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A City Under Siege

July 20th, 2020

By Rachel Paddock
 

Photographs by Rachel Paddock

Before I begin this article, I would like to preface it with the fact that I am in no way trying to minimize what happened or undermine any part of the cause. This is a narrative from a white woman who knows and understands that I can never fully understand.

 

 I could never have guessed what 2020 would bring: history is in the making. However, what has occurred in the past few weeks has been the result of decades of buildup like a pimple on your face building up until finally the white top shows up one day, and you know it is ready to pop. On Monday May 25th, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota George Floyd,an African American male was murdered by white police officers in broad daylight. Flyod was originally arrested for producing a counterfeit $20 bill at a food store. In no way was his crime violent, however the police officers involved felt threatened by his demeanor and proceeded to use an old school police method of incapacitating violent suspects by putting his knee on this man’s neck. By now, this is a story that most of the world has heard of. 

 

This event was the tipping point in a long string of racial injustices in the United States. Enough was enough. Black lives do matter, and as people within the community began to see the video of this police arrest occurring, it soon became clear that something needed to be done. I remember when I first heard about Georgy Floyd’s murder. I was scrolling through Facebook and came upon the video. Thank goodness I did not see the entire video- I honestly do not think I could stomach it. That night, Tuesday May 26th,  protests broke out all around the city. People in the Minneapolis community were demanding justice for a heinous crime. At first, I figured these protests would last a few days and disperse like other protests have in the past. Little did I know how different it would be this time. 

 

The following day Wednesday May 27th, more protests broke out all around the twin cities. The majority of these protests were peaceful. While the protester’s primary goal was to seek justice for George Floyd, it also meant much more than that. He was one of a string of black people murdered or brutally injured by police as a result of their skin color in recent years. Not only were the protesters speaking up for Floyd, but also for all Black lives: for justice and equity. That night, the protests turned to riots. I watched the news before going to bed, in awe of what was happening in and around my community. People were furious, they had had enough, and something had to be done. No justice, no peace. Buildings were looted and burned to the ground. In a matter of days, an order that was once ruled by police, “keeping the streets safe,” had turned into a land overtaken by anger and trauma. 

 

When I woke up on Thursday May 27th, I heard about what had happened the night before in disbelief. Why would people destroy their own community? Weren’t they hurting themselves more than helping their cause?  I didn’t understand. I spent that day grappling with what was going on in my community, and trying to understand how quickly it had turned into nationwide news. I spent the afternoon with a friend, and we sat for over an hour trying to process what was going on. I supported the cause, yes we had a fractured community, yes there were major racial injustices that needed to be solved but would it be fixed with violence? Despite these qualms, rioting and protesting continued through Thursday night. That night, rioters overthrew the police precinct where the four police officers implicated in Floyd’s murder were previously employed. It burned to the ground, along with multiple other buildings in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

 

 By May 28th, the news of what had happened in Minneapolis was nationwide. Most of the country had seen George Floyd die in the hands of a system that was supposed to protect us. I watched the news most of the day, anxious to learn more. The governor was going to bring in the national guard. The lawlessness had to end, if not the whole city would burn. Again, it felt surreal. How was this happening? Would this be our new normal? Should I be afraid to go to bed at night because there was no one to trust now but myself? That night, the news showed cities all over the US protesting and rioting over the death of George Floyd. As I watched, I became more and more enraged. I did not understand why people would ruin their communities. Weren’t they doing more harm than good? Didn’t they see what happened to Minneapolis… so many burned buildings, an entire community devastated. The irony of it: most of the people that live in the community that was devastated are black.

 

To this day, I still struggle to understand completely why certain people resorted to rioting and how it, (if at all) helped the cause. Trevor Noah from The Daily Show had an interesting standpoint on what led to the rioting and why it happened: he painted society as a contract, one that you sign with members of that society. One that is  agreed upon with a common set of rules and way of being. As with most contracts, the contract is only as strong as the people who abide by it. Even the people who do not have money, or aren’t being treated fairly still decide to follow the contract because they believe that the contract is important and necessary. Then, some members of that contract, namely Black Americans see time and time again that the contract is not being honored by the members of society that forced them to sign it in the first place. When Floyd is seen on the ground, losing his life in a way that no man should in the hands of the people supposedly are meant to uphold the contract you start to question the contract in the first place. We need people at the top to be the most accountable because they are the ones that set the tone or tenor in society. If you lead by example, there is a good chance people will follow that example. When law enforcement does not follow the rules of the contract why should the people who are being marginalized continue to do so? This concept has helped clarify the reason behind the rioting in my own eyes over time and helped me come to terms with it, however, in that very moment during the midst of the craziness, my calm demeanor was out the window.  

 

That night I made the decision to do something about it. I could not stand by and watch so many people suffer this devastation. I was hopeful that the world would see the effort Minneapolis residents were making during the day to preserve and fix what once was there. On Saturday morning I ran to Home Depot to get supplies to help with the clean up effort, I figured it was the least I could do. When I got to the area that was most affected by the riots, I was almost in tears. It looked as though a bomb had hit the area. The buildings that weren’t burned to the ground had been covered in graffiti. It was devastating. However, amidst all the destruction there was hope. Hundreds of people were picking up the rubble, cleaning off the graffiti, and organizing food to donate to families affected by the rioting. The residents of Minneapolis would not stand and watch their city burn and do nothing about it. It’s not that they did not support the cause, they just did not want to watch their beloved city be burned to the ground as a result. 

It was incredibly gratifying to see a community of all races and creeds rally together. Demographically, the vast majority of the residents in the affected area were Black as well as low income. This meant they relied on walking or public transportation to get the groceries they needed. With all of the stores being closed down or looted due to the rioting, donations were being accepted to help the families in need. The cleaning of the community was an effort to show recognition and importance of having a space for the people of the area to be. While I acknowledge one day of cleaning will not help in the long term, this is a marathon, not a sprint towards justice, I feel it is a step in the right direction. 

Since that day, the rioting has subsided, and peaceful protests remain. With the implementation of the national guard from the governor as well as sentiments spoken from leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement pleading with the rioters to stop, the destruction has successfully ended. There is still so much work to be done, yet I think the nation is finally beginning to take steps in the right direction. The residents of Minneapolis have started an incredible fight towards equity, and I am proud to be part of a community that fights for what they believe in.

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