MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Ten days after the death of George Floyd, Minneapolis looked toward healing, change and peace Thursday.
For the first time in nearly two weeks, there were no massive protests or rallies in either Minneapolis or its neighbor of St. Paul. Instead, communities around the city gathered to mourn, listen, celebrate or keep watch.
Floyd died May 25, Memorial Day, after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes in front of the city’s Southside neighborhood’s Cup Foods, despite the pleas of Floyd and several onlookers that he let up.
For days afterward, the city’s Lake Street, a major commercial corridor which hosted the police precinct at which Chauvin was stationed, was overrun with protests, then riots, looting and arson. Rioters set fire to the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct early in the morning on May 28 after the department abandoned the building. Businesses along Lake were also looted, vandalized and in some cases burned.
Curfews were put in place and at first vigorously enforced, but the intervening days have become more relaxed. On Wednesday, charges were filed against the three other officers accompanying Chauvin, who also faced an upgraded charge of second-degree murder.
Early in the afternoon Thursday, a memorial service for Floyd with a sermon from the Rev. Al Sharpton drew political figures and celebrities from around the nation, along with the international press. It also drew a small crowd of mourners who chanted Floyd’s name.
With no protests, the evening took on a pensive tone. A group of black and Latinx speakers gathered in front of U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, to share stories of growing up and attempting to make a living and a difference in the face of racism as people of color in Minnesota.
Several choked up in the telling, with crowd members shouting “You can do it, brother!” and other encouragements.
The early evening saw the burned-out husk of the third precinct swarming with white visitors posing for and taking pictures of the surrounding destruction. Across the street, a newly formed community group was wrapping up their work for the day.
Diora Toklah, who came to Minnesota from Liberia to be with his mother after a stint working at the United Nations, and a group he has called Voices from the Ashes have been holding court in the corner of a Target parking lot.
Formed from protesters, street medics and a collection of good showmen, the group built a stage on Tuesday to sing songs and collect signatures for a petition to create a law forbidding police from shooting unarmed people.
The stage itself is also covered in signatures, which Toklah said represented signers’ agreements to see all as equal and work together regardless of skin color.
“We all have heart in us,” Toklah said, describing the center of his mission. “How can we use that heart to look for peaceful resolutions, and seek justice?”
South of Lake Street, at Chicago Avenue and 38th Street, the site where Floyd pled for his mama and wheezed “I can’t breathe” had become a block party devoted to his memory. The site has been left alone by police for several nights and has become a gathering place for Southsiders and others to pay homage to Floyd and hang out with their neighbors.
“People didn’t know how to kind of deal with the world,“ said Andrew McGinley, who sat on his porch looking over the festivities.
Two doors down from Cup Foods, McGinley, a biracial youth sports coach, said he’d been witness to the space’s transition into what he called “the Peace Block.” The pandemic, coupled with the video footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, he said, had set the city’s residents far outside their comfort zone.
“Everyone was kind of loose cannons,” he said.
At Chicago and 38th, however, “the whole community came out and supported it, and kind of made sure… that everyone knew this was a safe place. Because this is all we have.”
A truck labeled Voice of the Southside — the handle of radio station KSRM — DJ’d alongside occasional live performances from local musicians. The tone was celebratory, playing “Laffy Taffy” right after “Fuck the Police,” and closing out the night with Prince’s “Purple Rain” just before curfew set in at 10 p.m.
Heading east down Lake a few minutes later, groups of mostly white neighbors could be seen guarding homes and businesses. Posted up outside a Subway off of 35th Avenue in the city’s Longfellow neighborhood, Matt Rector recalled the formation of the newly formed watch.
“Saturday was the big thing for the neighbors, because the previous night, it was ‘where are the cops,’” he said.
On Saturday, after organizing the neighborhood, locals had prevented an arson at a nearby bank, which he attributed to “about six white kids and one black kid, who wasn’t even with them.”
More seriously, they’d reported a truck without plates speeding down Lake to police, who found two white men with guns and accelerants, he said. That incident, he said, eased his worry that he was simply being paranoid.
As curfew went on toward 11 p.m. residents continued to walk the streets, peaceably, without a uniform in sight. The watch reported that they hadn’t seen much.