place I had seen police officers was standing on top of the precinct building. So we immediately went over to start unlocking our bikes at which point we just immediately started getting hit by less than lethal projectiles.”

“Initially, I just felt very overwhelmed. It was extremely dark. There are questions about whether the streetlights were turned off or if it was just the amount of tear gas in the air that made it so difficult to see, because usually, that’s a very well-lit area. So, I couldn’t see what was happening. Rachel yelled at me “we’re getting hit”. And I saw we were being kettled by police coming in riot gear on either side of the block. And on this block, there were literally three people that weren’t police officers: me, my friend Rachel, and one other woman. And I’d say they’re probably like 25 to 40 police officers coming at us from both directions and firing at us. I still am not sure what exactly they were firing at us. I’m sure there was tear gas in the mix, which was very thick. It was hard to breathe and made it hard to see; it made our eyes sting; made my skin sting. And then we were hit by rubber bullets and potentially a canister as well.”

“At that point, the only way we could get away from the police was to climb over a fence. Rachel and I climbed over it. We stopped trying to unlock our bikes, climbed over the fence, and started running. We couldn’t see anything at that point because we had gotten so much tear gas. Some other protesters came over and started dumping milk on our faces, which was really helpful. And then we went home.”

MW: “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

TH: “Thank you.”

MW: “You were interviewed by USA Today, is that right?

TH: “Yeah, a couple of media sources reached out to my ACLU lawyers about the case. And they essentially have had me speaking to it from the protester’s perspective. One of those news sources was the Minneapolis Star Tribune. And then the other one was USA Today.”

MW: “You said there have been some recent developments in the case. What’s been going on now? What are the recent developments?”

TH: “The developments are happening slowly. The legal process is going very slow. People do keep getting added to the case. Now there have been a couple of additional plaintiffs added. I’m not sure what the official number is now. I think it’s still under 10. But we, the plaintiffs, are representing all the protesters that experienced what we did in Minneapolis.”

MW: “I’d love to hear your thoughts on the abolition of the police versus police reform. What do you think about the police?”

TH: “I really don’t know what the best system or the best answer to policing is. I think, though, that policing is not effective in the way that it’s been functioning in this country. And even just the word, the language of it, I don’t think is the way to create harmony in humanity. I definitely think that the way the police currently function in this country needs to end. Do they need to be replaced? I don’t know. I do believe that there needs to be a lot more focus on mental health, help on the streets with public access, mediation, public access to mediation. And I feel like if there was access, public access, readily available by calling one number and having somebody arrive within 10 to 15 minutes, and it wasn’t a police officer necessarily, but it was a mental health practitioner or a mediator, in a lot of situations that would actually help a lot more than what police do, with weapons and so on. I think that just tends to escalate tension. And in terms of who gets to carry weapons, I think that’s just a really big question that’s connected to this question of policing as well. But the police system in the way that it is in this country at this time I do feel needs to be abolished.”

MW: “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

TH: “People have so much power but it needs to be used in order for it to work.”

MW: “Exercise your rights if you expect change – is that what I’m hearing?”

TH: “Yeah, or, if you want change, exercise your rights. You may not see a lot of change happen in your lifetime, but none of us are heroes. My dad always said to me: “Don’t be a hero.” I’ve always said I think activism can be very energizing and make people feel really important in the moment. But those feelings are very fleeting, and to expect to have those feelings all the time, or even the majority of the time, when you’re trying to work for such giant, large-scale change, it’s just not going to happen. So, if you actually care about making change, then it’s important to just stick with it and keep trying.”