You can still see the chalk art under all the broken glass on the sidewalk. Splashes of color meant to make downtown Minneapolis feel something like normal this summer.
But how can anything feel normal, here in the city that killed George Floyd? Minneapolis went to bed to the sound of sirens and smashing glass and circling helicopters and woke to the sound of sirens and circling helicopters and hammers pounding plywood across shattered windows.
It has been 95 days since George Floyd died, and all that’s changed is that we’re angrier at one another.
As the curfew lifted at dawn, downtown business owners were out, sweeping up, tallying the damage and putting plywood into place with the speed of experience.
On Nicollet Mall, Roger was sweeping up glass in front of the shattered Britt’s Pub. He’d filled 2 ½ large trash cans with broken glass and debris already and was planning to work his way the length of the mall, as long as it took. This is his city. He was born here and it’s his job to look after Minneapolis now, as a street ambassador working for the Downtown Improvement District.
“This was all so unnecessary,” he said, shaking his head at the damage to the pub, whose owners he said are always so kind, offering him water on hot days, chatting when business was slow. “Why can’t young people take the energy they put into smashing stuff and use for something constructive? Even flipping burgers would be better than this.”
Things had been quiet for the past few weeks. The chalk artists went to work for the socially distant Downtown Minneapolis Street Art Festival. Shops and restaurants were open downtown and people relaxed on rooftop patios and in outdoor dining areas that spilled out in the park. There were people playing shuffleboard in Loring Park the evening before the gunshot rang out on Nicollet Mall on Wednesday.
But underneath, the tension was building. Half of Black Minnesotans have lost work during the pandemic, compared with about a quarter of white Minnesotans. Around the country, the protests haven’t stopped and the deaths haven’t stopped.
Then, one state away, police shot a Black man seven times in the back in front of his children.
Then the same police force let a white teenager walk through police lines carrying the weapon he’d just used to gun down protesters on the streets of Kenosha.
And Wednesday, gunfire rang out on Nicollet Mall.
“I was sitting at the bus stop. I heard the shot,” said Noel Santos, watching the cleanup from Peavey Plaza. “I saw about 100 people running by me. I was like, ‘What? What?’ People were going ‘They’re shooting people in the head!’ So everybody ran.”
The gunshot was self-inflicted, as police closed in on the man they suspected of killing another man in a downtown parking ramp.
But nobody believed the police, not after George Floyd. By the time the city tweeted out graphic surveillance footage of a death by suicide, it was too late to stop the angry people already in motion.
Last night was better than the unrest in the spring, Santos and his friends agreed. This time, he said, police responded fast.
One block, two smashed pubs and a Chipotle later, Roger had emptied his fourth bin of broken glass.
“This is our city,” he said. “We need to act like it.”