6.0 Editor's Pick
April 13, 2021

If Minneapolis Burns, I will Mourn—But I will Understand.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
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We had a 7 p.m. curfew in Minneapolis last night.

We’ll probably have one again tonight.

The curfews aren’t going to keep protestors off the streets, of course. They’re put in place so police have a reason to arrest the protesters. The threats were blared over the loudspeakers in Brooklyn Park, just a 15-minute drive or so from downtown Minneapolis.

Another officer-involved homicide took place in Minneapolis this past Sunday. This time, the victim was a 20-year-old Black man named Daunte Wright—a young man my daughter’s age. Supposedly, he was pulled over because he had an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, which, I guess, is illegal here.

I actually learned this a while back when a white friend of mine told me that she’d been pulled over for this crime. She lived to tell the tale.

The murder of Daunte Wright by a police officer happened in Minneapolis. The very same Minneapolis where, almost a year ago, the world watched in horror—I say horror, not disbelief—as Officer Derek Chauvin took the life of George Floyd, a Black man, by pressing his knee on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, a casual look on his face, like he’d shot a deer and his buddy was taking his picture.

I grew up four hours from Minneapolis, in Fargo, North Dakota. That meant Minneapolis was my most-frequented childhood vacation destination. A small-town kid, staring out of the window of the backseat as the lights grew brighter and the buildings taller, I think I always knew I’d someday live there. And so I did.

I went to college in Minneapolis.

I made my biggest mistakes and had my greatest triumphs in Minneapolis.

I waited for buses in minus 40 windshield, huddling with strangers for warmth in Minneapolis.

I hooked up with some of these strangers in Minneapolis.

I snuck into and summarily got kicked out of bars while underage in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis is my home—the idealized getaway of my youth, the scene of many lessons and transitions during my young adulthood, the place where my husband and I chose to raise our two children.

I did leave for a few years after college, living on both coasts for short periods of time, but after I was married and had my first child, I knew where I wanted to raise my family—back where we know how to make a Bloody Mary the “right” way (with a beer chaser and a garnish extravaganza of pickles, olives, and peppers).

Back to the hometown of the Purple One. The home of the “you betchas” and the “uff das” and the hot dish.

And now, it breaks me to say, the home of murder-of-Black-men-by-police.

Minneapolis is my town. I love it, contribute to it, defend it. But I’m prepared to let it burn, too.

Watching the Chauvin trial has sickened me. Seeing the videos of Floyd forced into a prone (face-down) position, I turn my head instinctively to try to get air. I twist and turn my own torso. I wipe away tears as Floyd says, “please,” and “thank you,” and eventually pleads, “I can’t breathe,” and cries out for his momma.

I try to put myself or someone in my family in that situation. But it’s hard. Neither my adult imagination nor the one I so vividly had as a child can extend that far. The fact is that there are different rules when the murderer is a white, male cop, and the victim is a Black man.

The defense is trying to paint Floyd as somehow less than human—a drug user, a criminal, a frightening, dangerous person. Given the video testimony, the defense doesn’t have a lot of options, but in the United States, Chauvin is entitled to one. So it really is no surprise that they’re going with the tried-and-true tactics of deliberate dehumanization.

The work of dehumanization is a process, one that the systems of power have employed since the beginning of time to keep certain groups of people—non-white, non-able, non-cis, non-straight—down in a “prone” position their whole lives: a position from which they cannot see, not move, not negotiate, not breathe.

 

Michelle Maiese, the chair of the philosophy department at Emmanuel College, defines dehumanization as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.”

(Here is a great piece by Brene Brown on this topic.)

Dehumanization tactics only work if the masses collectively believe that some groups of people are “less than.” Sadly, a lot of the masses collectively believe that some groups of people are “less than.”

According to a survey of alt-right supporters, Black people are considered roughly 65 percent human. I rounded that up. Perhaps this translates to a belief that Black people are only entitled to 65 percent of the effort, patience, or benefit of the doubt given to a “fully human” person.

I suppose this translates to a belief that when Black people are the victims, they are only entitled to 65 percent of the resources to defend themselves. Only 65 percent of the opportunities to put food on the table or money in the bank. Only a 65 percent chance that when they’re murdered in cold blood, their murderer will be held accountable.

I love Minneapolis. It’s the best city ever. That’s not an opinion.

But, I can’t support a city that doesn’t see all of our residents as fully human and fully deserving.

If Minneapolis burns—because Chauvin gets off, because there’s yet another Black man murdered for no reason, because justice is oft-promised and never delivered, because our police systems are corrupt and rotten to the core, heck, because all systems of power are corrupt and rotten and racist to the core—then I will mourn.

But I will understand.

We are way past the point of believing that, but for a “few bad apples,” our system of policing is good. A few more hours of police training will do nothing when a police officer has 26 years of experience on the force and still claims to not know the difference between a taser and a gun.

Tinkering with the system won’t bring real change. The structures of power must be brought down. We have to start over. We have to see clearly. We have to sort through the rubble. And fire is the energy that makes these things happen.

Fire wakes people up.

Fire purifies.

Fire brings clarity.

Fire forces us to begin again.

To be crystal clear, I’m not advocating for physically burning anything.

But if Minneapolis does burn physically, I will not blame those who burn it down. I will blame those who have abused their power, dehumanized others as if it were a job description, and failed in every single way to make this city a place for everyone to make mistakes, get kicked out of bars, hook up with strangers, and yes, even hang air fresheners from our rearview mirrors.

If Minneapolis burns, then I will mourn the loss of my favorite haunts.

But I will not leave. I will not tuck my tail and move to the suburbs.

I will stay and work to build metaphorical fires: fires that we fuel with our anger, that we light with our wisdom, and that we oxygenate with our visions of a better society—for all of my fellow 100 percent-human Minnesotans.

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