The Changing Faces of George Floyd Square: Dispatch from Minneapolis
Sometimes vibrant, sometimes crime-ridden, a local tells Reason what it’s like to live blocks from where George Floyd died.
In the living room of his home 15 blocks from George Floyd Square, Zane Spang talks about something that happened to him and his 3-year-old daughter several weeks earlier.
"I had [her] on the back of my bike and we need to go through the Square, but they've got it barricaded off, right?" says Spang. "This white lady, I think she was from inside one of the checkpoints they got there, she's like, 'You can't ride through here.' I'm like, 'I live here and my daughter's school is here.' She's saying something about how I'm being disrespectful and I should go around on another street."
Spang, a full-blooded Native American (half Crow, half Northern Cheyenne) rode through anyway, as he has for the four years he's lived in the South Minneapolis neighborhood.
"There's an influx of qualities there for [the Square] to be really peaceful," he said. "But me and my daughter also walked through there one time and there's 'Fuck the Police,' all these signs and people spray paint that, and she's trying to read and asking, 'What does that say?' I'm like, 'People don't like the cops?' I don't know how to explain stuff like that."
After work in a machine shop across the border in Wisconsin, Spang talks about what he sees as the complicated relationship the city has with the memorial set up at and around the site where George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, whose murder trial started the day Spang and I spoke. [Disclosure: Spang and I know each other from when we both lived in Portland, Oregon, in the mid-2010s.] Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Reason: You were saying George Floyd Square presents differently at different times.
Zane Spang: As far as the presentation, it's kind of back and forth with a lot of people in this neighborhood. If you're at that specific part of the square at a certain time, it feels very vibrant. But then, when it lines up differently, when some shit's going down over there, we had a homicide a couple of months ago. And I was working on a house one time and someone got shot a half-block away and medical guys were barely able to get to the person shot.
What was the shooting about?
I don't even know because the cops never were [allowed in]; the cops don't go there.
A Minneapolis Police officer told me George Floyd Square has become a dumping spot for stolen vehicles, that it's basically the final destination for anyone involved in a police chase because cops aren't welcome in there.
The amount of traffic we get through here now, literally people will fly through all these stop signs, go 50 miles per hour on 38th Street [which bisects the Square]. I've seen an influx of crime and just people shooting guns out the window.
An influx of crime since George Floyd was killed?
Yeah. Our neighbor one house over, her friend was waiting for her and these three girls robbed her, right in front of her house. I leave for work at 5 a.m. Down the street, some guy tried to grab me out of my car. He was trying to pull the door open. I had a crowbar and I was like, "Get the fuck out of here!" I have the wherewithal to prepare myself in that realm, but a lot of people don't.
You were here when George Floyd was killed. What was it like? Was it mayhem?
It still pretty much is. When it was happening it was so surreal. The first night after it happened, you could not find a parking spot in this neighborhood, it completely filled up with cars.
With people who drove from outside the neighborhood?
Yeah. And we had people just dumping signs all over everywhere, just everywhere.
Signs that said what?
"I Can't Breathe." "Justice for George." All that stuff. It was pretty insane. And then that evening, when they did the protest, it was pretty peaceful. I remember watching them go down here. I wasn't really part of it. I don't really get too involved with protests anymore, especially when I have a kid, you know?
Going off on the tangent, I would say I agree that the way Minneapolis cops deal with a lot of people of color, it's shitty, especially around this area. And anywhere. The only time I've ever gotten a gun pulled on me was by a cop, and it was because I was walking on the streets with my hands in my pockets. He told me to never walk up on a cop with your hands in your pockets. That was a few blocks away from here.
[My ex] used to joke because I drive kind of like a grandma, but I look at it differently. I've been stopped by cops a lot and they give me some BS reason. I said [to my ex], "You don't understand how many people of color in the city that happens to." I understand those dynamics. When it comes to people protesting and it's peaceful, in that realm, I understand that, based off my own experience.
But I think what's going on in George Floyd Square now, I think about how it's really affecting the community. In my personal opinion, I think they should make it a roundabout or something. The city should put the money in for people to open that. It feels like it's a clogged artery in the city. It feels like a lot of people are gasping for air.
There's positive days that you go down there. But I don't know how long we can last with the dynamics of what's going on there. I support George Floyd and all the stuff, but I think the people are kind of missing the point. People are just so reactive.
Like the woman who yelled at you when you were on the bike?
Yeah. I had gone through there every day and just some random day it's like, "You can't do this." It's just all impulsive. That's not what I think is justice. How is that us supporting this guy that got shot? All the stuff that you see there, all that stuff is so important, you see all the names [of people killed by police] rolled out there, it makes me cry. I think how powerful walking through there actually is.
Do you see the goodness of it, or the potential goodness of it, getting hijacked?
That's what I'm starting to realize. That's why I think, if they let it open up and let the world in on this area, instead of it being barricaded and, "You can't come here." I think certain people are taking advantage of it and then other people are enabling that.
Enabling because they think they're doing the right thing or because it helps a particular cause?
Yeah. There was a time we went down there, within the first couple of months. There's these two young white girls, and they're walking and [saying], "You feel the energy coming in here." They're being mystical about it. Then this other girl started saying [to them], "You need to feel bad about your whiteness." The girls were really young and as a person of color, I would never…I don't know. There's such a weird dynamic when people approach me, as being a Native American. They bad-mouth themselves as to who they are. They feel like they need to make themselves less human to feel accepted by me, a person of color. There's something about that I don't enjoy. It's like, "You don't have anything to prove to me." It's great that you acknowledge stuff but, that's where I feel the conversation needs to keep going, let's talk about other stuff rather than, "Fuck white people."
That kind of approach, it's just so weird. I've seen it so much my whole life, when people start being really self-deprecating. I went to a school where I was the only Native, me and my sister, so I went from people constantly beating me up because I'm Native to people now that are covering their tracks, sometimes it feels like, because they feel so bad about it. I don't know; either/or, but I think it's just like, chill.
My daughter, who as you know is half-Native, doesn't like that stuff either. I explained to her what BIPOC stood for, and the sort of uniqueness it implied, and she said, "Mom, I can only apologize for my generation so much."
People really try to put you on this pedestal. There's no mysticism; I'm just a person that is Native. I could tell you my perspective, which is, there's a lot of bullshit going on here.
Bullshit surrounding the Square?
The city kind of gave the reins to people where there's no foundation. Everyone's in these subgroups that have slightly different opinions. There's some people that are more outraged than others, and some who want to feel accepted. I think there's a lot of traumatized people in this world and a lot of people that take advantage of traumatized individuals. That place sometimes feels like a hub for people to just feel triggered, constantly. You're creating a bubble at George Floyd Square. I'm about the cause, but…
What would you say "the cause" is?
Well, it's not just always talking about all these really harsh things that have happened. As a Native, I don't want to either be the default or the trendy thing. And I think that's where we're stuck.