Jennifer Brooks
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The Third Precinct's neighbors had no say in what happened three years ago.

They want a say in what happens next.

The charred wreck of the police station has stood at the corner of Lake and Minnehaha for three and a half years, wrapped in razor wire and bad memories.

"People tell me that when they drive by there, their stomachs sink. They have a horrible feeling," said Fred Brathwaite, who lived two blocks from the precinct on the night of May 28, 2020, when he saw the red glow of fire through his windows.

The precinct was burning. Along with neighborhood grocery stores, restaurants and mom and pop shops, as grief over George Floyd's murder turned to rage.

Many ruined businesses rebuilt or are rebuilding. The precinct remained unchanged. A daily reminder of the sting of tear gas, the crunch of broken glass underfoot and the terror of the neighbors who stayed up all night with their garden hoses aimed at their roofs.

Brathwaite thinks this neighborhood deserves better.

Just before Thanksgiving, neighbors along Lake Street gathered at the Hook and Ladder Theater, next door to the precinct ruins, to talk about the Third Precinct's second act.

A Black cultural center. That's Brathwaite's dream for the site.

Brathwaite, who owns Mama Sheila's House of Soul restaurant with his wife, Sheila, has lined up support for the idea and the pro bono services of DJR Architecture. As he talked in the Hook and Ladder, a projection screen behind him lit up with images of uses the neighborhood could make of a center like that. Museum exhibits. Classrooms. A wellness center with exercise equipment and basketball courts. Retail space for small businesses and restaurants. Event space for concerts and art shows and celebrations.

"We have a historic moment, we have a historic opportunity. We can't let it slip by," he said. If you have an idea of your own for the site, send them to Brathwaite at

It was nice to hear people talking about the site's future, not just its past. The Longfellow Community Council has been working on it for years. Local artists turned the ruined precinct into a canvas earlier this year, projecting a better future on its walls. Flames and pain, slowly shifting to images of flowers and smiling children and a community knitting back together.

That's what Brathwaite remembers most about those days. Not the people who tore Minneapolis apart after George Floyd's murder. He remembers the ones who came to help.

"These protesters, they walked, they marched right in front of my business," said Brathwaite, who remembers marveling at how many white people were marching to protest the murder of a Black man by a white police officer. "Ninety-five percent of the people marching were white … Instead of pulling us apart, it's drawing us together."

Minneapolis is moving forward with plans to build a new Third Precinct and safety center less than a mile away, at 2633 Minnehaha Av. The city still owns the former site and will have the final say on what happens there.

Now that the Third Precinct has a new home, the city can make plans for a new use for the old site at 3000 Minnehaha. City staff could approach the council, possibly as soon as next month, to begin planning a public engagement process.

A small crowd came out to listen to Brathwaite's pitch before the holiday and even with those numbers, it was easy to see how complicated it will be to turn the page on the Third Precinct.

Some think the building should be preserved as a piece of history. Others can't bear the sight of it.

Brathwaite is just happy the community is talking about it now. Someday, he hopes his neighbors feel good when they round the corner of Lake and Minnehaha.

"We can then walk by and look at this edifice, glimmering in Minnesota sunshine. Shimmering in Minnesota moonlight," he said, voice soaring to the theater rafters in his excitement. "We can walk by — not with our heads bowed down in shame, but we can lift our heads up high."