Does racism still exist in America? Absolutely. Have some police officers in this country abused their obligation to protect and serve the public by violating the civil rights of black Americans, including the killing of innocent black men? Yes, and the justice system should hold them responsible. For these reasons alone, the Black Lives Matter movement in Minnesota has merit.
But “pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon?” As a black man living in Minnesota, even with the vestiges of racism in America, I cannot understand why anyone would defend such hate-filled statements targeted to incite violence against police officers, as occurred during the recent protest at the Minnesota State Fair. The chant crossed the line. Gov. Mark Dayton’s decrying of this chant deserves broad support.
What about the Black Lives Matter leadership in Minnesota? Instead of taking the high road and denouncing this chant, the leadership claims that it was said in jest. As black people, we cannot expect others to view our lives as having meaning if we embrace a message of hurtful stereotypes and violence. If the Black Lives Matter movement in Minnesota holds to these misguided and dangerous views, then it is no longer a movement grounded in what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described as the powerful and just weapon of nonviolence that ennobles the person that wields it. The acceptance of this chant only diminishes the movement.
I know what it means to be a black man living in America. My father was the son of a black farmer, integrated his high school, served honorably in the Army as one of a few black officers and went on to become an engineer. My mother came from a working-class black family in South Carolina, devotedly raised three children and helped people (mostly black) get affordable housing in my hometown. They knew what it meant to be treated like the “other,” but held firm to a belief in hard work, perseverance and accountability. As a younger man, I was pulled over by the police several times in college and was falsely accused of a crime as a law student. I understand the frustration and cry for justice. What is perplexing is that the Black Lives Matter leadership refuses to hold itself accountable, which simply provides credence to those opposed to the movement.
While the message of ending police abuse is important, the Black Lives Matter movement is not seeing the forest from the trees. The movement needs a more transformative message focusing on the bigger issues that plague the black community. As a critical and timely example, Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools recently released the results of the 2014-15 MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) test. In Minneapolis, black children were tested as 34 percent proficient in reading and 33 percent proficient in math. In St. Paul, black children were tested as 25 percent proficient in reading and 22 percent proficient in math. The results for Hispanic and Native American children in Minneapolis and St. Paul were equally unacceptable. These test score results are an absolute failure of our fiduciary and ethical duty to educate our children. Why has this occurred? Certainly, there are a lot of factors, but all of us (black people included) are accountable for this miscarriage.
When did Black Lives Matter march on the Minneapolis school board or administration? It didn’t happen. When did Black Lives Matter march on the St. Paul school board or administration? Again, it didn’t happen. There is no more impactful way to say “you matter” than to invest in the mind of a young person and tap in to his or her potential as a human. Education is the most critical piece of the fragmented puzzle. Key issues in the black community also include joblessness, low wages, crime and the broken family structure.
The Black Lives Matter Movement in Minnesota shines light on the issue of police abuse. I support and applaud that work. However, the movement cannot retain credibility if it defends destructive chants that have no place in our public discourse. Furthermore, the movement must quickly pivot and embrace a bigger tent that is inclusive of the most critical challenges that face the black community. Our future as Minnesotans and Americans depends on it.
Antone Melton-Meaux, of Minneapolis, is an attorney.