Snapshot of Minneapolis
Last night was a long one. I keep thinking about how much longer it must feel for the Black people in this city—for my students. I live in South Minneapolis, less than a mile from the Third Precinct that was burned to the ground on Thursday night. I am trying to make sense of this crazy intersection of race and justice and safety and parenting and teaching. It’s hard to feel like a teacher when I hardly understand my own situation.
My wife’s cousin invited my family to go swim in the suburbs yesterday. To get out to their house, we had to drive through the ruins of Lake Street. I had been to the site, but my wife and daughter hadn’t seen it yet. It’s sobering, for sure. Buildings burned to the ground, empty shells and wireframe roofs collapsing onto capitalist ash. I saw what used to be a Mack truck burned into rubbish resembling a stegosaurus skeleton protruding from a desert floor. I worry about the damage, but I remember that violent protest has been a force for progress in this nation for its entire history.
The pedestrians caused a traffic jam. It was packed. Like State Fair packed. People cleaning, social distancing be damned. People rallying, repeating “I may not know you, but I love you” aloud to their neighbors. It was busy but not frantic. My daughter read each bit of graffiti to us, and said she was happy so many people were helping. And I remembered my favorite colleague (and the best mother I know) telling me her five year old son asked her “Why aren’t we looting like the other black people?” last night.
In the suburbs, we swam and ate some sort of banana pudding pie. The children were oblivious. My wife’s cousin recounted a story of a store closing earlier than she had expected, and wondering whether she should be more scared than she is. It's such a privilege, one that I share, to be able to just take a break from the chaos.
On our way back home, the freeways were closed a few hours before they had been scheduled to close, so we took the surface roads through Fridley. My daughter asked, “why isn’t anything over here burned down?” and I wasn’t sure what to say.
At a stop light, I noticed an email from my school telling students that all assignments between now and the end of the year are optional. It also reminded the students that the school building has supplies and has been opened up as a shelter for anyone who has been displaced by the riots.
As we pulled up to my home, I heard the unmistakable sound of escalated argument. I’ve worked in schools for 15 years. I have a skillset. Like Liam Niesen in Taken, but for yelling folk instead of kidnapping. So I walked over, and a Black woman in her late 20s was crying and yelling at a white man and his Black wife. “I LIVE IN SOUTH MINNEAPOLIS. I DONT HAVE TO TELL NOBODY MY NAME. I DON’T WANT THESE NEIGHBORHOODS TO BURN DOWN. I DONT WANT TO GET KILLED BY THESE FUCKING COPS.” Fifteen white people were gathered around, watching but not close. One sixty year old woman was talking to the white man, trying to deescalate him. I walked over to him and calmly but firmly told him and his wife to go inside. I privately thanked my white male privilege as he just listened without arguing after ignoring the older lady.
I approached the Black woman, getting close enough for her to know that I wasn’t scared of her. I turned my body so I wasn’t directly confronting her. I nodded while she cried and told her story to the onlooking white folk.
She was leaving the protests, driving home with her husband. Her son, one-ish in the car seat, was crying, so she pulled over and got out of the car to check on him. The white man stepped out of his house and began eyeing her. She waved at him, and he kept looking, eventually coming up and asking her name and where she lived. Her husband sat silent and still in the car, clearly mindful of the way a Black Man’s presence would weigh on this audience. I began making silly faces at her baby, and telling her that he’s beautiful (he is). She smiled through tears and thanked me. Apologized for yelling to the white people around, who were all nodding and listening and affirming that she did nothing wrong. She got in the car and drove off.
The white man came back outside, and he looked devastated. “I just asked her her name.” I told him times are tense. “Everyone is on edge. You’re going to spend the rest of the night wondering if you’re a racist, but it doesn’t work like that. Think of it like brushing your teeth. You do it everyday. I have to be anti-racist, not just not racist, but anti-racist, every day, for the rest of my life, and I might break even.” He asked me if the woman is going to post her video on the internet and someone might come burn his house down because they think he is a racist. I assured him that that will not happen. He asked me if he needed to move his car (we are one block off of Lake street). I told him that 100 people were going to walk down that street tonight, and if he was going to hear each one and worry, he should move his car. But they aren’t going to do anything to your car.
This is the first time since the COVID closures that I feel like a teacher.
I go home and make cookies while my daughter sleeps and my wife starts watching the reboot of the X-Files (you guys, it is so, soo bad). I check facebook and find myself in an argument with an All LIves Matter Guy from Houston. He was arguing, as I have seen many argue recently, that property or even the rule of law are more important than George Floyd’s life. I left him with some choice words (or acronyms? How exactly should I characterize “FOH”). Eventually I asked him “if you're so mad about the looting and the fires, which of your family members would you let die to reverse the damage?” and friends of mine drowned him out. My wife scolded me, saying “You know damn well you aren’t changing anyone’s mind like that.” So much for being a teacher.
A former student is posting boogaloo memes, trying to convince people (in earnest, I think) that there is a difference between Boojahjadin who want to protect people from the government and white supremacists who want to cause a race war. The kid is Native and fully supports the protests, so I know he doesn’t have any secret agenda. He actively hates white supremacists, and has been trying to broadcast any information he has about their movements in Minneapolis that he comes across. While typing a reply to him, I realize I’ve typed supremacist enough in the last few days that I am no longer misspelling it.
A few hours later, I hear a noise in the alley behind my house. I walk out and see several neighbors congregated on the street, talking about a white van with no license plates circling the block multiple times. Apparently the last time it came through, someone threw a Maglite at it, and that is what I heard.
I walk from group to group, each stationed at an intersection, just talking and taking their temperature. Most are calm, scared, vigilant. And some are dangerously hyper-vigilant. The group that threw the flashlight include the white man from earlier. They shine a light at me as I approach, and I say hi. “Who are you?” Derek. I live right there. I say my address. “That doesn’t sound right.” And then the white man from earlier vouches for me. They talk about the van. They wonder why they hadn’t parked cars in the alleyway to block them off.
A car comes hauling ass down the street. They shine the lights in the driver’s eyes, two black people, playing music loudly, in a white beamer. One of the hyper-vigilant men says “Oh man I should have gotten their plates” I ask for what. “So I could report them.” Again, I ask for what. He shrugs. “Burning through stop signs.” I remind them that the roads are not blocked off, that Lake Street, the main artery of the neighborhood is packed with protestors, and that our street would be a clear choice for people trying to get home. They shrug. I go home, watch more X-Files with my wife, and go to sleep.
A weird day, for sure. But I still don’t have to worry about getting killed by my government.