Coronavirus Update: Week 11 (George Floyd)

>> Monday, June 01, 2020

It doesn't feel right to make my weekly update. Yes, I got my grades turned in and am officially in "summer" mode. Yes, the boys finished school and are on their summer break. But more important things have been going on.

So this weekly update will be pieces of what's been going on in our community since the killing of George Floyd by a police officer 1 week ago. I'm doing this for 2 reasons: I don't want to forget, and I want to share what we're seeing here in the middle of it. Some of this is city-wide issues, and some of it is things I've noted from my house. I don't want to forget these things, these feelings, or this week.


I hadn't made a 4 a.m. photo since the "stay at home" order had started in mid-March. But I went out last Wednesday morning to photograph where George Floyd was killed. I posted this on my "photo" instagram, which is @photostenzel (that's different than all the pics of my boys and garden at @stevestenzel, so give @photostenzel a follow if you'd like):


Memorial where George Floyd was killed 36 hours ago, photographed at 4:15 this morning.
I’m used to having the city to myself when I photograph at 4 a.m. Today, I encountered more people than I have in the previous few years combined. There were police officers across the street. There was a handful of national media getting ready to report (large, generic rental conversion vans with tech guys setting up, not the local branded vehicles). And two people walked up as I was getting ready to photograph. One stood in silence with her head down. The other kneeled down, and then ended up laying down in the wet street where Floyd was killed. I could hear him quietly praying about “change.” He sat up, pounded the pavement twice with his fist in frustration, and then they quietly walked away.
#GeorgeFloyd #ICantBreathe

I'm getting all these days mixed up, but I'm pretty sure it was that night (Wednesday) that a lot of the rioting and looting happened. LOTS of videos of white people sparking things off. The Auto Zone (right by our gym where I got parts for my wife's car recently) was broken into, and the windows were smashed by some guy with an umbrella and huge face mask (who was recorded) who just calmly smashed the windows and walked away. Odd. Lots of concern about who these provocateurs are/were. This was the biggest concern for me and many (most) of my neighbors: there were mainly "protesters" out during the day, and then "people looking for trouble" out at night. Many cases, these people came from out of town looking for trouble. (The night that Lloyd's Pharmacy was broken into and went up in flames here in St. Paul, we heard from a friend of my wife who saw it happen: a handful of cars pulled up, blocked the alleys and roads, pulled out special equipment, and busted through the door in 1 second. Then grabbed the drugs and were gone.) These aren't "mad people throwing rocks." These are people from the city or coming in from the outside that are taking advantage of the chaos here to do their evil deeds. Yes, there ARE mad people throwing rocks, but those aren't the big concern. Protesters ≠ rioters ≠ professional break-in jobs. There will be more on this later in this post...

That night, the Auto Zone, the Wendy's behind it, and a 6 story apartment building just across a parking lot were all burned down:

Craziness. Just the other side of that is *my* Aldi.

Lots of things were burned or looted or trashed that night.

THURSDAY MORNING: here's a Facebook post of mine from that morning:

We sat the boys down this afternoon and tried to explain what’s been going on around here. We told them about George Floyd and how he possibly wrote a bad check and ended up being killed by a police officer for it. We told them how we don’t have to worry about things like that, and how that’s unfair. We told them what protests were. (The MPLS 3rd Precinct building is just on the other side of Hiawatha from our gym, so we drive past it all the time.) We also told them about riots and looting, and how that’s illegal. (I tried to tie that into MANY recent talks we’ve had here at home about “appropriate / inappropriate and helpful / unhelpful reactions to have,” but I don’t know if that sunk in.) We showed them some pictures and videos of what’s happened to some of the businesses near our gym, and how once the gym reopens, it will look very different over there for a while.

Everyone was in tears. Henry tried to run off upstairs. But it was an important discussion to have.

Charlie brought up Martin Luther King Jr (I can't help but think that's part of Mac/Plymouth Preschool's influence), so he’s starting to understand.

Henry understood: “But one of my BFF’s has brown skin!” he said through tears. [Hey kid: 1996 called, and they want “BFF” back.] “And I don’t care! I mean, I don’t like it when he’s annoying sometimes, but...” and then he not-so-eloquently went on to say something along the lines of “but that’s not because he has brown skin.” And then he went on to laugh about how goofy Isa is in the lunchroom at times.

Everyone was back to their giggly/crazy selves a few minutes later, but now they know a little more about the world. Sadly.

Hard discussions to have. But important ones. Stay safe everyone.

A white friend with a black husband commented: "Such important discussions. I'm glad to see white families doing this as well. My baby was crying in my arms because she's afraid this will happen to her daddy. We've unfortunately had to have many discussions about this topic. It helped her to bring flowers to the memorial & march. Such a tough thing to understand as an adult...for kids who don't have hate in their heart, it's devastating."

Thursday night was when I was getting a little worried about looters/rioters in our area. I sealed up the yard as tight as I could get it. I noticed the neighbors who always go to bed SUPER early left a lamp on on their main floor (first they've ever done that). I left our side yard light on.

We woke up on Friday to hearing about messes down University Ave here in St. Paul, down Snelling Ave, and lots more problems across the river in Minneapolis.

FRIDAY MORNING: a morning post, along with comments:

Point being: anyone from the area would have NO reason to loot Ax Man.

A high school friend who lives close to the epicenter in MPLS.

The SUV parade tried to hit a gas station within a 1/2 mile of home, but the
owner scared them off after the 3rd or 4th time they swung by and stopped.

The police were catching a LOT of flack for how things had been handled. I have good, trusted friends who witnessed police officers throwing Target carts through bus stops. Friends witnessed police actively stirring up the situation. If the duty of a police officer is to "protect life and property," that's not what a handful were doing. Even though the Governor's office has made it clear about curfew that "no one is allowed to travel on Minneapolis and Saint Paul streets or public places" (nothing about needing to be *in* your house, because that's not how it works), there's video of police and state patrol saying "light em up" and shooting paintballs/rubber bullets at people calmly hanging out on their own porch. And this happened live on CNN:

Many more local reporters had issues like this too.

Too many stories like this from Thursday night.

Here's a Friday afternoon Facebook post (and I'll interject the photos in the areas of the text that apply to them):

The boys had their last day of "class" today. After Henry's last class meeting wrapped up, we got changed, grabbed gloves and masks, and hit the road to help with clean-up in St. Paul.

We knew of a neighborhood district council working around Midway, and another group on Grand Avenue. But we missed most of the clean up. We stopped 2 groups of people, and both said "yeah, we're pretty much done here." I told the boys we're lucky to live in a neighborhood where people have this kind of "let's help each other out" attitude. We were happy to see guys walking back home with push brooms and scoop shovels - meaning the work was done just 2 hours after it started.

Two of my pics: we got to see how Menards barricaded up last night. (1 mile from home.) GENIUS. Palettes of plywood stacked 4 high!

[EDIT: Menards also stacked plywood in a similar manner in front of small businesses across the street from them: a small liquor store, a computer repair shop, a plumbing store, etc. LOVE that.]

And the gas station 3/4 mile straight down the road (kitty-corner from Davannis) was burned.

And then there are 2 pics from the clean-up crew this morning of some of University (just east of Snelling). These were from a neighborhood Facebook page. We didn't/couldn't get that far down University in our car as it was a parking lot - lots of activity east of Snelling.

Finally, there's an "incident" map from within the 494/694 loop. It's quite incomplete (as the burnt gas station and broken-into Thomas Liquors are 2 things I know about that are not on the map), but it shows the craziness all around us. The blue dot is our gym (very near the 3rd Precinct at the heart of this), the neon green dot is our home, and the magenta dot is our church/school. It's everywhere.

Hoping tonight is quieter.

A Menards employee and friend of mine commented "FYI there are guards on top of Menards with fire hoses. They sprayed some looters last night. It's like 14th century castle defense." The boys and I saw people up there, and one was flying a drone around as well.

We saw SOOOO many businesses in the act of boarding up. We drove part of Midway (west of Snelling only), down Snelling, and then up and down Grand Ave. Most places hadn't had any damage, but they were prophylactically taking precautions.

One of the 2 Targets that I'd call "my" Target. What a mess.

That night (Friday), many cities implemented an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew (Minneapolis, St. Paul, and a number of suburbs too). It was quieter around here. And a friend from my gym went to help clean up just on the other side of the epicenter, and she walked about a mile down Lake Street (one of the hardest hit areas). I was so happy to see her report this after being out about 2 hours:


Saturday came with a wave of warnings. There would be another curfew in effect, and the shit was expected to hit the fan. All over the cities, people were reporting "scaring off" people casing neighborhoods/businesses in circling and/or slow driving plate-less vehicles. People were CLEARLY showing up to loot, riot, and cause trouble and were not mourning the loss of Floyd. There were people coming in for their own benefit. And that aspect of it was terrifying.

A local business (formerly owned by a neighbor straight down our alley) had a run in with people photographing her store. When asked what they were doing, they said they were planning to "burn down the building and the one next door" (which was another small business, and also Whole Foods). They stepped up their private security for the coming night, and they were OK!

This car circled a few blocks for a while just a few blocks from our home before taking off.
SOOOOO many stories of strange cars like this throughout the day and evening.

A text to Mom.

Our councilwoman's tweet about it.

Groups spotted all over.

A message from the police department.

We cleaned up our yard: shovels and tools made sure to get put away. The metal "riding steam shovel" scooper in the sandbox got locked up. The flower pots in the back yard got put in the garage, as did the trash and recycling bins. I bungee-corded up our chain link fence gates shut (in the name of what that one friend said above about people "looking for easy targets"). I got two 5-gallon buckets full of water set in our back yard in case of a fire that I'd need to douse out. Our family and another neighbor helped a different neighbor shovel his new load of wood chips into his garage because he was afraid that would just be a giant pile of kindling to the wrong person/crowd:

The pile is LONG in his garage - this was a wide 3' high pile.

After the curfew started started, I stepped outside to take a short video of our normally BUSY road at 8:20 p.m. on a Saturday night:

(Quiet, except for birds and choppers in the sky.)

We got the boys to bed, and we prepped more inside the house: we packed a bag we could grab if we needed to run out. I had my headlight charging, my point-and-shoot camera charging (it takes good videos), my best flashlight at the ready, clothes downstairs, and possible "weapons" stashed semi-hidden around the house should I need to grab something on the way out or if someone breaks in: my camping ax, a large framing hammer, and a souvenir Louisville Slugger with Kirby Puckett's signature. We had our car keys and some cash ready to go as well.

We talked about a plan should we need to leave home. We live near the middle of this map (near the "94" right in the middle), and the red lines are all interstates that were shut down for the night:

Later I heard Hwy 280 was closed too (the line above "94").

Then we heard of a big mob heading our way:

From one of the neighborhood Facebook pages (SOOO much good updating on those!).

The mob (in red) trying to get across to St. Paul,
and we're at the blue dot. Heading our way. Damn.

St. Paul police didn't let anyone cross. It was dispersed shortly after!

There was a LOT of helicopter traffic associated with that group. They were peaceful for most of the way. They only started throwing things at the bridge. At that point, the streets were quiet, but the air was loud for a few hours.

There were different KKK sightings: in (or around) Loring Park in MPLS, and in a big park about 2 miles from our place here in St. Paul:

Posters name cut off to protect them. The police came and told them to move on.

From a neighbor.

From a gym buddy.

Crazy shit.

From a friend living over near the center of it.

After the group was dispersed on the bridge, it started to quiet down. I was able to get my wife to bed around 11 p.m. I stayed up to keep an eye on things. And things were pretty quiet. I'd step outside now and then to look around, and there'd be the occasional car driving by (a bit too fast), but nothing bad. I noticed a figure standing half a block down the street, and I texted a neighbor about it at 1:00 a.m. (who I knew was planning on being up as well). It turns out, it was another neighbor just standing there, so I went down there. R, S, C, and I all chatted in the street for 15 minutes or so. A car drove by at one point, and we joked that now WE'D get the police called on us for being a "Dad mob" on the corner. After a bit, we saw someone run across the street 2.5 blocks away. Then he LOUDLY tripped over a small construction light. And then a half-block later, he LOUDLY tripped over and fell into an area that the city has been working on (a big hole in someone's sidewalk as they worked on a water line). He ran past the 4 of us on the other side of the street, and claimed to live up the road. He was impaired one way or another, so C called it in just noting there's a suspicious man in shorts and a t-shirt heading north on XXX between XXX and XXX. I told my neighbors, "well, it's 1:30, and I should probably get home, as soon there'll be a police officer looking for someone in shorts and a t-shirt heading north on XXX between XXX and XXX... and that describes me AND my way home." So we all dispersed.

(Side note: the fact that 4 of us could stand outside in the middle of the street for 30-40 minutes in the middle of the night during a curfew without feeling unsafe is part of our white privilege. In the last 24 hours, I've seen black neighbors asking people to check on things outside of their property at night because they don't want to be in the street or alley right now. And I 100% hear what they're saying. So I joke about our "Dad mob," but it's "allowed" because we are not in the minority. If you've scoffed at the term "white privilege" in the past, I assure you that I've ACTIVELY felt it many times over the last 3-4 days. And it's unfair.)

An hour later, we heard 18 (or so) rapid gunshots:

68 comments in an hour! Whoa! So many neighbors up and watching over their corner of the world!

We all thought it was near 94 around Prior or Fairview. A few minutes later, someone shared a video of a helicopter overhead with the searchlight on, noting "this is the first I’ve seen with the searchlight." But that was the last we heard of it. (There was another single shot sound around 3:30 a.m., but the police claimed that was a semi on 94... which is unusual because 94 was currently closed.)

I was tweeting friends all night. Here were some of my tweets from around midnight through 4 a.m.:

RE: the news tweet: they said they'd been on the air for 20 hours!
(Not the same crew, of course. But they'd had no "regular programming" for 20 hours!)

It really appeared that the heavier law enforcement presence kept things in check on Saturday night. I was hoping that Sunday night would feel similar around our neighborhood.

SUNDAY MORNING: here was a big Facebook post:

We were watching reports of a “crowd of 1000” getting ready to cross the Lake/Marshall Bridge last night around 9:30, but they were stopped at the bridge and dispersed shortly after. After that, we had a lot of helicopter noise, but that slowly dwindled away. Sarah got to bed around 11, but didn’t fall asleep for hours.

I met with some neighboring dads/sons for a 1 a.m. chit-chat down the road, and moods were good. We watched a drunk/high 30-year-old jog, stumble, and crash into some signs, but we weren’t worried. There were 15-20 gunshots (not fireworks) around 2:30 a.m. somewhere well east of us, and a helicopter showed up with a searchlight and then all was quiet. All things considered, a good night here. I got to bed as the sky was getting brighter and the birds were chirping at 4:30.

I took off on a bike ride this morning just thinking I’d ride down the Greenway and/or River Road for a while. Honest to God, I didn’t think about being close to the 3rd precinct until I was crossing 26th/Minnehaha and the air stunk. I turned towards the mess. Even though it all happened a few days ago, it still smelled like the world was on fire. I saw the big 6-story construction project that shared a parking lot with the Aldi we go to, and it was still smoldering. It was unreal to see it with my own eyes. There were a LOT of people out helping clean up in the Cub/Target area. The Wendys, the Auto Zone, the Arbys... all gone. I rode past the 3rd precinct building and just took it all in. I don’t know what this canister was (tear gas?), but it was laying right in the middle of the bike path as I rode away.

Along the Greenway, I immediately came upon a homeless man sleeping on the trail (before Cedar) without shoes and next to an open container of peanuts. Just past that in the small homeless camp, there was 1 person sitting in a chair and 4 people tending to a wound on his leg.

I started crying. About everything. About watching George Floyd die with a police officer’s knee on his neck. About my community burning. About racism and white supremacy. About explaining this to my boys. About homeless people watching out for one another. I started to pray: for George, for the police officer(s) who killed him (in a homily long ago, I heard about the power of praying for those you are upset with, and how that’s good for your soul AND their soul, and I’ve done that for years now), for the city, for society, and for the homeless people I biked past on my $1000 bike. I smiled and said “hi” to everyone I met on the trail after that.

Those weren’t my first tears on my bike, but they weren’t like my normal cycling tears.

Excuse the shitty photos. I wasn’t making art. I was just trying to understand.

This was the 6 story building in flames from higher up in this post.

The good news was that there were HARDLY any issues on Saturday night! I didn't see any new issues on my ride through St. Paul and Minneapolis, and I went to our neighborhood Facebook page to see if anyone needed help, but there was currently nothing to do:

My wife made a run out to the 'burbs for groceries. Here was her post: "Steph and I showed up at Costco this morning in the same mask. Thanks, mom, for the masks, and thanks, Steph, for the in at Costco! Steve and I live in St. Paul right between two of the hardest hit areas of devastation. Normally we can brag that we are surrounded in any direction by 15 different grocery stores in a three mile radius, but right now most of them are closed up either for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. Thank you to all of those who have given to the Minneapolis and St. Paul food shelves because this current devastation really is creating a food desert in an already vulnerable population, especially with no availability for public transportation."

Because she has a car, she figured she'd travel to get her groceries as to not tap the resources of people who don't have transportation in the city to get food. And she asked neighbors if they needed anything, and ended up picking up $50 of groceries for one neighbor, and a few essentials for another neighbor who runs an in-home daycare.

From a gym buddy living not far from the middle of it. They had a safe Saturday night!

Another curfew was put in place for Sunday night, and there were more highway closures. New Sunday night were military helicopters (which weren't new) flying overhead with the hanging dump baskets for putting out fires. Here, right before curfew, was a military helicopter (without a fire-fighting "basket") and a news helicopter in the same area just north of our house:

Always so many helicopters!

Last night's threat.

Serious warnings for last night. (After "neighborhood council"
patrols were able to be out helping the night before.)

Our neighbor on the neighborhood page who listens to scanners and reports back.

537 comments on ONE neighborhood page's nightly thread.

So I spent a second night up. I checked the yard and neighbor's yards until around 11:30. Then again before 1 a.m. I slept from about 1-3 on the couch, checked on things again, went to bed after 4, and couldn't sleep (even though I've gotten just 5+ hours of sleep total between the last 2 nights).

The last 2 nights have been quiet right around my house, but there's larger issues at work in my surrounding neighborhood. Hoping it keeps quieting down.


Carolina John 11:37 AM, June 01, 2020  

Steve, that is an amazing and heartbreaking recap of a time frame. I'm in tears. Thank you for sharing such a personal account and I'm so glad your family is ok.

T 6:28 PM, June 01, 2020  

Holy. Crap. I've (obviously) been following along with your stuff on all three social platforms, but to see it all laid out like this? Sheesh. I'm thankful we haven't had to deal with the Denver unrest getting out to us (we're far enough away from the capitol/heavy protest areas), but this is giving us a lot of good information just in case stuff gets way worse.

I'm thankful the neighborhoods are so coordinated and helping out right now. That's what we really need.

Stay safe, and I'm praying things calm down around the country (and start changing for the better on a bigger scale) soon.

Paul 9:21 AM, June 02, 2020  

Thanks for taking the time to document this, Steve. Stay safe, and keep doing Good.

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