Today the events that happened to a man no one knew named George Floyd seem like a far distant series of events that have faded in memory. COVID-19 stopped the world only three years ago, and then the tragic historical moment that ended Georges's life happened. Only three years but today, online, I scrolled past another Moor/Black man shot and killed by police, and I didn't even stop to look at it, and at this very moment, I can't remember his name. I, like many others, am tired of seeing people that look like us slain by law enforcement, so much so that one could become desensitized. Yes, I feel hurt that yet another person is killed by law enforcement, but for my sanity, I can't look. Instead of the infamous "I CAN'T BREATHE," I now tell myself :”I CAN'T JUST LOOK; I MUST DO!” Every time we as people see over and over the lynching of those who look like us, a piece of us is taken or dies with the viewing. We are frozen in our trauma; we can't cry out every time this happens while also trying to care for ourselves and our loved ones and also manage to find the crumbs we need to survive. We have to tuck it away and continue to move. This is why I am just now able to write about our visit to George Floyd Square. I can now process the emotions and the pure astonishment of being there.
38th Street & Chicago Ave in South Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered. Now a memorial site where people from all over the world leave tributes.
Last month I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Minnesota for the first time to join the We Resolve hub based in Minnesota of the Participatory Defense Network at their Time Saved Party. “Time Saved” is a term we use in participatory defense that quantifies the years saved from incarceration due to the work of the family and community. Each participatory hub totals the number of years saved from incarceration due to their organizing and holds a party to celebrate the victory. It’s a gathering of those who are now free and their loved ones who helped make it happen. While there with the We Resolve hub in St. Paul, I learned about how they worked with the DA’s office on restorative practices and began to learn about the culture of their city. It was an experience I needed at that time in my life. To meet the people De-Bug trained over Zoom in 2020 and see their growth and impact on families was powerful. It allowed me to reflect and see the effects of our work. I was feeling burned out and at a place with many questions and not many answers, but as I have realized repeatedly, I am always placed at the site and in the time I need to be. At that moment, I was determined to return for a more extended period to absorb the energy I received from being there a day and a half. We planned to return during George Floyd's memorial.
The memorial consisted of several activities including a conference, a festival, a memorial candle lighting, and a gala. I was excited to return but unprepared for the hurricane of emotions I would feel. We planned to meet some We Resolve members following the conference at George Floyd Square. When I pulled up to the memorial, I felt nervous; I wasn't sure why, but then I realized I hadn't thought about what I would experience. We saw a mural with iconic and transformative figures as we walked toward the memorial. I was blessed to be there with my nephew. As I saw him, a young child directly impacted by the system, looking at these figures, I felt discouraged that all of these people on the mural fought for justice, equality, for the right to exist, and yet we are still here today fighting the same fight. That feeling of discouragement quickly turned to hope as I saw him looking at those figures. The youth are our hope. No matter the situations they have been through or have faced, they have the power to change and to change this world. As we walked to the spot Mr. Floyd was lynched, I stopped and felt overwhelming grief and knots in my stomach. I said out loud that I couldn't believe we were here to Sammy, a De-Bug organizer from Texas, who also flew out for the memorial. As I looked at the memorial, I began to walk through all the offerings and gifts left there. I saw teddy bears, flowers, and signs. As I walked to the exact location his life left this plane, there were no words to describe the feeling. I just stood in silence, and in my mind, the memory of the video played. I told myself I wasn't going to cry, so pushing the sadness back quickly turned to anger, as it does so often when we deal with harm as a people. After my rage, I wanted to be present in the moment.
Imani & her young nephew next to mural of historical Black leaders, one block away from George Floyd Square.
I looked at all the people there and all the memorial art around. I looked at the corner store sign that originally read “Cup Foods”and noticed they covered the word “Cup” with “Unity.” I'll admit I scoffed at it because it was so reminiscent of what society does. Instead of uprooting, dismantling, and rebuilding, society puts the band-aid of get over it already and move on. And things continue to move on. We met one of the founders of the Minnesota Agape Movement - they are transforming street energy into community energy through advocacy, empowerment, and education. Putting the neighbor back into the hood. We learned about what the neighborhood went through in the immediate aftermath. We learned the police stopped responding to the community's calls and that the community had to unite to restore justice and civility to the neighborhood. I learned that we could control our own community, but it had to be intentional and planned well.
George Floyd Square, 38th Street and Chicago Avenue
We also learned that the businesses and communities around the area needed to thrive and that many were nonexistent. It was mind-blowing knowing that millions of dollars had been raised in the name of or because of George Floyd, but that the people living in that area were not directly benefiting in a long lasting way. For me, that neighborhood modeled precisely what happened to the broader society. The world was back to business as usual after the COVID-19 quarantines were lifted. I saw vacant buildings, heard the stories of community members who were still struggling to survive, and felt that everyone came there and treated the place they lived as a tourist site, took pictures, and went home. As I look at my community, like many others, systemic band-aids are always created, but nothing to cure the systemic disease. We will genuinely change if we are committed to changing the institutions of power in place, stopping the perpetual cycle of emergency harm reaction, and turning it into prevention.
We intentionally supported the local businesses but also wondered what more we could do. As for me, sharing my experience and the systemic gaps in that community is a small gesture. Putting signs in your yard and wearing T-shirts are not enough anymore. You have to DO! The name "America," since its inception in the 1400s, was built on the massacre, torture, rape, genocide, and enslavement of people. We are just NOW starting to correct the harm consciously. So doing one act or committing your business to a year of change is not enough. You must live the difference for the rest of your lives and teach your children to be the change you want to see.With the recent report that was released by the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division of Minnesota Civil Division stating the city and police discriminate against Black and Native American people and those with “ behavioral health disabilities” I wonder with blatant injustice when will enough of us stand on one accord against it and not let up. Correcting this will take generations, but we must be committed to the Marathon.
Imani pictured with George Floyd's aunt, Nelson Mandela's grandson and other conference attendees from the George Floyd conference, May 2023