The widely recognized mural of George Floyd painted outside the south Minneapolis store where he died while in police custody was defaced Tuesday night, reportedly by a medical student who said he now regrets what he did.
The vandalism occurred despite volunteers keeping careful watch at the memorial on the corner of E. 38th Street and Chicago Avenue S. that has become a focal point for thousands stopping there to mourn Floyd and rally for social justice in the three months since his death.
“We will not allow something like this to distract us from our greater goal,” said Jeanelle Austin, lead caretaker for the Floyd memorial.
With volunteers at the corner Tuesday night, a man wearing a hoodie walked up to the mural on the side of Cup Foods about 10 p.m. and sprayed black paint over Floyd’s eyes and face, Austin said. Video from Cup Foods captured the vandalism.
The suspect, Daniel Michelson, 26, of Rochester, told the Minnesota Reformer, a local online news site, that he’d gotten drunk in his apartment and “didn’t realize” what he was doing. He said he had no memory of the incident.
“This is definitely a turning point for me,” he told the Reformer. “I was absolutely disgusted because that’s not at all representative of who I am or who I strive to be.”
Michelson, a medical student, added that he’s working with the community to make up for his deed and that he’ll pay for repairs to the mural and “anything else.”
The Star Tribune was unable to reach Michelson despite repeated attempts.
“He caused harm to the community,” Austin said of the suspect. “He needs to be held responsible and take ownership of that. That has to happen.”
A Minneapolis police spokesman said Thursday that the department had not yet taken any vandalism reports or made any arrests in connection with the incident.
The vandalism comes as city officials are weighing how to both reopen and preserve 38th and Chicago, which has been closed to vehicles since Floyd’s death. The city has allocated $100,000 to create a permanent memorial at the site.
“It’s been difficult to find any consensus about how to move forward,” David Rubedor, director of the city’s neighborhood and community relations division, told City Council members during a public meeting Thursday.
Four officers responded to Cup Foods on the evening of May 25 on a report that Floyd had passed a fake $20 bill and arrested him, leading to his death. They were fired and have been charged, including Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges.
Billy Briggs, who lives just feet from where Floyd died, was lighting candles Tuesday night when the suspect began defacing the mural. Briggs gave chase and found a can of spray paint ditched by the suspect but lost him after a couple blocks.
Another volunteer security team from the site caught up with the suspect near Powderhorn Park but let him go after questioning him and taking his picture. Members of the security team talked with Briggs, who confirmed that the man they spoke with was the person he saw defacing the mural.
Briggs, an unemployed photographer who has been documenting the scene for the past three months, returned to the mural and broke down.
“Everybody is struggling with this,” he said. “[Floyd] is the face of justice in this movement. This was a devastating thing to do. Shame on you.”
A blue tarp, initially put up to cover the damage, was later taken down.
“People need to see what happened,” said Austin, who added that she and others were exploring their next moves, including contacting the artists to repaint the mural.
“It’s going to take time before changes are done,” she said. “At the end of day, we are looking for justice.”
Other Floyd murals around the country reportedly have recently been defaced, including those in Rochester, Minn.; Long Beach, Calif., Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore.
Options for the corner
Minneapolis city staffers have attended more than 80 community events to gauge people’s feelings about the future of the intersection. Rubedor said that many expressed a desire to create a space to promote racial justice and healing. Some people said they want to prioritize access to businesses and transit, while others said they want to expand homeownership opportunities in the area.
Some people also said they want to create a space for mourning and for public art. Robin Hutcheson, the city’s public works director, said they were trying to figure out how to ensure police officers, firefighters and medics could quickly get to the area during an emergency, noting that right now they would have to remove barricades.
While the city debates how to craft a permanent plan for the intersection, Hutcheson said they also were considering how to begin a phased reopening.
One option is to reopen 38th Street but keep Chicago Avenue closed, preserving the roundabout created there by community members. Another option could involve moving a garden and sculpture north of the intersection. Council Member Cam Gordon raised the possibility of turning the intersection into a pedestrian area.
Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and Council Member Alondra Cano, whose wards meet at the intersection, said they want to create a commission to focus on the task and set a public hearing.
“I want to be clear that the issues around seeking justice are first and foremost in my mind and are very much front and center in this effort,” Jenkins said.