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In the 10 weeks since George Floyd’s killing under a police officer’s knee in front of Cup Foods, the intersection of 38th and Chicago has offered a kind of counterbalance to the waves of unrest that have gripped the country. Murals and sculptures have appeared. A community garden of flowers, herbs and remembrances, topped with a giant Black fist monument in the middle of the intersection, have created an island of relative calm.
The reopening of Cup Foods on Monday represented a milestone marking the passage of time. Protesters gathered to declare that it was too early. The store’s management said it was just trying to meet community needs, and that the criticism was misplaced: The focus should be on ensuring those responsible for Floyd’s death are punished.
Tre Bryant, a young man who lives in North Minneapolis, said he comes to the site daily before and after work. He disagreed with the store’s decision to open, even though he said he understood why it would.
“I think they should have waited longer,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair they opened, but they’ve got to do business, too. They got people to take care of.” Bryant added that it was nice to see more people at the site than have been there in recent weeks. “It’s nice to see the crowd, and the people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement,” he said.
Isabel Pone, a 26-year old local theater artist who had volunteered with a medical caravan during protests at the site back in late May and June came back Monday when she heard the store was re-opening. She complained that Cup Foods “had the audacity to sell George Floyd t-shirts,” – something the store’s spokesman denied it has done.
Cup Foods had originally reopened in mid-June, but closed again a few days later, citing community backlash. Early Monday afternoon, customers appeared to be coming in and out of the store. However, as more people gathered outside, tension increased. One person began drumming, speakers began to voice their criticism of the re-opening. At times, protesters grew emotional, surrounding the store with garbage bins, through which staff members worked to clear pathways. Others in the crowd worked to reduce tensions.
Eventually about 100 people gathered at the intersection on Monday— more than had been visiting in recent weeks, but not as many as had gathered in the wake of Floyd’s death. Many said they felt compelled to come, rather than arriving because of an organized protest.
One woman, Monique Young, was visiting the Twin Cities to see family. “I wanted to pay my respects to George Floyd,” she said. “I felt like it was my duty.”
Sandra Richardson, a South Minneapolis resident and longtime neighborhood organizer and activist, said she’s been in the neighborhood since before Cup Foods opened 30 years ago as she spoke to the crowd outside of the store.
“I remember when Cup foods moved in here and wouldn’t hire Black people to work here,” she said as she spoke to a small crowd outside of the store. “For over 30 years, it’s not just Cup Foods that has ignored us and preyed upon us.”
Later, in an interview, Richardson said she knows that Minneapolis city officials face strong pressure to open the intersection for traffic. “But the community’s commitment to not re-opening is stronger,” she said. “The push is to go back to normal. Going back to normal is also amnesia.”
So far, the city has announced no plans to reopen the intersection.
Chris Hansen, who is 24, said he was visiting the memorial for the first time on Monday because the store was opening. He was there out of solidarity for his friends in the Black Lives Matter movement. He charged that Cup Foods was partially responsible for Floyd’s death.
Cup Foods spokesperson Jamar Nelson told Sahan Journal in the aftermath of Floyd’s death that he had tried to make a purchase in Cup Foods with a suspected counterfeit bill. A staff member refused to accept it, and called police.
Local activist Alicia Smith said the reopening of Cup Foods offended her. “We haven’t healed,” she said. You don’t get to tell a community when they are healed.”
Vinee Adams, another activist, was in tears describing her feelings about Cup Foods reopening, in addition to the prospect that the streets would be open for traffic soon. “How are you going to take something away that people need?” she said of the sanctuary site. “I want my people to live. I want my people to breathe.”
Co-owner Mike Abumayyaleh, who has told Sahan Journal that he stands for Black Lives Matter, was present outside of the store on Monday afternoon, wearing a t-shirt that had an image of the mural outside of the store. He declined to be interviewed, pointing instead to Nelson.
Speaking to Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley outside of the store, Nelson said, “We are not opening out of callousness. We are opening up to try to meet community needs.”
“Do you think that people should continue to shop here given the fact that we don’t have justice yet for George Floyd?” Conley asked Nelson. “We’ve got officers out on bail. We have officers that have not been convicted of murder that are not in prison. Do you feel like this is a good time for us to continue business as usual?”
“In a word, yes,” Nelson said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We’re looking at the dangly shiny object instead of, why aren’t we protesting to make sure that there’s going to be a conviction?”