Cup Foods is vibrant with activity. Deli counter, racks stacked with locally-made foods, locally grown produce on open shelves. Parents walk in with their children, picking summer treats. At tables, men sit and talk about George in a way that says “We knew him. We knew him well.” That says he is still here. It is a multi-hued humanity in a neighbourhood hub.
This is 38th Street and Chicago, George Floyd Square, Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis. To get into Cup Foods, one could avoid the spot where George Floyd was murdered. I do not. I stand there. I wonder. What would it be like to have my own neck knelt on for nearly nine minutes, to slowly lose consciousness, to suffocate. I stand there, and I do not stand there alone.
Taken over by the neighbourhood, then cleared by the city, then met with compromise by both, traffic is reduced to one lane each way, and slow, with bright, meaningfully decorated concrete barricades, here on one side of the street, then on the other, with wide crosswalks and gaps for pedestrians, George Floyd Square is alive. A community garden feeds this diverse neighbourhood of Edwardian and Victorian homes and busy sidewalks. Murals adorn the walls of the businesses on the corners. There is Martin Luther King. There is Malcolm X. There is John Lewis. There is George Floyd.
The traffic circle, amid flowering plants, holds signs with the names and faces of the slain. I walk around it, clockwise, slowly, pronounce each name. There is Breonna Taylor. There is Trayvon Martin. There is Emmett Till. Name after name, recognised and not. The famous by deed and those brought to fame by moments of senseless violence and inhumanity. Of one person feeling they had the right to wield power over another. Of those sworn to protect and serve becoming agents of death.
Here is a place to pray. Here is a place to sit. Here is a makeshift memorial library large enough for two or three people to step into. Bring books, take books. It is fully stocked, shelves floor to ceiling. Awash in colour. We select one for our grandaughter, Sadie. Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech and note, inside the cover, where it came from with an enclosed photograph. The convenience store across from Cup Foods is covered in writings of social justice, ground to roof, and, again, colour. Color everywhere. Candles, flowers, pictures, notes, everywhere, on everything. And, everywhere, people. People talking, walking, writing, in contemplation, meditation, prayer.
We stand together. Look around. A living memorial in a living neighbourhood. A statement of grief and tenacity, sadness and resilience. Lisa cries. A tall woman walks over, dark brown skin, bright yellow shirt. Hugs her. Is it right that those who live this console those who only witness? Yes. Yes, she says. We are all in this together. We are all one, together..
Across the street she points. A young white woman. ”She has been here every day for a year. I’m here most days, making sure people are safe and understand it is still a working street. We want to keep everybody safe.”
Walk down the street, two blocks, she tells us. To the cemetery. Past the community garden that begins with a picture of John Lewis admonishing us to make “Good Trouble” and ends with squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. The whole way, homes with pride flags, Black Lives matter signs, and reminders that science is real, and love is love.
Turn left. One block down the hill to the field. To our right, an apartment building. To the left, old three story homes. At the end of the street, a large pond and central fountain to the right, houses to the left, a green concave field with rows of small tombstones. Over one hundred of them, each with a name, dates, location, and “rest in power.” Behind the field, a grassy slope up to a busy street, and, amid the green, the words, in white, “SAY THEIR NAMES.
A small table is front and center. A person hands out information. A Lokotah man greets us. We talk.
When did all this start, I ask him.
“With Columbus, man. With Columbus.”
We walk the seven long rows, saying each name. Shot by police in her bed. Shot by police in front of a store. Shot by police in his home. Shot by police in front of his mother. Shot by police in front of his children. A massage therapist. A violin student. An autistic student. A prisoner. Nearly every one a person of colour. And those who weren’t, autistic.
No one is a saint. But everyone is a sinner. No one deserved this.
We walk. Name. Name. Name. Name. But each one is said.
A donation is left, and we walk up the hill, down the street, through the square. There is a place to be, and we must go. In the car, we sit quietly for a few moments. There are butter cookies. We squeeze each other’s hand.