Lake Street Flames Song Story

It’s been a year.  Maybe we say that a lot these days, but I’m not talking about the pandemic. As I’m writing this, it’s been one year since the murder of George Floyd in my neighborhood sparked flames of international outrage, unrest, and action.  My body feels it. There’s fear and unsettledness that I’ve been feeling as tension in my neck and shoulders and as waves in my abdomen and tingles up the back of my neck. I settle and try to stay curious with them. 

A year ago, I marched from what we now call George Floyd Square to the Third Precinct on Wednesday (5/26), the day after George had been murdered. I went with friends and family and (in spite of the masks) recognized lots of friends and neighbors and had never sensed such immediacy or power in protest. Much about it profoundly impacted me. With strong, peaceful crowds at the precinct, and the needs of my kids to consider, I walked home down Lake Street through the rain. After showering, I hastily ate some food and saw news that the protest had been met with tear gas soon after I left. What followed was what I think everyone in our neighborhood would say was the hardest season in collective memory.

The fires that swept down Lake Street (as well as North Minneapolis, St. Paul, and beyond), that ate up countless minority-operated and essential for life businesses were seared into the memory of people here. Most of those around me call those days and what they inspired, The Uprising, or uprisings. This song (written while fires blazed) still expresses my perspective and experience.

As the beautiful weather and daylight patterns return, we feel it. Our bodies are hyper-sensitive to the sound of helicopters, fireworks, and sirens. Our shared fear and trauma are playing out in our lives and communities, but that’s not the only reality. Our neighborhoods are more connected and ready to support and care for each other.

I personally experienced violent white supremacists attempting to destroy property. I felt the terror of an extreme militarized force occupying the city. I have anecdotal evidence about a lot of other areas in the Twin Cities and know that it was not only protesters present those nights. Still, in many conversations I’ve had those on the streets after curfew are lumped into one group, so with that assumption; that the fires, destruction, and looting were an expression of those protesting, the question becomes, “Do we accept it?”

It’s tempting to feel it personally, like well, GOOD people wouldn’t want violence and destruction…It’s this socially-implied and -imposed dualism. No, I don’t intentionally invoke, condone, or perpetuate violence or destruction…but yes, I accept that it happened and may have been a necessary expression of the rage toward the societal commitment to injustice. And I refuse to accept that this is the way it has to be.

What I’ve awakened to was that, in the purest sense, the flames on Lake Street represented the heartbreak and righteous rage toward the white body supremacy codified in our society. Why is it harder to accept the destruction of property or the breaking of rules than the destruction of culture, security, health, wealth, and life within Black community? Do we accept that?

Some of the flames demanding justice were tamped down with a guilty verdict in trial against the most visible officer for his egregious actions. The flickering calls for police abolition have been tempered and tamed by political leaders and comfortable white progressives, even as police brutality and violence continued here.

Perhaps the moment that felt the most like this song came together was when my friend Joe Davis tweeted,

That final line inspired the bridge of the song. May the embers of justice and connection stay glowing within us.

In the days of The Uprising, I found myself reading the same lines of Mary Oliver’s poem, Invitation that I quoted in the song again and again. Maybe it’s a strange poem for the moment, but it felt centering to me. I’ll leave you with those words.

“It’s a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world.”


Lyrics:

Only blocks from my front door
A man’s life was snuffed like a match on the floor
With a knee in his neck, no fight, no breath
No chance to keep the life he had left
George Floyd– I’ve been saying his name
Eric Garner used the exact same phrase
We can’t breathe without clearing the air
Now it’s black smoke because it was too much to bear

CHORUS: ———————————— 
Can you feel the people’s pain?
It’s rising up like Lake Street flames
Can you feel the people’s pain?
It’s rising up like Lake Street flames
—————————————————

I don’t want this to be about me or you
But you might have a  story too
If your skin is light and you’ve been called white
Maybe you’ve closed your ears and eyes
Jamar Clark– Can you say his name?
Philando Castile– Did you press play?
Marcus Golden– the brother of a friend
The Twin Cities’ list isn’t even close to the end             

It’s a serious thing being alive today
Choosing action is the only way
It doesn’t have too take 400 years
The only freedom is shared, my dear
Been choosing where to be tender, where to be strong
While the righteous anger has been stoked for so long
In this city, in this land; and I have blood on my hands
For what was stolen, those enslaved, put in jail or the grave                 

BRIDGE: 
All these fires that burn inside
For any crack that they can find
They won’t stop the fight
They’ll find a way to rise

Final Chorus: 
Is there a balm for the deeper pain
Or are we left praying for rain?
Can you not say their names?
Their blood cries out will it be in vain?
Can you feel the people’s pain?
It’s rising up like Lake Street flames

Some links:
Joe Davis’ Website for your daily dose of inspiration
Alxndr Jones’ Website for incredible artistry and illustration
That Mary Oliver Poem for your continued reflection

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