Ransacked north Minneapolis clinic seeks larger justice

Two doctors pass out medical supplies during a resource giveaway.
Dr. David Olson and Dr. Michelle Johnson pass out over-the-counter medical supplies during a resource giveaway in the parking of Broadway Family Medicine Clinic in north Minneapolis on Saturday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The Broadway Family Medicine Clinic, a fixture in north Minneapolis for 40 years, was ransacked and damaged as part of the unrest following the police killing of George Floyd. 

Some people smashed the building’s windows, scattered papers and flooded part of it with water, forcing the clinic to shut down for a week and a half. It was a blow to an underserved community that also experienced looting and fires that closed nearby groceries and pharmacies following Floyd’s death.

But the doctors and other staff at the Broadway clinic say they’re not concerned with finding the people responsible for the damage.

“I don’t care who did it. That just doesn’t feel important,” said Kacey Justesen, a physician. “I don’t feel that pointing fingers at somebody is going to make any difference. It’s a small, small piece of what’s going on in our communities.”

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As the clinic partially reopened to patients Monday, physicians and other staff are focusing on repairing the damage and creating something even bigger — an effort to bring real systemic change that will benefit their African American patients. The clinic is housed in the Hawthorne neighborhood, a place where many community members struggle with poverty and nearly half of the residents are black. 

In a recent essay, family physicians Andrea Westby and Renee Crichlow said they weren’t mad at the protesters or rioters. They wrote that the city’s north side has been harmed by more than a century of disinvestment and structural racism.

“North Minneapolis has experienced defunding of local social services and safety nets, overpolicing, redlining, school neglect, excessive air and environmental pollution, predatory lending, slum leasing, and attempted silencing of strong and vibrant community leadership,” they wrote. “And yet, North still somehow is an amazing, resilient, thriving community of primarily African Americans, Hmong and African immigrants, and its strength is unparalleled.”

A cart of bread and other donations at a resource giveaway event.
A cart of bread and other donations are distributed to different tables during a resource drive in the parking lot of Broadway Clinic in north Minneapolis on Saturday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Doctors and volunteers from the clinic have been working a tent at the Northside Emergency Resource Pop Up that took over the parking lot in front of the building. 

“When our clinic actually got looted and had some destruction to it, we got together with some other groups and decided to set something up in the parking lot just to make sure our patients could get medications and supplies and food,” said David Olson, a doctor at the clinic, who was handing out free items at the outdoor market over the weekend.

Northside resident Ashli Henderson organized the effort, which included more than a dozen canopies stocked with everything from bananas to water bottles, Pepto Bismol to diapers. She said she knew neighbors would be suffering because the main grocery stores and pharmacies are closed after the protests and unrest. Disruption to mass transit put them at an even bigger disadvantage. 

The market will continue operating Thursdays through Sundays for as long as donations keep coming, Henderson said.

More than 20 buildings in north Minneapolis were damaged or burned after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, according to a Star Tribune analysis. 

Olson, who’s African American, said the past couple of weeks have been heavy for him and his kids. 

“I think I do better if I stay busy, just helping and being out there doing things and seeing patients when we can,” he said. 

Normally there are 35 medical staff that see up to 90 patients a day — most of whom are African American and low-income. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, clinic staff will continue to see most patients online and over the phone, but one of the four care stations is now open again for in-person visits. 

Westby and Crichlow, the two doctors who wrote the essay, said they’re still committed to serving the community in sickness and in health.

“Justice and accountability are more valuable than property,” they wrote. “And as for us, we aren’t leaving.”