Holding space at George Floyd Memorial site
In the weeks following the brutal killing of George Floyd outside of Cup Foods, the four corners of 38th St. and Chicago Ave. have become sacrosanct. Buildings are adorned with portraits of George Floyd, large and small. A sculpture of a Black Power fist stands in the middle of the intersection, another is secured against a bus shelter. Elaborate drawings and messages are painted on the street. Flowers and written tributes are arranged in broad circles, expressions of grief.
Each day people from all walks of life gather here from near and far to pay tribute, demand justice and march in community. Food is served from hot grills, music is played, families walk with their young children, talking to them about what they are seeing here. The space is ever evolving, changing daily, with placards and flowers placed under tarps when rain falls, then lovingly rearranged the following day.
Marcia Howard, who lives just a few houses away from the four corners, has had her eyes and ears on the site day in and day out, providing deeply moving updates to friends and community. Here, posted on her Facebook page on June 9 at 8:20 am, are her words describing this space:
“It’s a memorial, it’s a protest, it’s a repast, it’s a movement. The site of 38th and Chicago Ave. is many things at once. That space is being held as an autonomous protest site by the tireless efforts of the people who patrol for safety, provide medical care, distribute food, feed the mourners, provide music, and stand in solidarity every hour of the day. It is being held by all those who are here as a pilgrimage, and those here to take photos, or here to speak, while some are here to cry, while others are here to scream the names of our dead.
“This space is being held by all of these people. Depending on the hour of the day, the site of George Floyd’s murder looks and feels like Grand Old Days, or a Baptist revival, an art festival, a New Orleans jazz funeral, a block party, and the headquarters of the revolution. Yet, every hour that I am there, it feels like community. It takes all our presence to hold the space. Come. Bear witness. Listen to the voices demanding justice. Add your own so that we can be heard. Come one, come all. Say her name. Say his name. Say their names.”
Ms. Howard, as this beloved Roosevelt High School teacher is known, is on site multiple times each day, always wearing a mask because of the pandemic. On June 3, the day the three other officers present when George Floyd was killed were charged, she ran to the intersection, video rolling.
“They charged ‘em all. All of ‘em. Aiding and Abetting, and they upgraded the murder charge,” she called. Tears flowed as the crowd erupted in cheers. “All of ‘em! All of ‘em!” To which someone else called out, “Conviction!”
On one rare occasion, after going a whole morning without hearing his name, Ms. Howard set aside her teacher voice, raised a bullhorn and addressed the people gathered in front of Cup Foods.
“Everybody who saw that film knows,” she said. “Notice how secure this man was [referring to Derek Chauvin, as he pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck] that he would not get caught. That he would not get in trouble. That he smirked. And put his hands in his pockets… Do you understand the security of white supremacy that you have to feel to do something so egregiously wrong, so antithetical to your job as a police officer, that you don’t even feel... fear at all? At all?... I’m telling you now, Minnesota though, we gonna hold ‘em accountable, Yeah?”
With the crowd shouting “YES”! in agreement, Ms. Howard led the call and response that has become so familiar here and in marches throughout the city, the one she especially needed to hear that day. “Say his name.” “George Floyd!” “Say his name.” “George Floyd!” “Say his name.” “George Floyd!”