The corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis is the place where police brutality ended the life of a black man named George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
It was here that police officers held down the 46-year-old man that people called Perry, until his pulse stopped. It was here where a passerby filmed his killing, shared it online and sparked an uprising that’s spread from this one corner to cities across the country, and now the world.
And it’s here now where people gather every day to protest, to remember and to find comfort.
“It’s a community,” said Nuny Nichols, 30, a youth facilitator for Minneapolis Public Schools. “I know it sounds weird, but it has really brought people together.”
On this day Nichols has her trunk propped open and she’s passing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, making walking tacos mixed in a Doritos bag, giving out hand sanitizer and anything else that demonstrators who spend night and day in this spot might need.
She was drawn here on the first days of protests. On television she watched people breaking windows, setting fires and she decided she needed to see it for herself.
What she found was something else: people who understood her pain, who were as exhausted as she was and who were ready to make things change. She’s been coming back to the intersection where Floyd was killed ever since.
And Nichols is not alone. Scores of people who mourn Floyd come here to be together. At least temporarily this corner is transformed into a daily remembrance.
The streets leading here are blocked off. A black and white portrait is the backdrop of documenting resistance. People pose for pictures with their fists in the air. On the ground, piles of bouquets are sprinkled with handmade posters. One asks, “How long must we wait for Justice?”
Signs are stapled to a nearby utility pole.
“WANTED for MURDER Minneapolis Police Officers and Accomplices.”
“We are the people of MINNEAPOLIS. We are hurting enough. We are struggling enough.”
Some who visit knew him, but mostly it’s strangers who virtually witnessed his killing, an all too familiar scene for black Americans.
“Being a black person in America, you know, it’s just constant trauma after trauma after trauma,” Nichols said. “And it’s like, when is it ever going to be time for us to breathe?”
This past week a key demand of protestors was met. All four officers involved in Floyd’s killing are behind bars. Protestors and the Floyd family wanted a first-degree murder charge for Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who held his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he begged for breathe and his late mother. A second-degree murder charge was added this week. The three other officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting murder and appeared in court on Thursday.
But Nichols and her friend Shanay Oneal wonder if these charges would’ve even been brought if parts of the city and the country didn’t literally burn in an otherwise largely peaceful protest movement. If law enforcement weren’t witnessed pummeling peaceful demonstrators and journalists with tear gas, firing rubber bullets on them and using pepper spray.
“That’s the only reason I feel like they’re even taking steps toward making it seem like they’re trying to help,” Oneal, 29, said. “If things wouldn’t have gone the way they went with all the chaos, I don’t feel like we would have gotten this far at all…But is this what it takes to get a response?”
Nichols said she’s skeptical the charges will lead to real change.
“If we actually can get a conviction and we actually can get some police reform, then I’ll feel a lot better,” Nichols said. “But right now, it’s kind of like a Band-Aid being put over a big gaping open wound.”
That wound is why she comes to this place, to be with others who feel it and want to finally heal. The charges, she said, are a tiny step on a much longer path to change.
“What else are we doing to make sure that this doesn’t happen again? And to make sure that the black people in this country feel safe? Because at this point, I don’t feel safe,” Nichols said.
Nearby a DJ has set up outside the gas station and music is blaring. There are sizzling burgers on charcoal grills. A food truck provides free sandwiches and people pass out food from tents that line parking lots and sidewalks.
As day turns into night, chants of “say his name, George Floyd” echo and a megaphone gets passed around. The area is almost sacred ground. Here law enforcement largely stay away even when the curfew descended upon the city. Community groups provide security themselves, breaking up fights, cleaning up the area. They point to this as an example of how things could be if public safety were reimagined.
Some here say they want reform, others want radical change: disbanding the police and starting over. The system, they say, was built on the racism that stole Floyd’s life. Either way, everyone here is trying to process the pain together.
Taylor Winbush, 28, said he now comes to this place for solace.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a couple days, coming out here,” Winbush said. “Every day I’ve come out here it grows a little bit. You see people from all over Minneapolis, but you [also] see people coming from the suburbs and the rest of the state. All different kinds of people.”
Including people, he said, that don’t look like him. Maybe this time is different. But hope is hard when the long list of black people killed by police keeps growing. The amount of civil unrest it’s taken just to get here is exhausting, he said.
“How do you spend your whole life seeing people like you die on the news, not facing consequences?” Taylor said. “My grandparents had the same thing, they marched in 1965 to Selma and we’re still here today marching for the same reason. It’s tiring.”
He stands just a few steps from the spray painted outline of a body on the ground. It marks the exact place Floyd was killed.
Winbush stops speaking. He turns away, slips off his face mask and wipes away tears with his shirt. It’s the first time he’s cried since Floyd was killed.
His friend, Aaron Leonard, 28, steps in to speak for him, and for himself.
“This is why this place is so powerful,” Leonard said. “This is a place for the community to come and incite change, there needs to be a change…and until we have allies and other people that don’t look like us, that can come down and say, I see what you’re talking about. I understand what you’re talking about.”
Only then, when the country faces it’s violent past can it rectify its future, he said.
“People are now finally getting charged. Is that a step in the right direction? Yes,” Leonard said. “But we need to make sure that we take a step up from there and create overall change. So when he talks about his grandparents marching on Selma, we can tell our kids that we marched in Minneapolis.”
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