Last night, like millions of people, I watched Lavish Reynolds live stream her boyfriend’s death after he was shot by a police officer.
I’ve been slow to get involved in the protests against police violence. I wasn’t sure how, or with whom, to engage.
When the fight was for marriage equality, there was a clear understanding of the problem, the solution, and the required course of action. We needed a particular number of votes, plain and simple. It was easy to lend my voice to the campaign.
But of course this wave of shootings is not a neat, political campaign; it is a crisis.
The immediate ask is simple: hold cops accountable. Hold them to the same standards of justice that governs the rest of the citizenry. But the long-term question, How do we stop this from happening?, does not seem so clear or simple.
Why is it that so many cops continue to perceive black men as intrinsically threatening? And how on earth does this perceived threat escalate to deadly force so quickly—no matter how minor the infraction?
Minneapolis, the city I live in, is very segregated. That’s true of a lot of American cities, although it’s particularly dramatic here. So is that segregation part of the explanation for police violence? Is it that we can’t see ourselves in one another, because we live our lives apart? Is it that we’re exposed only to our already-familiar fashion and food and slang and books and music—the essential trappings of culture—so that when we encounter someone different we’re afraid?
Because this isn’t just a problem of crooked cops, right? It’s bigger, and worse, than that. The police shootings are evidence of an old racism that’s baked in to our culture. Which means baked in to us.
My longest romantic relationship was with a person of color. Several rap members of my rap group are people of color. My mother is a person of color. And none of that gives me a pass. None of that means that I can consider myself on the righteous side, without taking a critical look at my own ideas and behavior.
When was the last time I played or attended a show in North Minneapolis? I’ll tell you. It’s been years.
We live in a culture that’s full of regressive ideas about black people, gay people, and many other historically oppressed groups. Those regressive ideas are on TV, in ads, and on the news—in almost all forms media that informs our worldview. If there’s lead in the water, there’s lead in your blood.
I’ve been slow to get involved because I didn’t know what to do. And sometimes when protesters were interviewed on the radio, they said things that didn’t seem well informed or particularly helpful. I wanted to find one person or movement that I could support without reservation—someone who was fearless in their rebuke of the abuse of power, who had a clear idea of the needed correction, and who still found room for love. In a crisis, that is a very high standard.
And you know who isn’t meeting a very high standard at the moment? The police. And I’m paying them.
Jesse Williams said it better than I could. “If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression.”
There are some strong leaders in this town, Toki Wright, Nikema Levi-Pounds, and Congressman Keith Ellison, to name a few. And this morning I’m one of many eager for leadership—eager to move, even if I’m unsure about exactly how we’ll get where we’re going.