New York Magazine

Rachel Noerdlinger

IT WAS EARLY JUNE when I first spoke to Rachel Noerdlinger, and she was worrying about the casket. George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis was to be held in 48 hours, and she was considering how images of the coffin, conspicuously placed at the front of the university sanctuary, might impact the national psyche after ten days of protests. It was the family’s call, of course, but she fretted that they might want the casket to be open, as it had been in the case of Sean Bell. (“I can still picture his face,” Noerdlinger says now. “It’s just blech.”) But Noerdlinger wanted to ensure that Floyd remained in the public mind as long as possible, as “a human being, not a lifeless vessel.”

Noerdlinger was in hyperdrive. Officially, she is a communications strategist, but she prefers the designation “media activist,” a label she learned from her oldest and most visible client, the Reverend Al Sharpton. She first heard the chant “No justice, no peace” out of Sharpton’s mouth more than two decades ago, she told me; he first proposed anti-choke-hold legislation after Eric Garner was killed. Noerdlinger has orchestrated press coverage of about 15 instances of Black men being killed by police, but this time was different. A generation of young people raised on cell phones, wanting instant gratification and results, newly politicized since 2016, mistrustful of Establishment institutions, “quarantined in their house, sitting around, not watching sports but watching a Black man be executed on television. The outcry was instantaneous.”

In the frenetic lead-up to the funeral, Noerdlinger made sure the AP journalists reporter at work on a long piece about Floyd and the uprisings for to have an on-the-record one-on-one meeting with Sharpton. (“I’ve known him basically since he first got out of college,” she said of Lowery, whom she had worked with closely in Ferguson.) And all this as she tried to figure out how to invite press to a funeral within appropriate social-distancing parameters.

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