Thursday, June 4, 2020

My Minnesota

Photo: Patrick Lapinski

It's been very difficult being in Cape Town, 14,000 kms (just under 9,000 miles) from my other hometown, Minneapolis. I was horrified by the death of George Floyd, and encouraged by the number of people who came out to protest. Then I was saddened by the property destruction that followed, including two bookstores in south Minneapolis that were burnt to the ground - Uncle Hugo's, the oldest independent science-fiction bookstore in the country, and Uncle Edgar's mystery and fantasy bookstore.

I have such mixed feelings about protests that turn destructive. I empathise with those who have reached frustration point after years of protests that have produced little or no change. I have no sympathy, only disgust, with people who take advantage of situations like these to cause destruction for destruction sake. Not to steal food to survive or loot to sell something for money for food. I don't understand people who loot for its own sake. Do they do it for pleasure? Do they do it to advance some political cause? I don't know, but they probably do it because they are likely to get away with it.

Initially, from this distant vantage point, I thought there had been a few buildings torched and some stores looted. I was shocked when better news started filtering down. One friend sent me this link which details the extent of the mayhem.

I used to work with a wonderful photographer, Pat Lapinski. He took the scenes below.

Third precinct police station (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Remains of a liquor store (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

The ex-liquor store (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Small multi-use building (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Fast-food restaurant (Photo: Patrick Lapinski) (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Wrong place, wrong time (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Even the libraries were not safe (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

On guard (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Ruined (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Minnehaha Falls (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Another vehicle destroyed (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

A fallen Domino's (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

I used to live near this Target (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Speaks for itself (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

I have always loved being in Minneapolis with its great music and theatre, wonderful parks and rivers, and an appealing blend of personal conservatism and political liberalism, although overall the state has shifted to the right since I arrived in 1983. In many ways, though, it is a hands-off liberalism, an 'I am very fortunate, so let me help those who are less fortunate' liberalism. This is good. Voting for liberal candidates is good, donating to appropriate charities is good, but often an understanding of the real circumstances of those less fortunate is missing. In fact, when aggregating a variety of data, Minnesota is near the bottom of all states in terms of racism - something that would come as a shock and an embarrassment to most Minnesotans if they knew it. Click here for a very good article about this.

Here is a quick overview.

There was no population diversity in 1960. Many Minnesotans never saw someone who wasn't white.

Fifty years later, things had changed due to a huge influx of refugees from Vietnam, Laos,  and Somalia (and South Africa!).  

Over the years, household income of Blacks has dropped significantly, while that of other groups has risen.

In case you can't read it, Black family income went from $49,000 in 1970 to $34,000 in 2014. In the same time period, White family income went from $64,000 to $82,000.

It is not surprising that the poverty statistics mirror the decline in family income. The graphs represent the percentage of families in poverty in each race group.

It is really awful.

From my perspective, there have been numerous attempts to reform the racist Minneapolis Police Department, but these have probably failed due to resistance to change within the ranks. I keep hearing that George Floyd's death could be a tipping point, not only for the Minneapolis Police, but also for race relations around the country. I'm not optimistic about that, and I hope I am wrong. 

At the same time there is so much that is bad about what happened, there is also good. Most people in Minneapolis were appalled by the destruction on the first night of protests, so the next day hundreds showed up to help shop owners and the city clean up.

More photographs by Pat Lapinski.

Clean-up crew (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

The big clean-up (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

A little clean-up (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

Tossing petals at George Floyd's memorial
 (Photo: Patrick Lapinski)

It would be very helpful if each one of us asked ourselves what we can do to effect some changes for the better with respect to racism, whether it is calling someone out who is exhibiting racist behaviours or talking about racism with friends and colleagues, not to pin blame but rather to explore and understand what is happening.

If we can do that, then perhaps George Floyd may not have died in vain. 

A sad time for Minneapolis; a sad time for us all.


  1. I've been visiting Minneapolis since 1978, and I've always really liked the city for many reasons. I have a feeling that something has been permanently lost. Hopefully it can be replaced by something that is better.

  2. I remember the riots of 1968. My aunt and uncle had a grocery store in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. My grandfather and his brother, both immigrants, each had grocery stores in the Hill District. In fact, August Wilson grew up behind one and it features in some of his Hill District based plays. When the riots hit the Hill District, local residents protected my uncle to assure he could escape safely. The community was destroyed, and last I checked, it's not yet fully recovered. There are great challenges yet to be the midst of an unbelievable confluence of tragedies.

  3. I think that when all the chickens are counted it's going to be apparent that the vast majority of the destruction was caused by outsiders, many of them white, trying to both incite the protesters and to give them a bad name and trouble with the authorities.
    "Mr Umbrella" the guy who was going around smashing one window after another with a hammer was white, dressed all in black in a semi-military fashion, and was identified by 3 commenters to an article in the WaPo as being a St Paul police officer.
    There are so many ugly sub-texts going on in this business, you wouldn't believe.

    1. Not to mention the cars found without license plates and containing accelerants!

  4. So sad, Stan. When I visited with you, you took me to many places, all of which deserved the admiration you expressed. I noticed however, but did not remark upon how white it was. It's something that I think of in many. many places. Having lived in NYC for more than 50 years, I have gotten so used to seeing diversity around me. Given how small the Black population there is, I wonder that the cops feel such a need to oppress the few there are in the community.