With Floyd death, feel-good Minneapolis forced to soul-search

Minneapolis (AFP) – Minneapolis is sometimes called the Mini-Apple because of its New York kind of vibe: ethnically diverse and boasting a thriving cultural scene with lots of museums, live entertainment and night life.

But the death of African American George Floyd while in police custody is forcing the city to take a painful look at its deep-seated racial inequality.

The hometown of the late musician Prince is proud of much about itself: it openness to outsiders, an eco-friendly lifestyle with lots of lakes and bike paths, and its progressive politics.

Of the 13 members of the City Council, 12 are Democrats including two transgender black people and an environmentalist.

Floyd’s videotaped death on May 25 — a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes after Floyd was detained and handcuffed on suspicion of a non-violent offense — triggered rioting here and eventually the biggest nationwide wave of unrest in 50 years.

“It’s too bad it happened in Minneapolis, because it’s such a beautiful city and you think the people are open,” said Rick Curran, a white man in his 70s who has lived here for 30 years.

“But then, you know, we have hidden wounds. And, you know, I was just so sad that this, because it’s my city, it happened here,” said Curran, a globe-trotting former bartender.

In 2015, this city of 430,000 people, 20 percent of them black, saw demonstrations after the death of a young black man named Jamar Clark, who was shot by police after an altercation at a house party.

– ‘On the surface’ –

For many people in Minneapolis, these are not isolated incidents but rather they reflect a culture of racism within the city’s police force.

“This isn’t about a broken system. This is a system functioning absolutely as it was designed. Unfortunately, that’s meant to exclude some from it,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said as he announced a probe into police behavior over the past 10 years.

But the police are not the only institution being accused of racial discrimination.

“On the surface, we seem to be very liberal but there’s a lot of institutionalized racism and oppression and kind of like racist housing practices that just kind of set the stage for things to follow, as they have,” said Teyler Geisen, a 28-year-old social worker.

Laws adopted in the early 20th century barred blacks from buying land in certain parts of the city. But even after these laws were done away with, banks and real estate agents kept discriminating against African Americans, according to Mapping Justice, an organization that studies structural racism.

In 2018, the city adopted a reform designed to help blacks buy property in mainly white neighborhoods but this has not changed things much.

– ‘Everybody is helping each other’-

“Minnesota is one of the most segregated states in the United States, which a lot of people don’t think because it’s up north and typically a democratic state,” said Alexandra Artavia, 28.

As is the case elsewhere in America, blacks here are poorer: 28 percent of black households live under the poverty line, compared to 7.2 percent for whites, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

On Sunday, Artavia donated food at a black church to help poor families and small businesses hit first by the coronavirus pandemic and now the destruction wrought in nights of looting and vandalism.

Like her, thousands of people in Minneapolis have been collecting donations in parking lots, outside churches and in shopping malls or online.

At rallies, whites and blacks have joined together in calling for an end to police brutality against minorities and to inequality, showing that the city’s liberal reputation is not totally misplaced.

This solidarity has touched Jimmy Blanco, a 32-year-old black man who has spent a week sleeping at the spot where Floyd was killed. It is now a makeshift memorial to him.

“This is the best I have ever felt in America. Everybody is helping each other. No man is left behind,” Blanco said.