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Three months after George Floyd's killing, memorial remains 'sacred place' for racial justice

“It’s still like yesterday, and there’s things that open up the wound,” a man at the memorial said.
Three months after George Floyd was killed by the police, people visit the memorial set up in his memory in Minneapolis on Aug. 25, 2020.
Three months after George Floyd was killed by the police, people visit the memorial set up in his memory in Minneapolis on Aug. 25, 2020.Ed Ou / NBC News

MINNEAPOLIS — Three months after George Floyd died at the hands of police and sparked a wave of protests around the country and the world, the site of his death has become a universal gathering point where people come to remember him and acknowledge the struggle for racial equality.

On a dry, hot Tuesday afternoon, locals and tourists ebbed and flowed through the memorial site at the intersection where Floyd took his final breaths May 25. Now three months later, new shootings of Black people by police continue to generate further outcry and more protests.

“It’s still like yesterday, and there’s things that open up the wound,” Clifford Dodd, a Black vendor who was born and raised in nearby St. Paul, told NBC News.

Dodd, 64, said the memorial site was a sacred place where people gathered to meditate on America’s past, as well as its current struggles in the fight against inequality.

“There’s a spirit that’s here,” he said.

A local Christian group prays at the site of his memorial in Minneapolis on Aug. 25, 2020.Ed Ou / NBC News

Throughout the memorial there are several tribute spaces, including colorful murals and paintings. At the center is the sculpture of a raised fist surrounded by a bed of colorful flowers and a photo of Floyd. Around it are teddy bears and other tributes, such as signs reading “Create the George Floyd Forest” and “George Lives Here.”

Close to the central memorial, flowers hang upside down from a clothesline with signs reading “Creatively Imagine A World Without Police'' and another reading “We Stand Together.” Nearby, a symbolic cemetery features dozens of tombstones marking people who lost their lives at the hands of police.

Every day area residents hold town hall meetings mornings and evenings under the boarded up Speedway gas station to discuss their concerns, updating each other on what happens in the square and in their neighborhood in an effort to build up their community.

At night, however, the square can take on a different tone, with previously existing tensions and violence leading to sporadic shootings before day breaks and locals and tourists filter back in.

Just after Floyd’s death, hundreds or thousands of people routinely gathered at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue. While those numbers have diminished, Dodd said he has met people from around the world, including Puerto Rico, Australia and the Netherlands.

Local residents hold a town hall in Minneapolis on Aug. 25, 2020. Residents and activists meet at the Speedway gas station to discuss building up their community, racial justice and ongoing concerns.Ed Ou / NBC News

“They want to see it for themselves, and they’re bringing their families. They’re coming thousands of miles,” he said. “There might be a real change this time because change is within the next generation, and that is what’s coming here.”

With his company Sweet Inspirations, he helps sell merchandise such as "Black Lives Matter" hoodies, T-shirts that say “We Still Can't Breathe,” and masks with the words "Black Lives Matter" and a raised fist in the middle.

Dodd said he saw himself in Floyd many times.

“Everybody has their own war stories of being caught by the cops, being degraded, and everyone came here and they were laying their pain down somewhere,” he said. “Sometimes the way you learn how to live with something is to act like it didn’t happen. But you never really forget.”

Dodd said he was hopeful Floyd's death could result in meaningful social change in this country, unlike what he had seen after previous killings, such as in the fatal shooting of the Black Minnesota motorist Philando Castile.

Three months after George Floyd was killed by the police, people visit the memorial set up in his memory in Minneapolis on Aug. 25, 2020Ed Ou / NBC News

“Philando Castile had momentum there for a minute and then, poof, it’s gone. This one here has been lingering,” he said. “I conditioned myself to live to see a change, and that’s what I think I’m witnessing right now.”

Krystal Smith, 26, said that while she loves that people still come to pay their respects at the memorial months later, the site weighs heavy on her emotionally. “Why did this have to happen? Why did it take this specific person to die for everybody to come out and come together?” she asked.

“I just get sad and emotional, and I get to thinking about everything like, damn, this could have been my brother, this could have been my dad, this could have been my boyfriend,” said Smith, who is Black and was wearing a “We Still Can’t Breathe” T-shirt. “He could’ve been anybody.”

Smith said she tends to the flowers at the memorial and, when the sun goes down, she lights candles near the tombstones and alongside more names of the dead painted onto the street. It’s her way of honoring their lives.

“I really support this. I’ve been here since it happened,” she said. “People are taking time out of their day to come and show love, that means a lot to me."

Elaine Davis and her mother Mildred stand over his memorial site in Minneapolis on Aug. 25, 2020. Elaine came from Atlanta to visit her mother and to pay her respects to George Floyd.Ed Ou / NBC News

Also making her way through the memorial Tuesday afternoon was Elaine Davis, a Minneapolis native, who had just come from Atlanta to see the site for the first time.

“This is shocking. Minneapolis set off a new revolution, and I still cannot believe that,” said Davis, a Black woman in her 50s, wearing a black mask and a black and gray shirt with the names of people killed by police scrawled into a fist. “I had to see this.”

She said Floyd’s death “has set off us being heard, and when I say us, I mean Black people, and I mean the youth.”

“The youth are really speaking, I’m proud of what I'm seeing out here," she said. "I’m very proud of what I’m seeing."