We Need More Light About Each Other
Friday March 12th, Amudalat Ajasa wrote a powerful article for The Guardian entitled Minneapolis on trial: how the year of George Floyd changed me and my city. In it, Ms Ajasa speaks about the dull pain and headache that became a part of her daily life, managing the stress of how racism has manifested itself in Minneapolis: For weeks I had a throbbing headache near my nape. I would sleep but never rest because of paranoia that I could be harmed by the police or white supremacists who had come to counter the civil rights protesters.
We are all waking up to that quiet racism here in Minneapolis, and in the United States. Her insight into the experience of living in a traumatized city under attack is powerful, and her account of the ceaseless nights of actions and protests which changed our city. There is also though another change, a realization of what it is to be a city being tested as a litmus paper for race in America. The chilling part of this realization is that it is an attack from without, and that it is organized, and has a playbook to turn protest into riot and looting.
As the arrests and investigations played out over the course of the year*, it demonstrated more and more that these inflammatory actions were organized by right wing groups with a playbook to turn protest into riot and looting. These agitators understand tactics of distraction, deployment of weapons, and manipulation of human nature under stress...and how to weaponize that disorientation. They understand tactics of distraction, deployment of weapons, and manipulation of human nature under stress.
I moved to South Minneapolis in the summer of 2019. Without knowing the long and sordid history of Minneapolis, it’s police, and communities of color,** my husband and I found ourselves witnesses to the sickness of the open inhumanity of the murder of George Floyd; the dismay and anger which has followed; to the violence and fires in the our city. While the nation discussed the arsons and lootings as a corollary of the protests raising awareness of the murder of George Floyd, on the ground in Minneapolis were we are aware of another story: what happened in these first few days of the uprisings, the chaos and the arsons, were provoked by groups working to leverage the fear and anger of the obscurity of our times, and create panic.
After the arsons on Lake Street***, I woke up Friday in food desert, my post office gone, businesses emptied, and gas stations for miles about, in any direction, razed. The fires seems unrelated to any kind of uprising- just gutting a neighborhood which has been a successfully integrated area of town.
I am attaching to this a map of the fires along Lake Street during the nights of May 27th and 28th, 2020. These businesses are minority owned. Buildings targeted are infrastructure (post office, grocery stores, gas stations). Some of these are done with precision: the gas station on 46th and Minnehaha was burned flat- for blocks around there is no other damage. The massive blaze in the first night was a half-finished condo site, Corner, dedicated to be low-income housing****. Thee was no reason for this to be set afire other than to make a huge, visible (and intimidating) bonfire...a tactic which should sound familiar.
This is not what democracy looks like. This is not what justice looks like. This is what a systematic, militarized action to strategically bring a community to its knees looks like.
In the days following the arsons, as the marches and protests grew across the country, neighborhoods here in South Minneapolis were chillingly aware of the unmarked vans (sometimes filled with sleeping occupants, overnighting in the streets). Local neighborhood groups were formed so that we could prepare for each night’s curfew, scanning alley ways and under cars for stores of accelerants and other evidence of pre-planned disturbance. The city set itself on watch not for the disturbances of the protests, but of those who would use the distress of the city to mask organized actions to promote that stress.
While the news often centered on the protests, here is was clearer and clearer that what we were guarding our city against was an organized outside force, which was not averse to using civil mayhem to grow unrest, and mar the efforts of the protesters. While controversial, one effort which turned the tide was Governor Walz’ decision to suspend travel on major highways in and out of the city during night time hours. Only after these curfews and the controlled travel in and out of the city after dark did the acts of mayhem subside.
As the protests grew stronger across the country, it was clear that not only did the voices raised increase awareness of systemic violence and oppression against people of color in Minneapolis and beyond, it made clear how organized the forces willing to fight to keep those systems in place are, and that w can no longer allow ourselves to be oblivious.
In the weeks that followed the arsons, community actions and food pantries were set up along Lake Street, which not only brought resources to the neighborhood, but allowed the community to come out onto the streets and reconnect. At the corner of Minnehaha and Lake, the site of the Minneapolis Third precinct police headquarters and center of the unrest, the streets had been cordoned off, and the parking lot of the now closed Target evolved nto a community center of sorts. A makeshift stage was erected there, where musicians played sets, and speakers talked about the legacy of slavery in our country, or the abuses of systemic racism. This stage was surrounded by tables that offered the community free services like food pantries, phone charging, clothing, hot food, and other necessities.
During the summer of 2020, I was in awe watching this trauma happen, up close; and then seeing the reactions of not only my new city, but of the whole country. Instead, after nights of the obscurity and tension, the city (and the state) show signs of coming out the other side determined to look at the systemic injustices that created these dehumanizing divisions.
One of the most powerful parts of it all is that it feels as though Minneapolis has driven this tide across the country, in waves of unrest, yes...but in waves which are carrying us through a transformational moment, and demonstrating, maybe for the first time in recently memory, that we are indeed a people of love and justice, and not anger and fear. While Lake Street continues to recover from this past summer, many larger businesses have returned and shown their commitment to this community. The Target has reopened, covered with murals created by local artists addressing the uprisings; so have the larger grocery stores which had been shut down. The housing project at Lake and Minnehaha is being rebuilt.
At the corner of 38th and Chicago, where George Floyd was murdered, the four blocks around are cordoned off, and in the center of the intersection a monument has been erected of an upraised fist, made of welded steel sheets. The streets around are covered with art and messages of memory, anger, grief, and rallying for change: a place for communal recognition of trauma, for dialogue, for education for community, and for change. One of the most moving there is a long list of names of BIPOC Americans who have been killed by police. This list was painted on the street, and stretching an entire city block. A man walked down this list, holding his daughter’s hand, reading the list to her as they progressed, saying their names aloud. I was in awe, moved and humbled.
On the fence surrounding the building that was the Third Precinct House, there is a sign now which bears a quote from Malcom X-
"We need more light around each other. Light creates understanding. Understanding creates love. Love creats patience. Patience creates unity."
It is hard to imagine that light, when a future can appear to be so dark. But if the future may appear dark - it is dark in the sense that it is obscure. It is unknown, unseen, not yet defined, indistinct, indecipherable. It may leave us to re-evaluate everything we have known, and process many things of which we may not have made ourselves aware. In all of that, yes, it is indeed obscure…but being careful to not confuse a fear of the unknown with the difficult process of trying to envision a future is key to living in a time of possibility.