Tag Archives: Michael Pettee

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.