Michael Pettee: The Minnesotans I Know

Michael Pettee grew up in Westport. He now lives in the Twin Cities, where he’s observed the aftermath of George Floyd’s death close up.

Michael — a longtime “06880” reader — writes: 

This is 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered. I ride my bike around the Twin Cities after work each day, and I’ve ridden here a couple of times in the last week. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of people gather here each day to mourn, gawk, pray, chant, protest, hold vigil, march, pay respects, and just look.

(Photo/Brian Pettee)

The only violence I know of here at 38th and Chicago is the violence the Minneapolis Police inflicted upon George Floyd May 25, and then again the next day, when they responded to a very peaceful protest on this spot with military tactics, military vehicles, riot shields, rubber bullets, firearms, flash-bang grenades, and chemical irritants.

Some here at 38th and Chicago say that response was started by the police to create mayhem and deflect from their murder of a handcuffed, unarmed man. Today it is a peaceful and healing place. It is in a mixed-race, multi-ethnic, neighborhood.

(Photo/Michael Pettee)

I grew up in Westport (7 years Burr Farms Elementary School, 1 year Long Lots Junior High, 1 year Bedford Junior High, 3 years Fairfield Prep). I only had one black teacher: Mr. Rudd, the Burr Farms librarian.

I have been in Minnesota for 37 years, and now live in Saint Paul. It is hard for me to imagine 4 cops kneeling on a white Staples kid’s carotid artery until he dies on Main Street, or a Staples kid in, say, Bridgeport? People at 38th and Chicago here can imagine this quite easily.

As I bike from neighborhood to neighborhood it is impossible to say I know what is going on, and I would distrust anyone who thinks they do. I go through a myriad of strong feelings: fear, confusion, anger, disappointment, wonder, hope, despair, and back to confusion. The MPD motto is to “protect and serve.” People at 38th and Chicago do not think the cops are doing either.

A genre of visuals by taggers and shopkeepers is springing up on the plywood facades of the boarded-up or damaged store fronts. The graffiti, pop art and murals includes hundreds of simple messages such as “BLM,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “F-12,” “Peace,” “minority-owned,” and of course “Justice for George.” 130 miles biking through the cities in the last eight days and I have not seen sign of, nor do I hear mention of Antifa. None.

Something else I do not see is piles of broken glass. A small army comes out here each day. Not the army we sent to deal with unrest in Afghanistan. Instead an army of everyday people with brooms, wheelbarrows and snow shovels (something we have more of per capita than anywhere in the US). These are Twin City citizens who come out to clean up the mess, and to help the shopkeepers and feed the protesters. These are the Minnesotans I know.

I do not see “all lives matter” signs here, a retort I now find offensive. Consider this analogy: You ask me the score of the Giants game and I reply, “but all scores matter.” Well, OK, but that does not address the score of the Giants game. And here anyway, the Giants are getting murdered.

There have been lots of protests, marches and demonstrations here in the last eight days. 99% of them are both organized and peaceful. Protests at the county attorney’s home and office, protests at the cops’ homes and precinct, at the state capitol, at commercial sites, corporate headquarters, the 2 downtowns, on freeway entrance ramps, BLM protests, anti-violence protests, and food drives.

Black people in the protests are often in the minority. Protest organizers do not allow weapons. Rowdy behavior is not tolerated. Clear instructions are given to attendees. And people follow these instructions. These are the Minnesotans I know.

My 22-year old son’s neighbor in Saint Paul received this message:

Meanwhile, over in Minneapolis, some school kids made this one, typical of messages springing up on many street corners here:

(Photo/Wendy Porter)

There has been mayhem some nights, and I can imagine that both extremes are causing it. But based on what I have seen riding around the 2 cities, it is remarkably ill-informed and not accurate to suggest that the disparate treatment of different racial groups is not systemic, or that the mayhem is caused by blacks bringing destruction to their own neighborhood. That simply does not align with the neighborhoods I have ridden through, the people I have spoken with, or the Minnesotans I know.

9 responses to “Michael Pettee: The Minnesotans I Know

  1. My wife and I both worked with Michael and his wife Martha for years and know them well. Found out about his Westport connection a few years ago…what a nice thing to see pop up in my feed Dan.

    Thank you!

    Steve Mochel Parent, CEO Fresh Green Light 203.861.1188


    Named to the 2018 Inc. 5000 List of Fastest Growing Companies in the US.

    This message is not worth reading while you are driving or walking.


  2. Thank you for this informed & insightful commentary- much to think about. Appreciate the CT view from MN.

  3. Bonnie Erickson

    Yes. These are the Minnesotans I remember from my 28 years in Minneapolis. These are the same reports I’m receiving from my son and his family who live there still. I’m happy to say that Minneapolis Public Schools, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Park Board and University of Minnesota have ended their longstanding contracts with Minneapolis Police Department. The law firm of Dorsey & Whitney has cut ties with the county attorney on aiding with misdemeanor prosecutions.

  4. Jack Backiel

    There’s a name out of the past, Mr. Rudd. I was at Burr Farms in 1957 and 1958. I had Mr. Pierce in 5th grade.

  5. Ed Friedland

    My wife Lisa and I have lived part-time in downtown Minneapolis since 2008 and have watched the events of recent weeks unfold with deep sadness. I’ve traveled Lake Street countless times; it is one of the main commercial arteries of the city. To someone from the East Coast, the sense of community in the Twin Cities is palpable and even a defining feature. The other reality of course is the deep-rooted problem of racial inequality and police violence, which has now been on display to the entire world. If there is light in this very dark time, it can be found in the decency and determination of leaders like Mayor Frey and Police Chief Arradondo of Minneapolis, and indeed the commitment of many people in the Twin Cities to bring lasting change to their communities.

  6. T. Leichter

    Thanks for posting truth.
    That is some note, it makes me sick!
    Fellow Westporter now in Los Angeles, and I see the same here.

  7. Thank you, Michael. We needed this!
    Pat Porio

  8. Having lived in South Minneapolis myself (43rd and Nokomis) and with friends and relatives there, I am very sympathetic to Michael’s piece. NYT’s Ross Douthat is less optimistic about the coalition between progressive whites and poor minorities. (I think Douthat exaggerates, but some of what he says is definitely true.)

    One irony I noted is that both George Floyd did not live in the city of Minneapolis, but in St. Louis Park — a safe and orderly middle class suburb famous for being the childhood home of the Coen brothers, and a place that most “woke” white Millennials would feel is far too boring a place to live.


  9. Peter Blau

    The other irony is that one of the rookie cops who stood by while Floyd suffocated — the African American cop — also lived in a suburb, Plymouth, which is adjacent to St. Louis Park. The truth today is that blue collar folks of all races are more likely to live in the suburbs vs. the city as good quality housing is more affordable, public schools better, and street safer.