April Rain Song
By Langston Hughes
Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.
I have been asked several times in the past three weeks how does it feel in Minneapolis during the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd? It has felt tense, the community on edge with the expectation that Chauvin will be found guilty and sent to prison. The case against him seems straight forward, with overwhelming testimony that his actions constituted murder. But we have seen what appeared to be straightforward trials have unexpected outcomes before and there is palpable worry that what seems obvious in terms of justice will somehow get mangled in our judicial system, despite overwhelming testimony by government and police officials against Chauvin.
All of that changed a week ago for the worse with the tragic death of Daunte Wright, another unarmed black man killed by police in the Twin Cities, this time in what appears an accidental shooting but no less tragic and devastating for his family. Now, there is an additional profound sense of sadness that is like a smog that hangs over this city.
Yesterday I had an errand in the proximity of the most destructive area of the protests last May/June on Lake Street. A year later it still looks like a war zone, the majority of the business storefronts covered over in plywood, rubble from buildings gutted by fire evident behind temporary chain link fences that are no longer temporary, groups of heavily armed National Guardsman in helmets, flak jackets, carrying rifles a noticeable presence every mile or so next to armored personnel carriers; a scene that looks like what I used to think was only existed in the Middle East, but is now apart of the daily presence in my city for the next couple of months. It doesn’t look or feel like my home. It is disturbing.
The most troubling aspect is I have doubts that the businesses and theaters that I frequented before all this will survive the double whammy of the economic disruption of COVID and the economic devastation of the damage done in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Businesses are a reflection of people – both the livelihood of the owners and employees and the economics of their customers. They are the places where we spend our money and enjoy our lives. I fear the people that supported those restaurants, bars, night clubs, record stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, book stores, bike shops, etc, are being hollowed out. Its not white flight it is blight flight. Its not just white people leaving these neighborhoods, its the entire middle class. There is lots of expensive new housing being built along that corridor, projects begun prior to all this, now surrounded by urban decay. The question is can anyone afford to live in them and will they want to?
I don’t feel as safe in the neighborhoods I have lived and shopped for decades. When the neighborhood grocery store, paint store and hardware store my mother used to shop at are boarded up again and again and again to prevent vandals from breaking windows and stealing things, the sense of violence becomes part of our architecture, we become numb to it. It takes its toll in how you think of your community. As I drove along Lake Street for several miles, the spray painted graffiti on boarded up buildings became a blur. The city-scape a physical manifestation of anger and economic dysfunction, with little sign of spring.
I am leaving this city this summer. I was on the path to move before all this happened the past 12 months, but it feels different now, it has a touch of defeat, a whiff of failure. Every house I have owned in Minneapolis, I have left in better condition than when I purchased it, I have tried to make my neighborhoods better. Is that gentrification or being a responsible home owner? I am in the process of selling my property and moving on. I won’t be a part of the economic revival that Minneapolis is counting on. I won’t pay taxes anymore and I will be spending very little money within its confines. I don’t recognize the city I used to love. Instead I’ll leave it to the next generation, like me and my friends did 40 years ago, to try and fix things up. When I moved to Minneapolis in 1981, the crime rate was higher than today, urban blight was everywhere. It took decades for things to get better. And it did get better, until it didn’t. I wish the next generation well, hoping the new owners success in creating community once again.