I was driving through Minneapolis on July 11 on my way to an assignment in Pennsylvania. Although I was on a schedule, I felt compelled to stop at the memorial to George Floyd and pay my respects.
After putting the address into my GPS and winding through the streets of the city that was literally burning for weeks, I found the neighbourhood where George was murdered. A few blocks are cordoned off around 3641 Chicago Ave. — now referred to as George Floyd Square — so I parked near a residential street. Along the way, homes built at the early part of the century displayed homemade signs tucked into their manicured lawns: Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe, Unite.
I walked around the corner and saw the side of the Cup Foods convenience store. It was decorated with a stunning mural of George, with the names of other Black and Indigenous peoples killed by police written in a black halo behind him. In front, there were plastic flowers, candles, notes, random items and graffiti from the remnants of a war that changed the world. I took a breath and a moment to acknowledge his life — and the tragedy that unfolded here just over a year ago.
It was sweltering hot outside. I heard the echoing voice of a Black preacher giving an inspiring sermon to a crowd a few metres away. A dozen or so others wandered around the sprawling memorial, taking in the colourful artwork and the scene of where George took his final breath when white police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him on the ground with a knee to the neck. All because George was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at Cup Foods.
I stood there studying the spot outside the store and freely took a drag of my cigarette. Thousands of flowers and other tributes — art depictions, inspiring messages and a huge black and white painting of George — lay silent, but the message was loud. Did he know his life unleashed a long-needed revolution around the world? His murder and the global protests that followed kindled the hopes of countless people of colour. Hopes that the roars of justice chanting “Black Lives Matter” were enough to jar the world into admitting there’s a bloodthirsty racism problem that we need to face and eradicate — yesterday.
A black-and-white portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. is staked into the ground in the middle of a traffic circle, decorated with the portraits of other murder victims and framed by rows of wildflowers. Before King was assassinated, he led powerful marches in streets across America for equality. His legacy carries on, but his vision still hasn’t come to pass.
George Floyd’s death and the aftermath shook me up: at last, people gave a crap about oppressive white systems and their violence to racialized people. Maybe this would kick-start a revolution for people to march with Indigenous peoples for equality too. It was heavy; it was ugly — the protests, the fighting, the fires. But it was the birthing of the end to the status quo.
The preacher’s voice in the background spoke of forgiveness, and not holding on to the bitterness of what others have done to you. Because if you do, he said, that keeps you a prisoner of hate, which is far more destructive than the pain of racism and inequality.
That doesn’t mean you don’t demand justice, or that you sit back and take abuse. You take a stand, you march in the streets, you ally with your brothers and sisters who are taking bullets and having the life choked out of them just because of the colour of their skin. But you do it with love — and love can be passionate; it can be strong and enduring.
I felt the love there at that place. It was run down and the buildings were boarded up, but it was beautiful. Decorated in prolific art, poems from the heart, flowers that never die — and the spirit of freedom of the revolutionaries who believe in a better world. Rest in peace, George.
Brandi Morin, an award-winning French/Cree/Iroquois journalist from Treaty 6 in Alberta, is a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: email@example.com