The Potluck

George Floyd mural vandal no longer a U med student

By: - August 24, 2020 11:35 am

The George Floyd was covered with a blue tarp that says “Under conservation.” Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer.

The University of Minnesota Medical School dean released a statement saying the Rochester med student who admitted to defacing the George Floyd mural last week was not enrolled as of Thursday.

“We are aware of a media report discussing the involvement of a medical student in this act,” Dean Jakub Tolar said in statement released on social media. “While we must respect the privacy laws governing student information, we can disclose that the student who has been identified in the media report is not presently enrolled.”

Both the vandal Daniel Michelson and a classmate said he had been previously enrolled. University spokesperson Katrinna Dodge said by Board of Regents policy, she could only confirm a student’s status as of Aug. 20, the date Tolar’s statement was published. She would not comment on his status prior to that. It’s unclear why Michelson is no longer enrolled.

The mural of Floyd on the outside wall of Cup Foods was defaced with spray paint Tuesday night. Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police outside the store at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. The colorful mural was painted soon after and became the backdrop to Floyd’s memorial service, nearly daily rallies and countless social media posts. 

Volunteer neighborhood security guards caught a young man who was later identified as Michelson a few blocks from the mural after he was spotted spray painting over Floyd’s eyes and crossing out the face.

As is now the practice for such incidents in what’s informally called “George Floyd Square,” the police were not called, but photos of the suspect were posted online and he was quickly identified as a 26-year-old Rochester medical student. He admitted to committing the vandalism in an interview with the Reformer on Wednesday. 

Michelson said after spending months alone in quarantine, taking online classes, he consoled himself by drinking alone in his apartment all day and does not remember the incident other than walking around and running home. 

Some medical students called on the school to take action after the incident, such as Londyn Robinson, who tweeted that Michelson was a member of her med school. “When we say we have work to do, we mean within our own class. We mean med students are JUST as harmful & racist as the rest of medicine.”

Tolar addressed the issue in his statement: “Our medical school has taken a strong stand against racism in our institution and we are taking action every day with our faculty, staff and learners to confront health disparities. We have a long way to go, but we are unwavering in our resolve.”

Bethel University also released a statement on the incident, because Michelson is a graduate of the private Christian university in St. Paul. Bethel President Ross Allen said in a university-wide email Thursday evening, “My heart ached as I read about another act of violence and hatred toward the Black community… This vandalism, along with any instance of racism or discrimination, has no place in our community.”

Allen concluded his statement with an announcement of the Bethel University Institutional Action Plan for Diversity and Racial Healing, which he wrote will be shared with the community “in the near future.” He has previously promised to “make meaningful improvements” in racial reconciliation in this, his first year as president. 

Two weeks prior to the mural incident, Bethel faced criticism from some alumni and students for creating a George Floyd Memorial scholarship.  

(Disclosure: The reporter’s husband is an instructor at Bethel University.)

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.