Today I woke up way too early, so I decided to drive over to the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis, at 38th and Chicago, the place where he was murdered on Memorial Day. I had originally driven by the area on May 28, three days after it happened, and there was a smaller assortment of flowers, balloons, signs and notes spilling over the sidewalk in front of the CUP Foods store.
I knew from news stories and photos that the memorial had grown to become a shrine and a sacred space, not only for George Floyd but for the many victims of racist police murders, as well as the collective grief over the painful effects of racism on individuals and communities. Racism affects everyone, is harmful to all of us, and of course most especially our non-white brothers and sisters.
I did not understand until I walked the street of the memorial site just how expansive it has become, how elaborate… or how deeply it would touch me to see what is there.
I have not shared much online lately. I have been going through some big life-changing losses in my personal life. There’s been some painful stuff happening over the last year in my home, and the coronavirus and quarantining has made it worse. There’s been grief and pain and sadness, and all the fun cycles that go with those. And then came Mr. Floyd’s murder by police officers, and all the events that followed in my dear Minneapolis. It has been a huge ball of tragedy and horror and fear and confusion rolling through my neighborhood.
How can I tell you what it’s like to watch your neighborhood burn, to see the destruction of buildings and shops that you frequent in your everyday life? We smelled the toxic smoky fumes throughout our house for days. Military helicopters circled our neighborhood regularly for over a week. When the serious rioting started, we turned to the media for answers– what was happening? Where was it happening? How bad is it? We wanted answers, but it was hard to piece it all together. We watched Unicorn Riot and other livestreams, scanned Twitter and the Nextdoor app, TV news, shared links and new info with family and friends. It was stressful living so near the major riot, not knowing if the threat would crawl into our residential area. We lived in flight-or-flight mode, and my brain was in a fog; it was hard to think straight.
That first weekend afterwards, we started hearing reports of outside groups coming to town to get in on the destruction for their own purposes, white supremacist groups, end-of-the-world preppers, anti-government groups. Our block club, which usually just has a street party once a year, was now coming together to share information and set up watch shifts at night, to care for each other. Many neighborhoods in our city started doing this. With the curfew and freeway closures in place by the Governor, we were told to watch out for cars with no license plates, cars with suspicious items (mattresses, gas or flammables to burn, bricks or rocks to throw, weapons). People out after curfew, especially those with backpacks, were given our attention. Our neighborhood did watch-shifts 5 nights in a row. We were vigilant.
Vigilance was needed but it comes at a cost. It’s hard to relax or get real rest when you can’t let your guard down. When you are in survival mode. It was really hard, and it’s taken several days to calm down after curfew was called off on Friday.
The aftermath for our neighborhood is figuring out how to clean up, help those who are having a really hard time with all our essential stores demolished, then healing and rebuilding. There’s trauma for a lot of us from these experiences we’ve been through.
All this is really a much smaller problem and less trauma than the pain, destruction, demoralization of racism in our city, in our society. George Floyd’s death was a catalyst for a no-holds barred demand for change, the straw that broke the camel’s back. A tsunami of suffering rose up. What started as the protests and riots in Minneapolis touched so many other places– it spread around the country, then around the world. People are crying out for change. Will it happen this time?
Back to the Memorial
Several people who had visited the site told me that it “feels like a church.” It has been set up as a sacred space, for mourning and healing. It covers what was usually a busy city intersection, but streets in all four directions are now blocked off. It was solemnly quiet, despite a crowd of about 50-60 people gathered there (I was there at 8:30 am; at other times of the day it is packed with visitors). I saw one local news camera while I was there, but I’ve heard news cameras from around the world have been there (someone saw one from Korea the other day).
There are flowers everywhere, thousands of them, bright bouquets interspersed with signs and notes and artwork and trinkets. Some were spread out before the Floyd mural painted on the side of the store. Some circled a huge sculpture of a Black Power fist in the street. There was a roped off area in the street where George was murdered, a candle burning in a bed-like space, surrounded by more flowers and art and balloons.
Further down the block was an avenue of flowers neatly laid out atop the lettered names of black victims who lost their lives at the hands of the police. So many names.
Masks are requested, and most people wore them. Many volunteers were out, taking care of the site, sweeping up old flower petals. A food area is set up with food donations that those in need can take, and a cooking area where food is provided sometimes during the day for visitors.
I felt sad and somber, heavy-hearted and sober as I stopped to look at artwork, read signs, watch people. A few paragraphs ago, I asked, Will it change? This place, this carefully crafted sacred space, feels like change. A whole city, a nation, a world crying out for change –it feels like hope to me that it will. This beautiful memorial on this city street was created with hope and healing from deep places of need. I am going to believe yes, it will change. We will change.
Want to help BLM causes with a donation? This article in Allure provides several options: “Where to Donate to Support the Black Lives Matter Movement Right Now.”
[All photos by Theresa Jarosz Alberti]