If you have seen the video, it’s impossible to get the images to leave your head.
Millions around the world watched as George Perry Floyd Jr. lay on the ground at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, gasping, as his life was slowly taken. You don’t watch this and remain unmoved, as evidenced by the protests that took place in more than 60 countries.
In photographs, interviews and writing, five local Black photographers share a collective story about what George Floyd Square means to them, to the community and to the justice movement.
It is interesting that this is a group of female witnesses. Often, the caretakers of the family graves and the keepers of the stories are women. The photographers who contributed their art for this piece, whether knowingly or not, are tending Floyd’s grave.
If you do not live in South Minneapolis, it might be hard to fully understand the emotional toll of this murder, at this particular intersection, formerly one of the busiest in this part of the city. It is now closed by what is known as George Floyd Square: an organically growing memorial that spreads for several blocks.
This is a community, you see, multifaceted and tightly knit. What happened to Floyd happened, metaphorically, to the neighborhood. The world might recognize his face, but many people who actually walk these streets knew George, passed by him on the way to the gas station, said hello while having a key made. How many passed by the corner that day, and saw the police cars, as my friend and co-worker Krysta Rayford did, not knowing until later, or even the next day, what was happening?
“We’re still hurting,” writes photographer Nina Robinson, who has shared images of the past year at the corner of 38th and Chicago. “I have many photos and moments of last year I never shared. I’m still wrestling with sharing them.”
But the square has transcended some of the pain by becoming something unexpectedly beautiful.
George Floyd Square is hope.
In holding this space of healing and protest, the community directs its own narrative. The square is where food drives are organized and held, where Covid-19 vaccinations are administered, and where a community roller-skating day took place. These are events that point to the future.
Woven through is news that plays like a refrain: Daunte Wright, killed by police at the same time that the man who murdered George Floyd was on trial.
A week later, the conviction of the former police officer who crushed Floyd’s breath from him. While it was not justice for Floyd, it was a step toward something that feels almost like promise.
For this South Minneapolis community, the square is sacred.
Its future is precarious.
Photographer Kyndell Harkness says her son, William, asked if the memorial would remain. “That question,” Kyndell told him, “still hasn’t been answered.”
Keeping this memorial intact is an inconvenient reminder that ugliness does not simply go away. That to some, not all lives have value.
Rayford calls the square an “heirloom that challenges us to remember and also to wonder: what does justice look like, and can it be served?”
“What does it mean,” she asks, “to be seen as a part of a community?”
What does it mean to be seen at all?
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