"I Can't Breath" at 50th and France

Standing at the corner of 50th Street and France Avenue in Edina the afternoon of May 29, Kathy Andrus, who lives a block away from the intersection, holds up a sign in protest of the George Floyd killing. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

Edina Police increased their presence in the city's commercial districts after looting erupted in Minneapolis and St. Paul this week.

As unrest in the Twin Cities flared in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in South Minneapolis, hints of class-based animosity toward Edina surfaced in the form of graffiti May 28, the same day Minneapolis' Third Precinct was abandoned by authorities and set ablaze by rioters.

According to Edina Communications Director Jennifer Bennerotte, targets of vandalism included the BMO Harris Bank building at 5050 France Ave. and the 54th Avenue bridge crossing Minnehaha Creek, located a few blocks away from 50th & France.

Photos tweeted by KARE-11 news anchor Julie Nelson showed the 5050 France Ave. building was spray-painted with the message, “Your day will come 1312.” The words, “Take the war to the rich,” were scrawled on the bridge.

Also located in the 50th & France area, an R.F. Moeller jewelry store was burglarized in the early morning hours of May 28, with its front windows found smashed. It was unclear whether the incident was connected to the looting happening elsewhere in the metro, Bennerotte said.

“But in light of these activities, the 50th & France Business Association asked for extra police patrols in the area,” she said.

Following up the morning of May 29, Bennerotte added that police are more frequently patrolling Edina's other commercial districts as well.

Late on May 28, Edina Mayor Jim Hovland issued a statement on the Floyd killing. In it, Hovland acknowledged his own city's fraught history with race relations.

“While progress has been made, there is much work to do. As a City, we have not always gotten it right in the past on issues of race and equity, but we are committed to learning from those experiences so we can grow together,” Hovland wrote.

The city gained a reputation as being unfriendly to black and Jewish people due to racially restrictive housing covenants that were imposed on properties in the early 20th century.

Race relations in Edina were the subject of more scrutiny in 2016, when the city was the site of protests after an Edina officer arrested a black man who was walking in the street on Xerxes Avenue while the adjacent sidewalk was under construction.

The city responded to the outcry by forming a race and equity plan that is being implemented piece by piece.

Furthermore, incidents of racist graffiti dating back to late 2018 – with the most recent instance appearing in late March of this year – was troubling enough to cause the Edina Crime Prevention Fund to offer monetary rewards for information leading to the arrest and charge of those responsible.

More racial friction surfaced last September, when Edina Police were involved in the shooting of Richfield resident Brian Quinones, a person of color was killed after confronting officers with a knife following a low-speed pursuit that began in Edina.

That incident led to demonstrations in Richfield and protesters temporarily taking control of an Edina City Council meeting. No charges were filed against the five officers – two from Edina and three from Richfield – who were involved in the shooting as Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman determined police were justified in their use of deadly force.

A lone protester stood at the corner of 50th & France the afternoon of May 29, holding a sign that read, "I can't breathe," a reference to some of the last words uttered by Floyd as the Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck. Kathy Andrus, who lives a block away from the intersection, recalled the 20th-century fight for equality as she explained her motivations.

“Fifty years ago,” she said, “we were protesting for civil rights, and I’m really sad to still be out here today.”

This article was updated after it was initially posted to more clearly identify the structures that were vandalized, the BMO Harris Bank building and the 54th Street bridge.

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