Stories on the long history of racism and police violence in the Midwest—and what to do about it

On Monday, Derek Chauvin, a police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, restrained a man named George Floyd, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, and choked him to death. The video, which ricocheted around social media, is horrific: Chauvin stares into the camera. Floyd cries out in pain and fear. More MPD officers stand off to the side, watching him die.

George Floyd was Black, but you already knew that. America has long, intertwining traditions of racist public policy and violence against Black people. In response, organizers have taken to the streets in Minneapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and elsewhere, facing off with police in riot gear. Four days later, Chauvin was arrested and charged with manslaughter and third degree murder. The president, meanwhile, has threatened to bring in the National Guard to shoot protestors.

To understand the contemporary moment, it’s important to consider both the histories of racism, disinvestment, and violence in the region, and the rich precedent for community organizing and direct action. We hope that the following stories, selected from among dozens of similar pieces over nearly seven years of writing and reporting at Belt, help to contextualize this moment and envision ways to build a more just, equitable future—a future in which George Floyd would still be alive.

—Ryan Schnurr

Support writing by and for the Rust Belt.

Become a member of Belt Media Collaborative today.

CONTEXTUALIZING REBELLION

“Tired of Going to Funerals”: The 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary

Commemorating Chicago’s Red Summer of 1919

Why Detroit ’67 Matters Now

Remembering Hough, Fifty Years Later

“Out of the Closets and Into the Streets”: Queer Resistance Beyond Stonewall

America’s History of Racist Violence is Not Just a Southern Issue

 

DEVELOPMENT AND INEQUALITY

The Legacy of Redlining in Rust Belt Cities

Development in Black and White: An interview with the author of Manufacturing Decline: How Racism and the Conservative Movement Crush the American Rust Belt

Beyond White Flight: What the History of One Cleveland Neighborhood Can Teach Us About Racism and Housing Inequality

Black Lives and a River Road

The Young Patriots and the Fight for the Working Class in Uptown

 

POLICE VIOLENCE AND INCARCERATION

It’s Murder: The Case of Tamir Rice

The Rippling Effect of Baron Walker: A Dispatch From the Most Incarcerated ZIP Code in the Nation

Prison Gerrymandering and the Politics of Representation

How a Western Pennsylvania Police Shooting sparked a Political Movement

Scenes from the Department of Justice Investigation into the Cleveland Police Department

 

BEFORE AND AFTER GEORGE FLOYD

Protest and Power: Photos

What Happened–and is Happening–in Minneapolis

Before George Floyd There was David Cornelius Smith

 

BLACK TRAUMA, BLACK JOY

Unfertile Ground: On Minnesota, Toni Morrison, and Black Womanhood

Traveling While Black in Indiana

White Racist Aggression at the U. Michigan Game

Preserving Black Artists’ Legacies in Contemporary Pittsburgh

2014: A Poem from St. Louis

Liberation is a Long Haul: Lessons from Juneteenth

 

WHAT NOW?

How to Win Reparations

Cleveland After Serial

Activism Then and Now: A Talk by Randy Cunningham

#NoCopAcademy and the Movement to Defund the Police

Picturing the End of Money Bail

The Future of Chicago is the Future of Us All

 

*This story has been updated to reflect that Chauvin has now been arrested and charged.

 

 

Cover image of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer. Photo by Jamelle Bouie via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Belt Magazine is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. To support independent writing and journalism made by and for the Rust Belt and greater Midwest, make a donation to Belt Magazine, or become a member starting at just $5 a month