Minneapolis is now the epicenter of nationwide protests after four police officers were involved in the death of George Floyd. On May 25, a bystander recorded Derek Chauvin, a white Minnesota police officer kneeling his knee into Floyd’s neck as he was handcuffed on the ground. Floyd, 46, later died.
The video contradicted the officers’ statements, and all four were fired from the department. The viral video spread across the US, causing outrage of Floyd’s death, which “falls within a larger pattern” of clashes between police officers and residents in the black communities, Time reports. Within the past three months, two black males and one black female have been killed at the hands of law enforcement.
Although these widespread, racially motivated incidents prove to be a national problem, the influence of Minneapolis’s racial encounters and structure on the Black Lives Matter Movement should be brought to light and may help people understand what Floyd and other Minneapolis residents are up against.
According to Time, in 2019, Minneapolis was ranked the fourth worst metro area in the United States for black Americans, and the city is highly segregated. The complaints of racism among the police are not new; in fact, it has been a consistent issue.
Keith A. Mayes, a professor of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, says the racial clash “goes way back to the period of Reconstruction when a lot of police departments were created to surveil black communities and control and corral large black populations.”
The University designed a project that plotted the locations of racial covenants-legal clauses inserted into property deeds that reserved land for the exclusive use by white people. The project was called “Mapping Prejudice” and was directed by historian director, Kirsten Delegard. “Understanding how things go so tense in Minneapolis requires the understanding of the history of the city’s racial geography,” she said. “Minneapolis wasn’t particularly segregated when racial covenants were first introduced in 1910; they were preemptively put into place before black people lived in Minneapolis in large numbers,” Delegard says. “You have 2,700 African Americans living in the city in 1910 and [then] 30,000 racial covenants blanketing the city to make sure all this land could never be occupied by people who aren’t white. After they had been in place for 30 years, the city became highly segregated, and people who weren’t white were sorted into just a handful of very, very small neighborhoods.”
One of those small neighborhoods is well known as a hub for black middle-class and working-class communities and is located near the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where the murder of George Floyd took place. That area is now the site of subsequent demonstrations.
“Like every black neighborhood in the country, it’s also been subject to over-policing and very different kinds of police practices than the predominantly white neighborhood a couple of blocks away,” Delegard says. “When you get to the edges of those neighborhoods, there tends to be more literal policing and more contention over who can be in public space and what people are doing.”
Times reports, the very intersection where Floyd’s violent arrest took place is one such edge, and that very corner was a property governed by racial covenants. Delegard’s research shows these covenants were often put in place on the borders of black neighborhoods, in an effort to contain the population. Although the intersection is not overtly white space, covenants will show it is a point of contention. “Whose space is this? Who gets to be here? Who doesn’t? Delegard tells Time, “Structural racism is really baked into the geography of this city, and as a result, it really permeates every institution in this city.”
The demonstrations today have been compared to those that took place during the Civil Rights Movement. In the early 20th century, demonstrators banned together to fight for equal access to housing. It is known as “the long hot summer of 1967, a summer when nearly 160 riots spread out across the nation as a result of injustice. Demonstrators were frustrated with poverty and unemployment, as well as the systematic denial of employment opportunities by white-owned businesses and city services by white-led municipal governments. Black Americans suffered mistreatment by white or mostly white police forces, which led to explosive confrontations between black residents and the forces that oppressed them.
“I wish I could tell you there were differences between the 1960s and today when it comes to police incidents, but it’s the same,” says Mayes. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 made racial covenants illegal, but other ways to maintain the neighborhood demographics emerged. One, in particular, is Freeway 35w, it was built in 1960 to separate downtown and the southern suburbs. It now serves as a divider between the Old South Side and wealthier and whiter areas.
“The places on the map where we found these racial restrictions are still the whitest parts of the city today,” says Delegard. “Our research shows that there was this preoccupation with making sure the city would stay all white. The racial composition of the neighborhoods we have today was created, deliberately constructed through Time. These rigid racial boundaries were enforced through courts and the police for a century in Minneapolis, and it does lead to violent encounters.”