At George Floyd Square, optimism and frustration on the anniversary of a police murder
Many came to mourn and demand greater police accountability, or to show solidarity with residents who have rallied to keep the square an arts-driven memorial to Floyd.
MINNEAPOLIS — It started out like any other day for Billy Jones, who was delivering meals as a DoorDash operator when he came across an old acquaintance whom, he recalled, was “doing something I thought would get him in trouble.”
Jones, an entrepreneur with a degree in computer science, urged his friend to use better judgment.
Moments later, he spotted four Minneapolis Police officers holding a Black man down on the ground. He flipped on the video recording device on his smartphone under the mistaken assumption his friend had been apprehended, only to move on after some 60 seconds when he found he was in error.
It wasn’t until hours later that Jones realized he had recorded a minute in the slow-motion murder of George Floyd, a Black man whose death under the knee of a white Minneapolis officer would reverberate across the country and the world.
‘Nothing new to me’
Seeing Minneapolis officers manhandle a suspect “isn’t nothing new to me,” said Jones, who opened the For Real Coffeehouse in March directly across from the street corner where Floyd was killed. “I’m not saying all cops are bad, but this is typical in my world.”
Fueled by a palpable mix of shared grief, optimism and frustration, hundreds gathered Wednesday at George Floyd Square, the heavily-decorated site of Floyd’s death outside of the Cup Foods mini-market at Chicago Avenue and 38th Street.
Many came to mourn and demand greater police accountability, or to show solidarity with residents who have rallied to keep the square an arts-driven memorial to Floyd, who was 46 years old and unemployed as a result of the pandemic when he was killed.
“So many people here come to the same conclusion — it could be me, my brother, my cousin — as opposed to ‘He’s just another guy, let me go on with my life,'” said Paul Johnson, a psychotherapist who raised his children in the neighborhood and recently became involved in Communities United Against Police Brutality.
Johnson added: “His life, we will not allow it to be in vain. If we can somehow turn these streets into safer streets from the police, that would be wonderful.”
George Floyd Square
Louie Carl and daughter Chamryn Carl of northern Arizona spent the weekend at a convention focused on indigenous food and nutrition. Rather than drive home, they decided to attend the vigil Wednesday night at George Floyd Square.
“We’ve got to help one another,” said Chamryn Carl, who is Hopi and Navajo, noting many Native Americans in the Flagstaff area have suffered abuse at the hands of police. “We deal with the same treatment back home.”
But with little cellular phone coverage on the reservation, Louie Carl said, there’s no videos to document the evidence.
Throughout George Floyd Square, murals, colorful wreaths and art installations list the names of Black men, women and children across the nation who have died during questionable, if not notorious, police encounters: Philando Castile. Breonna Taylor. Aiyana Jones. Alton Sterling. Floyd.
At a nearby greenspace, artists have assembled a cemetery of sorts with dozens of tombstone-like canvases bearing the names, ages and cities of the dead, with Castile and Floyd at the front.
If there’s been change in how Minneapolis police treat Black suspects, and Black men in particular, “I haven’t seen it,” said Jones, who is nonetheless hopeful that his new cafe will serve as a launching point toward bringing new capital to the historically-Black neighborhood where he grew up.
Cafe co-owner Disney Foote, a real estate broker, remembered the day Jones casually mentioned he had found a location for her dream coffee shop venture. Only after Googling the address did she realize it landed on the virtually the same location as Floyd’s murder. She was taken aback, and then meditated on the symbolism.
In the two years since Floyd’s murder, new storefronts have gradually begun to open in spaces left vacant by the riots and arsons that erupted after his death, or the economic slowdown that followed. Like For Real Coffeehouse, Finish Touch clothing boutique, Hair by Naya salon and Just Turkey restaurant proudly advertise themselves as Black-owned businesses on the block adjoining that of Cup Foods.
“I couldn’t put this anywhere else but here,” said Foote, who sees her cafe as a beacon of Black enterprise.
‘A positive thing’
On Wednesday, during the coffee shop’s official grand opening, Jones’ mother, Colnese Hendon, arrived to sign copies of her new memoir, “Blend In or Fade Out,” dedicated to her childhood as a multiracial adoptee of Black parents in South Minneapolis.
A mix of Black, white, Asian and Latin patrons ordered coffees and lattes, with more than one customer wearing a shirt identifying themselves allied with “Black Lives Matter,” or as gay or trans.
It was the kind of event that brought a smile to the face of TeNaya Rhines, a former South Minneapolis resident who now owns a home in the northern suburbs.
“People were here playing chess earlier,” said Rhines, noting she felt nothing but optimism. “This promotes art and conversations and that’s a positive thing. I don’t have that in Fridley. I always come back to the ‘hood. This is where the love is. … This is a pulsating part (of the city). It’s always been like that here.”
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