Man caught defacing George Floyd memorial once a UMN medical student

After a young man vandalized Floyd's memorial, community members identified him as Daniel Michelson from a photo taken on the scene.

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George Floyd's mural on the corner of 38 Street and Chicago Avenue after being vandalized on Tuesday evening. 

Nat Jacobwith

The young man caught on camera defacing the George Floyd memorial on Tuesday evening has been identified as Daniel Michelson, a 26-year-old student “not presently enrolled” at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Neighborhood residents saw Michelson walk up to the Floyd mural located at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue and used black spray paint to vandalize and cover up Floyd’s eyes.      

Floyd was a Minneapolis resident killed by police in late May for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. His death sparked local and nationwide protests against institutional racism and police brutality

While there have been not yet been any charges filed against Michelson, members of the University community are contending that it is impossible to be a good doctor without resolving racist biases. 

Billy Briggs has been a neighborhood resident of the Powderhorn Park neighborhood since 1997, and he said that neighbors have been taking turns standing watch and taking care of Floyd’s memorial since local community members and activists erected it following Floyd’s death.       

Briggs, who has an artificial hip, chased Michelson off the property and called the volunteer security that monitors the area once he saw him start spray painting. When security caught up to Michelson, he smiled for a picture that community members later used to identify him before leaving the area so as not to potentially escalate the situation. When Briggs returned to the scene and saw the damage, he said it was an emotional experience. 

“I noticed he crossed out the eyes and broke down,” Briggs said.

Tonight on 38th & Chicago

I’m lighting candles at the George Floyd memorial when I noticed a white boy wearing khaki…

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Michelson did not follow up with the Minnesota Daily’s request for comment by the time of publication, but he told the Minnesota Reformer he had been drinking heavily and does not remember the incident. Michelson, who was enrolled at the University as of summer 2020 per the University’s student database, also said he plans on paying any repair costs. 

In an official statement, Dean of the Medical School Jakub Tolar confirmed that Michelson is not presently enrolled and said that the school is not allowed to disclose more information about specific students. However, he did say that the Medical School has “taken a strong stand against racism and openly condemned the death of George Floyd.”

While Tolar said that the University is committed to addressing racism, students and community members worry about the racial disparities that already exist in the healthcare system. Minnesota has some of the largest racial inequalities in health status and rates of chronic disease in the country. 

Other fourth-year students in Michelson’s graduate class are organizing and preparing to speak with University administration in the coming days. While it is unclear exactly what their demands will be, they have been in contact with the residents of the Powderhorn Park neighborhood. 

Briggs said that he grew up making mistakes, and it was important to learn from them. However, he believes Michelson has already been held to a different standard. 

“If he was a Black person, he would be all over the news. If he was a person of color, there would be no second chances,” Briggs said.