There’s always peace and graffiti down by the river. I did a bit of fishing this morning to refresh my mind from all the terrible events. I wrote first, so I didn’t get out to the water in time for any kind of bite. But I got in some great fly casting and took some pictures at my favorite spot on the Mississippi.
Our community is on edge right now with all this talk of “outsiders.” Hiking back to my car, I ran into a couple in their sixties. They seemed very nice and asked me if there were any trout in the creek. My urban fly fishing tends to attract attention although you see more people doing it now than when I started. I politely explained that I was fishing for smallmouth bass and demonstrated how my streamer looked in the water. The man was holding a potted plant. Maybe he was a botanist. His wife asked me if it got humid here in the summer.
“We’re from Kansas,” she told me.
“We have our dog days…late July and August. But probably nothing compared to some places.”
They both looked like college professors, but my suspicion was aroused. It seemed an odd question, like she was thinking of relocating to a place that, at the moment, a rationale person might flee.
A short distance later I ran into two, extremely muscular twenty-somethings who questioned me about my luck. They looked like Navy Seals, definitely military or law enforcement. Only one of them, a bearded guy, did the talking. I said the Mississippi river was only another hundred meters further and listed the many fish you could catch there. We got into a long exchange about fly tying which increased my suspicion because he seemed to know an awful lot about it for someone who claimed he was from Texas. My mind drifted. Glancing nervously between them, I wondered if the fellow might, more likely, be from Michigan. These guys were massive. Friendly. But intimidating. We parted ways and I kept my paranoias about white people to myself.
After lunch, I donned my biking shoes and pedaled a few short blocks to the immolated gas station at 46th and Hiawatha. Then I made my pilgrimage up Minnehaha Avenue to witness, with my own eyes, the injustice for George. As I struggled to process the utter destruction of our neighborhood post office along with the maligned Third Precinct, I gazed across the street to workers on ladders spray-painting ABOLISH THE POLICE on the plywood façade of Moon Palace Books. My emotions running hot, I crossed the street to have a word with the street artists. Suppressing my emotions, I inquired if they had permission from the business owners to write the words which seemed inflammatory in a climate of anarchy.
“We actually work for a rival bookstore,” one joked.
I addressed the other one–a masked white guy, about my age, with a lot of tattoos . “Abolish the police? That’s really working out across the street!”
“I don’t care. I’m sick of the Third Precinct!”
“Well, I’m someone who buys books and actually writes books and I’m going to encourage a boycott of the store.”
“Take it up with Angela and Jamie,” the first guy said.
Deciding the exchange had gone on long enough, I wheeled my bike back across the street. As a parting shot I yelled, “Without police you don’t have a fucking society!”
I noticed a father with a little kid staring at me and I felt guilty for swearing, realizing I had to check myself. I work in a uniform and I sympathize with those who do likewise. Particularly, when they are risking their lives to protect my city and kids. Black Lives Matter, I will acknowledge, is indisputably right. The whole damn system is guilty as hell. And all four of the officers who murdered George Floyd are guilty as hell too. The guy seemed helpless because he was helpless. Harmless. For passing a bad image of Andrew Jackson? Allegedly. They should have called an ambulance immediately. Instead they executed him in what seemed like a blatant expression of power. We all feel outrage and mourn. But no white person sees that cop’s knee on their own neck. No white person understands the life and death of George Floyd.
I witnessed the Rodney King beating on television while I was in a college dorm room in South Dakota. Racism seemed like a distant phenomenon that was so easy to condemn. Chuck D. Fear of a Black Planet. Hell, yes. I was all on board. Surrounded by a comfortable sea of whiteness, I didn’t have a clue. This execution in my own backyard is, emotionally, far more disturbing. Because we see George Floyd’s humanity. He’s a good guy who’s maybe having a bad day. It’s a fucking snuff film and the worst part is a conviction will be hard to come by.
I’ve come around a little. I’ve listened. So many people hate the MPD. Again, I don’t have a clue because I’m such a square guy. I’m a white boy. I don’t go to bars. I come home from work late, maybe help put the kids to bed, drink a couple beers and watch bullshit news shows. In the morning, I’m making pancakes. I put on my uniform and hit repeat. But in that moment, after I saw the ruin of my post office–a government service that helps and employs so many–it seemed to me the condemnation of anyone in blue was an example of the sick polarization that made all this happen. Everyone in our city and state government was complicit. The laws, training and culture of the police force needed to change. Most of all, they need to get rid of Bob Kroll–the demented, handlebar-mustache president of their union. But I failed to see how a civil war was going to help out disenfranchised black folks. With a heavy heart I followed the devastation, taking a photo of Nuevo Rodeo–the Latin club where both Chauvin and Floyd once worked together.
Female cops on Lake Street were directing traffic, backed up by male National Guard troops with machine guns. Our new normal. Behind them, my local Target had been looted and heavily damaged. Some black activists characterize this as mere “property destruction.” It doesn’t sit well with me. I had just shopped there maybe two weeks ago, purchasing my six-year-old a workbook to practice his writing and math along with some extra-thick pencils. He’s a smart kid, but we held him back a year from kindergarten because his brother had so much trouble. Given what happened, I’m glad we did. Our son deserves to be educated in a classroom, not on an iPad. We just attended his preschool graduation outside the St. James Church with everyone wearing cloth masks.
The whole affair made me incredibly sad. It seemed frankly pathetic. Government at every level is failing us. He deserves a better world, along with so many other children, regardless of the hue of their skin. I haven’t been to the site of George Floyd’s murder yet. I intend to get out there very soon. I may pray, but I probably won’t chant. It’s not in my nature to repeat the words of others.
I’m very angry right now, although not as much as some people. I hardly recognize my city. Herded by police to protect downtown, the rioters traveled down Hiawatha Avenue and lit up the gas station three blocks from my house. I never want to feel that afraid again. To sit there watching TV while something like that is happening and only have a T-ball bat to protect my children asleep in their beds. My wife and I argue about my logical desire to buy a gun.
Having served Minneapolis for thirteen years as a letter carrier, I have intimately observed just how segregated our city really is, how massive the economic disparities. And, also, how kind and wonderful the people are regardless of color. That “Minnesota Nice” thing you hear about is real. However, according to the New York Times, the Minneapolis police use force against black people at seven times the rate of white people. The cops started this and we need to fix our cops. The rush to repair our South Minneapolis buildings will happen with astonishing speed. One wound will heal while another, in all likelihood, gets worse. I heard Ilhan Omer say, in response to the arson of so many of the immigrant businesses along Lake Street: “These aren’t our people! These aren’t our people!”
My response is that these aren’t anyone’s people and that’s why we have police.
It remains to be seen how much of the carnage was carried out by extremists from outside our community. There were certainly agitators and provocateurs. However, if Minnesota citizens and politicians are going to blame this all on Trump and white supremacists, they are truly delusional. American cities burn every twenty years because nothing ever changes. We build stadiums with bank names on them that no working-class person can attend. We pay Gopher-football head coach P.J. Fleck 3.6 million dollars a year while drug addicts sleep on the sidewalk down the street in Dinkytown. This is a one-party town. The DNC can no longer be the lesser of two evils. It needs to change. Not “change you can believe in.” Actual change. There is a tremendous overlap between the Bernie and Trump people in regard to their disdain for globalism. The medical supplies and pharmaceuticals made in China that make us a “dependent nation” can be made right here in Minneapolis. And Detroit. And Chicago. And wherever else America stopped believing in its own dream. Give people some damn factories and union jobs and watch in amazement as the family structure—the most basic building block of civilization—is restored in the African and Native American communities. Stop renaming lakes and pointing the finger of racism at others while you do nothing about social problems and institutional racism! The Minneapolis Riots of 2020 happened because of police brutality, the multi-generational disenfranchisement caused by mass incarceration, and the absolute indifference of both political parties to serve anyone who doesn’t give them campaign money.
As a writer I tend to avoid rants because they’re bad writing. If this one offends, I apologize. But right now I feel like the Omega Man and this keyboard is my machine gun.
WAKE UP MINNESOTA! YOU’RE A LOT MORE LIKE MISSISSIPPI THAN YOU THINK!