I was already nearby and knew I wouldn’t be this close again for a long time. Maybe for years. I decide to go, asking Siri for directions to 38th & Chicago.
It’s about 4 miles away. Down a short stretch of bypass, I turn onto South Cedar Avenue, passing the tipi polls at Little Earth (www.littleearth.org). Later, as the right turn onto 38th approaches, the houses get nicer. The cars outside on the street get nicer too. Dogs are out being walked.
Signs appear soon after the turn. Road closed. Detour ahead. I wonder how far I’ll get.
I make it right up to the street closure, a short block west of Cup Foods, 38th & Chicago, Minneapolis MN.
Turning left onto Elliot Ave, I catch a glimpse of the painting I’ve seen so many times on the news; an orange and yellow sunflower on a bed of sky blue, with a face in the middle, separating first name from last. George Floyd.
I head a few yards down Elliot Street, over a truly massive speed bump, parking in an open spot along the curb. Many of the houses are decorated for Halloween and more dogs are out walking with their families. It’s 3:00pm on a crisp, partly sunny Thursday in early autumn.
In some ways, the block resembles my favorite Chicago neighborhood; tree- lined residential streets with well-kept houses, interrupted by treeless business-ways with their wide passage, heavier traffic and assorted storefronts. I get out of the car, put my hands in my jean pockets to protect them from the cold breeze, and backtrack down the street towards the road closure intersection. It was only a few hundred feet. At the corner, I turn left, passing the road barricade, and look around.
The iconic painting of George Floyd along the south facing wall of Cup Foods is the most notable thing on that part of the block, but it’s not the only thing. Inside the road barricade is an open tent of unknown purpose, with a hand sanitizing station outside. Much of the sidewalk and most buildings on either side of the block have paintings or messages written on them. It’s quiet, peaceful, eerie and sad all at once. Looking west to the intersection, a black fist rises from a large display of flowers in the center of the intersection. A monument. This has become George Floyd Memorial Plaza.
Standing there with a few other passersby and visitors, clouds sweep over the sun and the breeze picks up, a meteorological tribute to the plaza’s vibe. To the right is Cup Foods, just as it appeared on TV – a large but rather regular-looking corner grocery.
The most striking feature of the plaza isn’t the fist in the middle, the flowers, or even the famous George Floyd painting. It’s a tent. A tent placed in the street outside the front door of Cup Foods. It’s a canopy with open sides. Flowers flow out of it and into the street like the waters of a fire hydrant, opened for kids to splash in during summer heat. But there’s none of that. Instead, under the canopy on the street itself, right near the curb, is an artistically rendered, chalk outline of a body. George Floyd’s body. Memorialized approximately in the spot where he last attempted to breathe.
A few kids cross the street and head towards Cup; laughing, throwing a football, apparently used to the new look of the neighborhood. I guess it’s not really new, it’s been like this for months now. They head into the store, walking around the canopy and George Floyd’s spot.
I feel disgusted and a little nauseous as I look at the spot on the street under the canopy, and overlay it in my mind with the footage I’ve seen on the news. I look at my watch, wait a while, and look back again. Three minutes. That’s it? Seems like half an hour. Three minutes, and Floyd was pinned there by a cop for eight. Eight!
And still, the place feels peaceful. Peace with a muted undercurrent of anger. Not the anger that burned parts of the city down, but the simmering anger of resolve. Resolve to see long-overdue changes made- now.
The cold breeze kicks up again and I mock my petty discomfort as I look again at what’s around me. Why did I come here? I wanted to come, but why? Am I just a tourist, looking to see in real life what I’ve seen on TV? Am I here to pay respects to George Floyd, a man I didn’t know? Am I here for the experience of feeling what the place is like? Am I here to come face to face with racism, human tragedy and our cultural reluctance to accept and solve our issues?
Yes to all. I’m not sure my answer is acceptable.
The sun reappears as I walk around the corner, bringing needed warmth to the chilly afternoon. As I pass the famous painting of Floyd on the way back to the car, I take a look at the halo around his head, the center of the sunflower. It’s not gray like I thought it was. It’s black with white letters. Inside are written the names of many people of color, all having died under questionable, even murderous circumstances. There are a lot of names.
Beside the mural, I see a sign painted on tan board and hung on a wooden fence. I hadn’t noticed it before. It’s useful, especially to those who think that rioting and destruction of property are as bad or worse than the killing of another human. Paraphrased, the sign says “we are angry because waiting patiently (for justice) DID NOT WORK.
Will anything work? I’m not sure. I turn the corner and head down the street past a kid and his tricycle, to my car. Down the block is another one of those massive speed bumps. It scrapes the undercarriage as I carefully roll over it. I turn right at the corner, and back into a life that hopes not to detach from the experience.
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