Two months after George Floyd’s death, some hope Minneapolis doesn’t forget
The fight in the Twin Cities right now involves a legit conversation about the future of policing
BLAINE, Minn. – As a young reporter in Minneapolis in 2006, I made it a priority to pitch stories about Black people and the community.
Not the stereotypical pieces often tied to underserved Black pockets of the city that only covered the eruptions after sundown.
I wanted to cover the people. How did they feel when a community was inundated with a spate of gang violence? How did community organizations provide homes for Hurricane Katrina evacuees?
During the summer of 2006, I pitched a story to an editor that described the proliferation of positive developments in those same communities overshadowed by negative headlines. My pitch was denied.
I was discouraged and angry. I never forgot how I felt that night.
This week, I found myself in Blaine, Minnesota, not far from the neighborhoods I used to cover, reporting on the 3M Open, the PGA Tour’s only stop in Minnesota and a 20-minute drive from the site where George Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes on Memorial Day.
Two months later, African Americans in this city are trying to make sure people who live here never forget how they felt that day.
The 3M golf tournament was the first professional sporting event in Minnesota since the death of Floyd sparked a national awakening that led to discussions about systemic racism and police brutality.
“A lot of people that called in the first two weeks after Floyd died, I haven’t heard from since,” said Larry McKenzie, a resident of the predominantly Black North Minneapolis community and the only high school basketball coach in Minnesota who has ever led two programs (Minneapolis North, Patrick Henry high schools) to multiple state championships. “For a month, people were enlightened. It’s amazing how quickly a lot of that has disappeared.”
Prince created brilliant music here. Kevin Garnett compiled a Hall of Fame career here. Former Minnesota Vikings star Alan Page, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, became a judge after he retired. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis changed music forever in their Minneapolis studio. But they are too often regarded as exceptions.
The oversimplification of the Black experience in Minneapolis and its surrounding areas fuels long-standing and harmful stereotypes. Blaming the extremists for the latter is common.
Yet, the true reckoning involves the multitude of white people in the Twin Cities who purchased anti-racism books in the days and weeks following Floyd’s death only to realize they’d never implemented the principles of unity they’d claimed to support.
Yes, the fight in Minneapolis right now involves a legit conversation about the future of policing. It entails discussions about the significant shifts in resources necessary to close the city’s inexcusable achievement gap between Black and white children. An entire country awaits the results and the upcoming trials for the four Minneapolis officers who’ve been charged with crimes in Floyd’s death.
These challenges existed long before the national media outlets arrived after Floyd’s death. Now, the city is battling a familiar temptation to return to the status quo and abandon fervent dialogue that could lead to serious progress.
“A lot of people have donated what I consider to be ‘feel-good’ money after Floyd’s death that will get short-term results but not long term,” McKenzie said.
If you mention Coach McKenzie’s name in Minneapolis, you’ll hear positive remarks about a man who has guided a generation of young Black athletes throughout the city.
Raised in South Carolina and Florida, he started his family in Minneapolis after a Division III college basketball career in Wisconsin. His son, Lawrence McKenzie, is a former All-Big Ten guard and professional basketball player who now raps under the name Mac Irv. He remembers the tentacles of racism throughout the South that defined his childhood. But he’s also quick to remind those around him about the similarities he’s faced in both locations.
To McKenzie, the Black experience in Minneapolis doesn’t feel so different from what he witnessed as a young man in the South. Neither do the obstacles. In Minneapolis, he goes to boardrooms and meetings where he’s the only African American in the room. But he has never been shy about discussing injustice and racism in those moments.
“I feel like, in those rooms, I’ve been screaming about these issues for 60-plus years,” he said. “Imagine a person screaming at the top of their lungs and nobody hears them. It’s a lonely place.”
I’ve lived in Minnesota for 20 years. I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for 15 years.
Black people and white people here tend to present divergent views of their experiences in the Twin Cities. It’s not difficult to understand why once you understand the history.
In 2018, a report by The Economist ranked Minnesota fourth on a list of the “most liveable cities in America.” In a report produced by 247wallst.com last year, the Twin Cities were ranked fourth among “The Worst Cities for Black Americans.”
Most locals travel between St. Paul and Minneapolis along Interstate 94, a highway that uprooted the Rondo neighborhood, a vibrant community anchored by African Americans, in the 1960s.
Debbie Montgomery, the first Black female patrol officer in St. Paul and a former city council member, told me that her father and other Black men in the area had invested in businesses throughout the community. But city officials disrupted their path toward generational wealth when they removed the Rondo neighborhood and displaced residents to make room for I-94.
I went to Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota, where 38 members of the Dakota tribe were hanged following a questionable set of trials in 1862. It remains the largest mass execution in American history. Two hours north of Minneapolis in Duluth, Minnesota, three Black men were accused of raping a white woman in 1920. An angry mob of white residents beat and lynched the three men, circus workers who’d traveled to Duluth for an event.
The inequities were preserved over the next 100 years. A persistent achievement gap has been the subject of think pieces and legislation for decades. More recently, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported last week that half of the Black workers in Minnesota have applied for unemployment since the COVID-19 pandemic began, compared with one-quarter of white workers.
Black and brown bodies have been the centerpieces for Minnesota’s most tragic moments.
I wrote about a few of them.
In 2006, I was a 22-year-old night shift reporter with the Star Tribune, the state’s largest newspaper, and I’d been sent to a crime scene. Officers had allowed the body of a young Black man, a homicide victim, to lie on a North Minneapolis street for hours. Crowds gathered and the folks in the neighborhood questioned the display. I’d just covered that area’s third homicide in a week and residents were concerned about a changing climate in a neighborhood they loved.
They’d dealt with crime, but they’d also generated a slate of positivity that had mostly gone unnoticed by those who didn’t live there. A pastor who trained at the renowned Juilliard School had turned her nearby church’s auxiliary room into a ballet studio for young dancers. A group of barbers started a shop in a basement next door. A woman who created a cookie business had hired high school kids in the area to deliver them.
I covered all of those stories for the Star Tribune, where I spent the first six years of my career, because I knew my purpose within that beat centered on my ability to demonstrate the diversity, beauty and courage in that community.
But the Black people here have also witnessed the fleeting concern and goodwill that tends to subside as new stories about gun violence emerge.
That’s why McKenzie and other African Americans in the city can’t shake their concerns about the validity of this moment in a place where history doesn’t just repeat itself but always seems more present than past.
At the 3M Open on Wednesday, the Fortune 500 company sponsoring the event unveiled a mural at the TPC Twin Cities course to commemorate social justice initiatives and front-line health care workers. But the Power of Community mural, an impressive feat complete with more than a thousand Post-it notes, does not include a mention of the Black Lives Matter movement or Floyd.
According to a press release, 3M donated $1.5 million to local organizations in conjunction with the mural’s unveiling.
But I was baffled during the introductory news conference. Twenty minutes from where Floyd had died, had people already forgotten about him? And if he’s forgotten, what about the promises of change that followed his death?
The entire country feels the weight of those questions. But Minneapolis is where it happened. It’s a different burden, one that will demand massive upheaval to alleviate. And it’s difficult to trust any projections that support that possibility.
“I’ve seen this movie,” McKenzie said, “too many times before.”