It was warm sunny day in traumatized Minneapolis when I set out on my slick white bicycle to check out the aftermath. First stop Powderhorn Park where the encampment was just getting started:
tents going up on the hillsides and along the paths, water getting dropped off at collection sites where crust punk activists held Action Meetings, the homeless and the addicted hollow-cheeked, wide-eyed, and defiant.
I cruised through observant, all the way through, to East Lake Street where I busted a leff to the 3rd Precinct. Boards and art already up on storefronts and walls, glass and debris swept to the side, traffic to a minimum. Where Minnehaha and Lake intersect, bombed out burned out buildings and bent shrapnel. Youth in the streets and on the corners, some touristing, some gathering, some just waiting around.
Slipped down to the Greenway and crossed Hiawatha, over to the West Bank, past another encampment in the making on Franklin. To downtown where I heard there was a big protest happening, where everyone was going to be, the one headed to the Justice Building, or the City Center, or the Stadium. I didn’t know but it didn’t matter because this is my city and I’ll find them on my bike no matter where they go.
Downtown I find nothing. Empty boulevards and rumors “they’re headed to I-35” and I know how to get there so I does, following the tracks until I was beneath them, a throng of Black and Brown bodies, young and exultant and chanting and proud. One thin Black man saw me humping my bike up the embankment to the highway proper and he was like “ehyo you need help? … oh wait you got it” And then I’m with them, pushing my bike, in the heat on the blacktop surrounded by hope and song and shining brown skin.
Just past the Washington Ave ramp the police showed up and lined up on either side – in front and behind – and so we sat and kept chanting, kept singing. Circles around bullhorns. Big armored cops in a line, in front and behind, and below us vans in a row waiting to be filled. Helicopters above and more cops, more of them below in a SWAT van waiting and joking and hooking their thumbs in equipment and straps and armor.
It was so clear and so hot and people danced beneath the sun because the sun, the lifegiver, it doesn’t hurt Black and Brown skin. By this point, I’d tanned enough that my skin too, my skin pulsed with life and with hope, hope and action, hope the thief and action the redeemer.
I was on my bike and others on bikes naturally formed the vanguard, the scouts, we moved forward to the ramp and guided cars up the ramp while cops, cops fattened beneath armor and straps, waited and smirked and watched us guide the cars.
It was at this point, as we guided those cars, and the sun beat down, and the cops watched and the people sang, that I felt this thing I’d felt before. I will explain it like
the air shimmered in a way of held breath an intake before a gasp a scream an event a something to come. those around me, the people, the cars, the rails, the bikes, the cops, those things all things around me stepped out of default reality into the space between, a space reserved for five-year old imaginations and mushroom trips, a place where connections dormant revive for just a moment: everyone around me got a black border so they popped out, so I’d never forget, and I felt this sense of foreboding, a premonition, a thought went through my head that “this I’ve felt before, this has happened before” but I couldn’t remember when, couldn’t recall, couldn’t draw upon my experience to warn or help or stand up and announce that I know what’s coming and this is what it will be, instead, I watched a pudgy White kid on a bike roll past and he was preaching maniacally about the end and how all things will fall to ruin and the doom is upon us. Anxious, I turned to a tall Black man on a bike beside me and asked for affirmation:
“How do you feel?”
“I feel great. I feel safer than I’ve ever felt before.”
It was at that very moment that the semi rounded the bend, huge and red and bellowing.
A despair gripped me, not at what was to happen, but that this moment I’d anticipated in some waking dream was coming to pass, that which I had feared was manifest in front of me, roaring larger than anything taking up my view spewing gas and barreling through the tossed bikes and toward the gathered singing throng. I despaired that my nightmare was real, I despaired that I had felt it coming and here it was, blasting past me and stealing my voice and my breath and emptying my lungs.
So many people didn’t die because they were young, and fleet, and they jumped out of the way leapt over the median, parted like the Red Sea so to say and the semi and its bared teeth roared into the middle of them and stopped where once there’d been song and dance and don’t tell me he didn’t try to kill them all because I was there and I saw:
Every other car along the side of the road turning back up the ramp and still he came; a good quarter mile of highway between the bend and the people and still he came; hundreds in front of him around him and still he came; cops in front and behind and still he came; all them young and hopeful and still he came.
Maybe he lost heart. When he was pulled from the cab they didn’t kill him, they passed him to the police, who beat the throng back with batons and sprayed them. This I saw with my own eyes. Suddenly, cops back in front and behind, and when some one went to them to scream why, they beat them and sprayed them and this I saw with my own eyes. Bogdan himself, safe in the back of a cop car, whisked away.
This is true:
I noticed a place just off the highway, where the jump to the space below was manageable, where the fence wouldn’t get in the way, where there was grass to land on and a path to the little railway below. An escape route. I was taught before, by security people I worked with in Beijing, to always find the escape route. I thought of Phil when I saw that little getaway and I filed it away and this was before the semi came, this was during the dancing, when such observations can be made. After the semi came, I guided people there, I waved them toward me, toward the little escape hatch, the only one available, and many dozens got away that day. This also is true: I placed my hand over my heart and spoke to the crying who staggered past me to hop over the fence onto the grass and walk to the railway and thus get away and I said
“it’s going to be ok, we got this, we’re gonna be allright.”
This was my contribution and I want you to know I did that and I want me to remember I did that because it showed that when the shit goes down I can be relied upon. I am glad and grateful for that because I wasn’t quite sure.
I tossed my bike over the fence and got away too. I saw the vans get filled, I saw the cops arrest Black and Brown youth, I saw the reporters on Washington Ave film and that’s when I knew I was never going to be a journalist again.
I biked home. I don’t remember the ride. I remember arriving at Powderhorn and my son’s old teacher was on her deck because we were all out that day to witness the trauma and she smiled and waved and I tried to tell her what had happened but she smiled the way people do when they humor someone, but do not understand what they say, and I went home and I don’t know what I did I think I may have tried to tell others but it was to little avail because you had to be there.
If you were there and you read this get in touch, I love you.