Having not done a conference since 2019, I agreed to be part of a panel at the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals 2022 Conference in Minneapolis. I was preparing for the culture of being viewed as an “amateur” in the world of professionals when I checked the program for panels to attend. One of the first options was a presentation on George Floyd Square. It is a testament to the great work of activism and the prevalence of anti-Black violence that I remembered George Floyd, but not the city. With that knowledge, I took none of the conference tours, but made a point to visit George Floyd Square.
As discussed in the presentation, the buses have been rerouted to avoid the Square, so I got to do some walking. No tours were available from the conference for two reasons. First, both the city and residents have worked hard to preserve the presence of a massive community effort, not generate tourism. Secondly, tour guide procedures are so strict that people have to officially register with the city and/or state to offer information. For the first time, the Black community has been given a small amount of protection in response to being the site of a televised and illegitimate execution. Even the panelist emphasized that there was no process to transition the space, which is why the city has offered little more than protection.
Beneath the enhancements, one can see how the dominant narrative used the area. Many of the original businesses were headed towards being dilapidated, and previous predatory businesses made their homes there, such as pawn shops, convenient stores, and personal loan centers. Many people in the community were working class, and the businesses were service oriented, meaning a general lack of upward mobility and resources. There were few shade trees and nowhere to sit placed by the city, meaning that there were unpleasant expectations surrounding the behavior of people simply trying to exist.
The transformation of the space by the community itself could not be more radical. Beautification efforts abound with planters all over the place, and benches so that people can pause and reflect. Down the street are multiple food gardens in addition to the Say Their Name Cemetery, indicating a neighborhood desiring to sustain itself. More importantly, foundations, art, and plans for the future are the focal points of the space. There is no portion of the George Floyd Square that glorifies the dominant narrative. It exudes a spirit of recreating a self-sufficient community where people want to flourish in peace–including pedestrian and bicycling visitors and guides.
Finally, the people there were eager to express both their pain and plans for the future, taking visitors on pilgrimages of the site. As mentioned before, people have to register as a business to give tours to avoid exploitation. However, there is always someone to explain what the site means to the Black community and how we are all called to end brutality in our own neighborhoods. I was asked about my awareness of brutality in my neighborhood, and unfortunately, there were two police killings just in my zip code in less than three years.
What is the difference between a publicized execution and reckless brutality? I would argue intimacy. That monster came into a deprived area and picked someone to murder for no reason. George Floyd was living his life and the dominant narrative conspired to end it–publicly, to avoid confusion over how Black people should be considered. There is no comparison between this embodiment of community solidarity and the monuments in my old neighborhood. This area is proof that people are well aware that Black people know what to do with resources. Moreover, it shows that those within the dominant narrative are deliberately denying those resources and gleefully gaslighting us into believing that we are irresponsible.