Andrew Moore's four-year-old son points skyward. "Daddy?" he asks, staring up at a plastic doll splattered with red paint and hanging from a makeshift noose in Moore's front yard. "Why does that baby doll have blood on it?"
"Because," Moore explains, his slow drawl punctuating each word, "the blood needs some way to circulate."
"Oh," says his son, before happily pedaling off on his oversized bike, as if this all makes perfect sense.
Such questions are not unusual in Moore's world, where broken kids' toys, rusting car parts, and a cracked toilet that once littered the alley now populate the yard of his house on Bloomington Avenue and 33rd Street South. The objects have been carefully arranged, lovingly transformed into what he calls reality art. The point of this tangled graveyard, says Moore, is to give voice to victims of injustice, a protest that's whispered through Chevy Caprice power-steering pumps and the muffler of a Ford Econoline.
Moore adjusts a picture frame that's propped behind the hanging doll. Inside, glued to a piece of cardboard, is an article about the 1920 lynchings in Duluth of three young men. "Most people don't realize this happened here," he says. "In Minnesota." Nodding toward a black-and-white photo of three men with heads covered, wrists and ankles wrapped in rope, he adds, "That picture appeared on postcards after the killings. It was like they was rubbing it in."
All day, Moore, a father of five, has been outside painting messages such as, "Thou Shall Not Kill" on a piece of slate that will be added to his massive front-yard display. On the back right pocket of his paint-splattered jeans, "Black Panthers" is stitched in white cursive, as if it's a brand like Calvin Klein or Jordache.
"Bush is killing innocent kids over in Iraq. And for what? Oil?" he asks, shaking his head and smiling incredulously. He has gummy gaps in his grin, the result of a stint as a boxer in the 1980s (he moved to Minneapolis in '84, after losing a big match in Fort Dodge, Iowa). Nearing 50 now, Moore fingers the piece of yarn that hangs around his neck, festooned with a shellacked chunk of bark featuring an image of Africa with Malcolm X's silhouette in the center. It looks to be homemade. "People are not acknowledging the war going on in this country," he says. "The gang violence, the innocent kids dying. People would like to separate the two wars, but you can't. Violence is violence, war is war, blood loss is blood loss."
The "Thou Shall Not Kill" sign is propped before a silver crate that doubles as a coffin for a U.S. solider. The soldier is a stuffed dummy in a hat and sunglasses who's being fed intravenously from the same red tube of "blood" that feeds the mock oil drum, World Trade Center, and death-penalty chamber erected in Moore's front yard. "This represents the lies and violence destroying lives," he says, tapping the red tubing. "It's all connected. It's all based on economics."
When Moore was a young boy, he opened a closet at his home in Omaha, Nebraska, to discover a cache of grenades, shotguns, and AK-47s that belonged to his stepfather, a Black Panther. This was Moore's introduction to violence and the anger that would trail him his whole life. He became a Black Panther too, and started tangling with the law. When Moore was 11, federal marshals stormed his home after he tore apart several mail trucks. At 13, he was arrested for firing shots into the air to scare off the bully harassing his sister. At 16, he broke into a house while armed, was shot point blank in the stomach, and wound up in prison for 10 years, six of them in solitary confinement.
It wasn't until prison--where he met Breeze, a man serving a double life sentence for murder--that Moore began extolling the virtues of nonviolence. "He taught me that violence only creates more hate," says Moore. "I learned in prison that if I can beat the system socially, economically, psychologically, then I win." To make his point, last summer he attached a heavy steel ball and chain to his ankle and dragged it up and down Lake Street.
School buses roar past; the drivers honk and flash smiles in Moore's direction. He waves back, the star of the neighborhood, a prophet on parade. A newer-model black Audi stops at the curb and its silver-haired passengers crane their necks like baby birds to read Moore's messages.
"There are black Americans, and then there are lack Americans," he says, gesturing toward the stream of cars driving casually by. "Lack Americans need to realize they're being exploited, quit depending so much on the system that's corrupting and destroying us. People need to be less passive. That's what I'm doing with my reality art. It may be dramatic, but it's not as dramatic as people suffering."