As I’m driving to work, I listen to MPR’s Carrie Miller interview people about taking guns away from police and having social workers intervene in domestic abuse situations. I have to say I’m dubious because I’m staring at a melted traffic light.
We don’t seem to be getting much for the billion dollars a year the city pays the Minneapolis Police Department. Murdered citizens and slashed tires? On Sunday I was standing in a softball field with my sons, out doing some hitting practice with my retired postal friends. A squad car slow rolled us, an officer with his hairy arm out the window just staring. I wanted to give them the finger. But the kids were there. I felt, dare I say it, black.
There is a volatile mix of fear and anger in Minneapolis right now. It felt good to play some baseball. I told my ten-year-old boy, “see, things can go back to normal.”
He gives me this look when I say things like that. The look says he knows I’m lying.
I’m kind of irked by the people who think some beautiful social change is about grow out of all this violence, like those bright green tree saplings that sprouted so quickly out of the ashes of Mount St. Helens. Maybe. I hope so. It just seems as though the political left has assembled like lemmings at a prepared cliff.
On June 9th Trump tweeted: “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. One America News Network, I watched, he fell harder than he was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”
This is the President of the United States actually saying this. I finally watched the video of the bald, septuagenarian man with a medical mask covering his face. He takes a hard shove to the chest from the young white cop in riot gear. His skull striking the concrete happens outside the frame. Blood gushes out of his ear. Bulls on Parade.
This is Charlottesville USA, a travelling roadshow.
The video of disguised, white youths smashing windows and playing demolition derby with company vehicles at the now-destroyed Minnehaha Post Office has been purged from the internet. To my knowledge, it has never aired on any mainstream news channel even though it seems particularly relevant given the political debate in our nation about what extremist groups may have been responsible for the arson and looting. Maybe it’s not a conspiracy, only encouraged chaos–the toxic anarchy of the internet manifesting itself on our streets like a Zombie Apocalypse computer game. Who the hell knows? They look like dumb-fuck kids and they’re probably from Bloomington like Nick Arens, the guy who filmed it. In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 12 hate groups in Minnesota. No one had to drive far. We got our own hate.
In Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith works at the Ministry of Truth, censoring and altering historical documents for the government. The changes reverse themselves. History becomes nothing more than a fog of misinformation, the truth a clipping for the incinerator. The question is: who controls the narrative?
I’ll quote “Testify” by Rage Against the Machine:
“Who controls the past now, controls the future.
Who controls the present now, controls the past.
Who controls the past now, controls the future.
Who controls the present now?”
I first saw the George Floyd video on Facebook. A coworker had shared the livestream video filmed by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. Seeing that local news outlets were underreporting what had happened, I shared the video as well. Within a couple hours the video was the major news story in the country.
Many people have turned to social media to remedy our collective sense of helplessness. We share stories, images, and opinions in the hope they can influence change. But like any drug, the effect wears away, leaving us lonely and unsatisfied–our humanity reduced to an emoji. It is difficult to imagine any of what is happening right now in our country—the good, the bad and the ugly—without Facebook and Twitter.
On Saturday, a massive crowd of protesters assembled outside Mayor Jacob Frey’s residence in Northeast Minneapolis. Casually attired and wearing a mask, he came out to speak with them. A woman wielding a megaphone demanded: “Yes or no, will you commit to defunding the Minneapolis Police Department?”
“The complete abolition of it?” he asked.
“We don’t want no more police! Is that clear? We don’t want people with guns toting around in our community, shooting us down. You have an answer. It is a yes or a no! Will you defund the Minneapolis Police Department?”
Frey answered, “I do not support the full abolishment of the police.”
“Get the fuck out of here!” the woman screamed.
As Frey made the long walk back to his apartment, the crowd erupted with chants of “Go Home, Jacob! Go Home!” and “Shame!”
This exchange illustrates the problem with Facebook—both the polarization and the intolerance for dissent. Political solution is not possible in a world without shades of gray or middle grounds of compromise. If the question is “yes or no.” To Like or keep on scrolling. Then the debate has already been decided by someone else and it doesn’t matter how you respond.
Amidst all this turmoil, I am reminded of “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats:
“The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
We must change the laws, police the police. The details of how to do that I will leave to others more knowledgeable. But I question how we arrived at a radical argument of abolishing them seemingly overnight.
Back in March, a Dinkytown liquor store was robbed at gunpoint by two youths. Trying to evade capture by the police, they sought entry inside the University Post Office. The supervisor, a black woman from Mississippi, locked the doors and called 911. The police quickly arrived with a canine unit. They arrested the suspects and found the handguns.
Right now, Facebook activists like Nick Arens are sharing viral videos of police brutality. Dehumanized by riot gear, gas masks and, yes, their own violence, the police look like monsters. The corona pandemic is eating away at our society. We become like mannequins, eyes without a face looking through a pane of glass at a world gone wrong.
Events keep happening in what feels like a prepared script. It is a movie that needs to end.
But who controls the narrative?
As we twist in the winds of change, flailing at scapegoats and grasping at conspiracy, the truest answer may be the most frightening.