Minneapolis Musicians on the Uprising for George Floyd - Rolling Stone
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‘The Community Is Tired. The Community Is Hurt’: Twin Cities Musicians Talk George Floyd Uprising

Artists from Minneapolis and St. Paul talk about the history of racism that led up to George Floyd’s killing by police and the protests that have followed

Protestor reacts beside a burning fast food restaurant near the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct, in Minneapolis. Protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody Monday, broke out in Minneapolis for a third straight nightPolice Death, Minneapolis, United States - 29 May 2020Protestor reacts beside a burning fast food restaurant near the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct, in Minneapolis. Protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody Monday, broke out in Minneapolis for a third straight nightPolice Death, Minneapolis, United States - 29 May 2020

A protester stands by a burning building in the Twin Cities. "These communities that are currently burning, they weren’t Norman Rockwell paintings before," says St. Paul rapper Matt Allen. "They were brutally policed and underfunded."

John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

On May 25th, George Floyd died after being continuously and repeatedly choked by a Minneapolis police officer.

The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have risen up in protest in the days since Floyd’s death, which came less than four years after a Twin Cities police officer killed Philando Castile in another case that horrified the nation. On Wednesday evening, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz activated the National Guard. While the four officers involved in Floyd’s death were fired from the police department within 24 hours, the officer who choked Floyd on camera was not arrested until Friday afternoon, despite earlier pleas for his arrest from the mayor of Minneapolis.

Related: Global Protests Begin After Police Killing of George Floyd

“I wish I could say I was surprised, that this wasn’t foreseeable, but it was all foreseeable,” says Nikki Jean, a St. Paul-based singer-songwriter who released her most recent album, 2019’s Beautiful Prison, with the Twin Cities label Rhymesayers. She wants people to understand how widespread the protests have been among residents of the Twin Cities. “Don’t think that because George Floyd was a black man and the lives of people centered in this story are black, that only black people are angry,” she says. “It gets painted in the media as ‘look at the angry black people,’ but a lot of people are angry, and they look like everything.”

Jean, who attended the school where Philando Castile worked before his death in 2016, has been working as a medic at this week’s protests, where she’s seen faces split open by rubber bullets. “I never thought I’d be pouring neutralizer in my sister’s face, because she was teargassed, or that I’d be tasting teargas in a Target parking lot,” she says, “but this is where we are.”

Rolling Stone spoke with five Twin Cities musicians who offered their reflections, feelings and thoughts on what is going on right now in their hometown.

Dua Saleh is a Minneapolis based singer-songwriter, artist, activist and organizer with Women For Political Change. They were born in Sudan and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, as a kid. Their upcoming EP, ROSETTA, will be released in June.

This is the same cycle of violence that we have seen before. The last few days have been full of emotional anguish, triggers, and mobilization efforts. The community is grieving. George Floyd’s family is still mourning. Minneapolis is still mourning. Black youth and other petrified civilians had to watch Floyd in his last moments in real-time. The Minneapolis community had to watch the video circulating on autoplay as the video garnered national attention. This is not the only murder we’ve witnessed circulating of a beloved member from the Twin Cities. Others include Philando Castile and Jamar Clark [whom Minneapolis police shot to death in 2015], just to name two.

Mayor Jacob Frey requested SWAT and for Governor Tim Walz to activate the National Guard on a grieving community. It was alarming, to say the very least. It seems to me that Frey is more invested in the aesthetic of thoughtful leadership, but in my opinion, Mayor Frey does not seem to be practicing thoughtful leadership. 

I haven’t been able to attend the protests because I am sick and recently went to get tested for COVID-19. I’m waiting for my test results before moving forward. Post-result, I plan to help distribute safety gear such as face masks, water for tear gas, and first aid kits for people who have been hit with rubber bullets or batons. There’s heightened anxiety related to the COVID-19 outbreaks. The virus is disproportionately killing Black people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. This may have exasperated some feelings that people have as they exhibit their grief. 

Minnesotans are distraught because of media coverage that is tarnishing George Floyd’s reputation and character. He was deeply beloved by the community, and it’s jarring to read all of this speculation about him when it’s untrue. I am in tears now as I get flashbacks of the video. 

I’ve also noticed that mobilization by those that organize is overwhelmingly led by trans and queer Black people. I think about their work and their erasure in the media. Today I am also grieving the death of Tony McDade, a Black trans man from Tallahassee. He was killed yesterday by a police officer. I am constantly mourning Black and trans death and in a state of ontological disarray. I’m pleading for communities to offer the same level of compassion and care for all of our voices. No one should be a victim of these senseless murders.

Matt Allen is a Twin Cities rapper and activist who performs under the name Nur-D. He moved to the Twin Cities in middle school, and currently lives in St. Paul.

We were there on Tuesday for the peaceful protest, marching from where George Floyd was murdered to the 3rd Precinct. Police officers handled that particular show of peace with the most apathy that they possibly could have. When it moved into vandalism and the police responded with violence, it escalated the tension that a lot of people were already feeling. 

The next night, me and my fiancé went out to try to provide some aid. We found a medic station that had been abandoned once the fires had started, so a few of us took over the medic station and provided eye washings and basic first aid with whatever we had available. Last night, we came back with a more established presence. It’s definitely scary. A lot of us don’t have any training and have never seen anything like this. The city is really burning around us. I think a lot of people in St. Paul thought that this was going to be a strictly Minneapolis situation, and they’re realizing now that the unrest that is being felt in Minneapolis is just as prevalent in the other parts of Minnesota where the black and brown communities are continually met with injustice and apathy by the people who should be charged with protecting them. 

There are a few major differences between this and the Philando Castile protests, but it can’t be stated enough that this particular outrage is happening on the heels of an economic semi-collapse.The city has been chaining basketball hoops and kicking people out of parks. There was a lot of fear in the air already. It was already a powder keg, and then seeing such a brutal and visceral murder by the hands of the Minneapolis police department, it struck the match.  

I want people to know that while Minnesota is primarily a white state, there is a large black and brown community. But because the narrative of the state is mostly that of white people doing white people stuff, a lot of their injustices go unheard. A lot of people have felt ignored for a very long time. As things go up in flames around us, it’s sort of like when someone is trapped on an island and they see a plane and they’re looking to signal to the plane that things are on fire, so that someone can see. 

These communities that are currently burning, they weren’t Norman Rockwell paintings before. They were brutally policed and underfunded, and there was rampant homelessness and inequality. They’ve been hurting for a long time. When people see communities being destroyed on the news, they imagine their communities being destroyed, and if they live in a nice one, they can’t imagine why someone would want to burn down their lovely community. But that’s not the situation we are finding ourselves in. 

Michael Bland is a veteran drummer who began his career playing with Prince as a member of New Power Generation in the Nineties (he’s also worked with Paul Westerberg and Chaka Khan). A lifelong Twin Cities native, Bland has been the drummer in Soul Asylum for the past 15 years.

I’ve been black for a long time. When I see the footage of what’s going on here, it looks like the Rodney King riots. A lot of white people didn’t believe anything they heard about the LAPD back then until they saw the video of Rodney King getting beaten up within an inch of his life. It’s what happened to George Floyd: This happened in the street in front of black people watching. The officer just put his knee on his neck for five minutes. How is that okay for anybody to undergo or anybody to do?

And then people want to wonder why black people are rioting? One irrational response begets another irrational response. It’s a ridiculous notion to blow up your own neighborhood to protest police brutality, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the part of your mind that gets stimulated in the face of things that don’t make sense. 

Racism here in Minnesota, it’s a pervasive thing that is also elusive if you’re not really looking for it. I know a lot of white people who own a lot of Black Lives Matter gear. They’re all impassioned, and they really do want to see change in the world, starting here. But a lot of my woke white friends think that because they’ve done their homework, they don’t have to feel a certain kind of way about people of color. One of them once tried to convince me on the idea of a post-racial America. No — race is built into the system. 

There’s no upside for white society to level the playing field and share power. What for? There’s nobody in the system rushing to do anything. But I’ve got confidence in our mayor, Jacob Frey. He immediately spoke out saying that he wants charges brought against these police officers as soon as possible.

Here, because Minnesotans are more mild, it’s hard to see. It’s not like down South, which has a reputation for being racist. A lot of people don’t know that Minnesota is the second most racist state in the union. They don’t know about the history of redlining in certain communities. I grew up in Southeast Minneapolis, adjacent to Tower Hill, Prospect Park. That was one of the first places where there was a real standoff between the black family that moved here and the neighbors, who didn’t really know what to do. There was a whole PBS special about racism in the North. North Minneapolis, I’ve known for years. There’s a lot of ways to get into North Minneapolis, but there’s only one way out. And it was designed that way.

People always ask me: “What do we do about racism?” I always try to tell people: It’s going to take woke white people to educate other white people. The next time you hear a joke that you find inappropriate, you have to speak up, Otherwise, you’re condoning behavior and it may as well be you telling the joke yourself.

Finding Novyon is a rapper currently based in Miami who grew up in the Twin Cities. His album Sink or Swim came out in 2018.

I was born and raised in Minneapolis. That place is my home inside and out. Growing up there, minorities faced many adversities, especially with the police. The community there is tired. Some of those cops in the initial video of George Floyd have been around in our communities since I was in high school, and I’m 28 now. One of the officers even went to Patrick Henry High School with me on the north side of the city.

For us, it has always been about peacefully protesting. I want to emphasize that what happened Tuesday night with the fires and the looting, that was not a reflection of the community that wants change. I can assure you that none of the leaders that were on the front lines condoned or incited that to happen. None of us want to see our city and community destroyed. It’s very heartbreaking to watch. And it’s embarrassing knowing how my people will be viewed for this. 

On the flip side, I will say that it was peaceful until it wasn’t. On the first day of the protest, what I saw was people trying to be peaceful getting met with tear gas and rubber bullets. I saw unarmed kids who are supposed to be the future of these communities get treated with force and brutality. The Minneapolis police department is one of the biggest gangs in the United States. And in a way I’m glad that the world has a scope on this currently and can see how they treat their people. 

The community is tired. The community is hurt. But I think the message in all this is clear: No justice, no peace.


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