Like many others in Minneapolis and throughout the country, I find myself horribly angry, mournful, and utterly hopeless after the murder of George Floyd. I can’t stop replaying George’s story over and over in my mind and I can’t stop thinking that the outcome would have been different if George had been a white man.
My feelings and emotions do not get to take center stage in this story; I will never know the pain the black community has endured or what it feels like to be beaten down and repressed by a system we’ve built over generations. A system that we, as a society, have allowed to fail our fellow humans. I have struggled all week with what to say without coming off as a virtue signaling white man. You can’t contribute to change by posting an Instagram story or a tweet. The privilege I am afforded by the color of my skin could allow me to believe I do not need to participate in this conversation. No longer can I remain silent when black people and people of color are being murdered and facing indelible oppression every single day.
Ten percent of the Minneapolis police force and only 5 percent of non-Hispanic white police officers live in the community they serve. The greatest concentration of officers living outside of Minneapolis lived, on average, 30 miles from the city center. When you don’t see the people you police as neighbors with shared hopes and goals and dreams, you see them as threats and strangers. You see them as “other”. Living in a homogenous outer ring suburb and commuting into a foreign place to work when your work is to protect and serve simply doesn’t work. The national average of residency amongst police forces is 40 percent; the residency of MPD officers is an uncomfortable outlier in national data. “Residency is a good way to achieve that sense of neighborliness and mutual community commitment. Even if officers live in city neighborhoods unlike those in which they work, they’re still more likely to encounter these areas off-duty — in normal, peaceful contexts like trying a new restaurant or visiting a park — than they are living 30 or 60 miles out of town.” It begs the question; does the Minneapolis Police Department truly understand the community they serve? It would appear not. In the last 12 months, only 21.6 percent of Minneapolis Police Department stops involved white people, despite white people accounting for 63.8 percent of the Minneapolis population. 51.2 percent of stops involved people of color, with 41.6 percent of all stops involving black people, who represent only 18.6 percent of the Minneapolis population. These anomalies are not coincidental, nor should we allow them to be easily explained. It is racial profiling. It is racism and it is driven by fear and misunderstanding and hate. It is critical that our governing officials ask hard questions about the driving forces behind this disturbing data. It is time for our governing officials to question the motivations and the inaction of the decision makers and leadership of the Minneapolis Police Department and the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. It is time to investigate and critically analyze Bob Kroll’s influence. How can a man who has been accused of calling a black congresswoman who is Muslim a “terrorist” and accused of wearing a motorcycle jacket with a badge that said “white power” be in a position of leadership and an arbiter of the relationship between the Minneapolis police department and our community? It is an arduous task to have difficult conversations about representation and equality in policing our community when the leader of the police union possesses such wildly imperceptive opinions on the subject. Only 1 percent of complaints against police officers in Minneapolis that have been adjudicated since 2012 have resulted in disciplinary action. Why? These issues are not new; they have long existed in Minneapolis and it is utterly inexcusable that little progress has been made to balance the scale towards equality in the standard of living in a city that’s far more segregated than it would like to believe.
Today’s issues are not “black issues” or “white issues” – they are human rights issues. Silence is complicity.
It’s critical to address our white privilege and take part in uncomfortable conversations with those around us. If we are not willing to address our white privilege and be a part of the conversation, we remain complicit. Apathy is bull**** and empathy without action is meaningless.
I’m sharing some of the actions I have taken to encourage others to do the same. I have donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, and Reclaim the Block. If you are able, please consider donating as well. These organizations are doing critical work in our community and need our support, especially now. For the last two years I have also been working on addressing my white privilege; reading articles, listening to podcasts, reading books, and engaging in conversations on these topics. Most importantly, listen. Listen to the thoughts, feelings and opinions of the black community and empathize and seek to understand. Below are a few of the books I found helpful in understanding my privilege, systemic and institutional racism, and the plight of the black community in America.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I cannot quit thinking - how many times have we been here and how many more times do we have to be here before we, as a society, demonstrate that we care? Change won’t happen overnight. But our society cannot wait a moment longer when our brothers and sisters are being killed.
Belle Plaine High School, Class of 2008
University of St. Thomas, Class of 2012