June 24, 2021

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George Floyd Square one year later: Grieving and hope

5 min read

Minneapolis, Minnesota, US — On the kind of low humidity, sunny spring day that Minnesotans live for, George Floyd Square is swarming with local residents as well as visitors from across the nation. They are here not only to mourn Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer one year ago today, but also to celebrate his life.

“We were invited by one of the organizers to be here and celebrate George’s life,” John Williams, director of the Center for Racial Reconciliation at Fellowship Church in Monrovia, California, told Al Jazeera.

“Celebration for me is a remembrance so that his life does not get erased so that what happened does not get erased,” said Williams, who came to Minneapolis with members of his church to be at the epicentre of the past year’s events. “This is one of the first times that, on a national level, there’s been a police officer who has been brought to accountability, but even with that there’s still no real justice in that. George is not here.”

With somberness at its centre as people kneel in moments of silence before the mural of Floyd that stands outside Cup Foods where he allegedly tried to spend a counterfeit $20 bill that, in a matter of minutes, led to the loss of his life, the square still has a buoyancy to it.

The scene in George Floyd Square on the first anniversary of his death, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 25, 2021 [Cinnamon Janzer/Al Jazeera]

Various types of music fill the air, from R&B and jazz at one edge of the memorial to the notes of Indigenous dance ceremonies at the other. Savoury smoke from grills cooking lunch lace the sky like drops of liquid shrapnel sprinkle bystanders lounging in a slice of shade that became the territory of a moving water gun war zone for kids armed with Super Soakers.

Booths offering everything – from community quilting to lemonade – line the edge of the square as a bubble machine loads the air with soapy spheres that Amira, four, swats at, dressed in a colourful pink swimsuit to meet the day’s heat.

She and her dad, Shaun, live a few blocks away and stopped by the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue where a global reckoning with racial injustice and police violence accelerated a year ago today.

Four-year-old Amira and her father, Shaun (right), live a few blocks from George Floyd Square [Cinnamon Janzer/Al Jazeera]

“It’s been amazing that it’s been a year,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s nice, it’s peaceful. People are here celebrating George Floyd’s life.”

Long way to go

Despite the serene and convivial commemoration, the scene was marred by violence earlier in the day. On Tuesday morning, gunfire rang out about a block from George Floyd Square and police said a man they believed was involved in the shooting was later hospitalised in critical condition with a gunshot wound, The Associated Press news agency reported.

Activists and community members say there is still a very long way to go — to not only get justice, but to process the community’s ongoing pain.

“This is a sacred space. It’s sacred because people made it sacred,” Williams says. He expects the evening’s vigil to be more subdued. When asked about statements by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey about his intentions to reopen the square, “they should wait until people are finished mourning and grieving because this is a process”, Williams said. “I think there will be a lot of resistance, as there should be, to allow these folks to really grieve and mourn.”

Further down the two-block stretch of George Floyd Square sits Sam who decided to come to the square today from nearby Hopkins to see what is happening himself rather than watch it on television.

Perched on a collapsible chair in the shade next to his wife, Sam said the last year has been really chaotic and paranoia-inducing.

Sam came to George Floyd Square from nearby Hopkins, Minnesota, to pay tribute in person [Cinnamon Janzer/Al Jazeera]

“When you pull me over … I know what’s going to happen. I hope and pray I might make it to jail, but I could get killed. It’s a pattern,” he says. “If officers are not trained to deal with people of colour and with people with sicknesses or disorders or whatever, then you’ve got the wrong f***ing job.”

Gloria, a 70-year-old woman, is also sitting on a lawn chair, but outside her home within the square where she has lived for the past 27 years. The sidewalk panels are painted the colours of the Jamaican flag. “I see everything,” she says. She says she witnessed Floyd’s murder from the bus stop across the street after buying scratch-off lottery tickets.

She cooks for the community often, as she is today — whipping up curry chicken, jerk chicken, fried fish, and rice and beans for passersby. She expects to be in the same spot for the rest of the day and most of the summer, just steps from a flower-decorated memorial where she says her son-in-law was murdered years ago. She still does not know who was responsible.

A short walk from Gloria’s home, Signe Harriday and Maria Asp with the Million Artists Movement, a collective of Black and brown artist activists, are seated in lawn chairs under a quilt-filled canvas umbrella near the square’s southern intersection. Harriday and Asp have been bringing their community quitting project to the square since last year. Organisers asked them to be present today.

“It gives people a chance at moments of pain and trauma and sometimes joy to sit down and put your hands on something and translate how you’re feeling onto a quilt square that then joins another quilt square touched by another member of the community and so it goes,” Harriday told Al Jazeera. “The quilts ultimately are a visual representation of the ways we want to love and support each other,” she added.

George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in this spot last year, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 25, 2021 [Cinnamon Janzer/Al Jazeera]

“It also connects us,” Asp said. “With everything that’s been happening, people feel so absolutely disconnected and what we want and strive for is connection and relationship. Most of these quilts here,” she adds, waving at the fabric walls around her, “were all created right here! These are the community sitting down and taking a moment to put their feelings on fabric.”

From crafting quilts to being at the square today, it helps “to know that you’re part of something that’s bigger than yourself”, Asp said.

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