Photo credit: Susan Montgomery, pictured is her son, Taye, who was maced by Minneapolis Police
Photo of Taye taken at the #BlackLivesMatter Mall of America Demonstration on December 20, 2014
Last night, I received some startling news that a ten year old boy was pepper sprayed by a Minneapolis police officer during a march through downtown. Please let that sink in for a moment ... a 10-year-old kid….pepper sprayed. My youngest son is 10 years old, so immediately the mother in me became upset that this could happen in a land that prides itself on being progressive and so much more liberal than other places around the country. The march that took place was organized by the Black Liberation Project, a group of mostly young people of color who have been organizing 'Black Brunch' throughout the Twin Cities to raise awareness of victims of police violence. The purpose of the march was to show solidarity with people in Madison, Wisconsin who were mourning the death of Tony Robinson, a young man who was shot and killed by police, and the fact that no charges were brought against the officers in question.
Maced without warning by police
As the small crowd marched through the streets of downtown Minneapolis, apparently some of the protesters attempted to block cars from driving through the crowd to prevent harm to those who were marching. Shortly thereafter, according to reports from witnesses, a police officer approached and began spraying protesters who were within the vicinity, which sadly included 10-year-old Taye. A video capturing portions of the incident was made available by Idris Nero Mahdi, who was present at the time. The video has since been viewed over 27,000 times. At 1:55, there are blood-curdling sounds of Taye screaming from being hit with pepper spray.
Shortly after the incident, I reached out to Taye's mom, Susan Montgomery, to hear her perspective on the incident and to find out how Taye was recovering. She stated, "I am at a loss. My son comes out to many actions. Some big, some small and everything in between. To see him marching to the beat of the drum with his people, chanting and engaging in peaceful protest to get the message about his life and other black lives matter out just to get sprayed by chemicals was truly heartbreaking. There were no warnings. No options. No aid offered. No other direction. Nothing. Taye was screaming and running but not able to see me, which was very scary for him, and made me terrified. Yet, I knew I needed to be calm for him to be able stay strong." According to Susan, Taye continued to cry as they rode the train back home and questioned why this incident happened to him.
Another protester, Kandace Montgomery, who is one of the #MOA11 being charged by the Bloomington City Attorney for the December 20th Mall of America demonstration, had this to say, "It should ring more clear than ever that here in Minneapolis, where a ten year old black child is maced at a peaceful protest demanding, black lives matter, that in fact they don't matter. We shouldn't be attacked by police when practicing our first amendment right. What that cop did is a perfect example of why we need to end state sanctioned violence against black people in this country."
Do black lives matter in Minneapolis?
In the aftermath of the making incident, calls for accountability rang out on Facebook and Twitter. Miski Noor, a protester who was present during the march had this to say, "Yet again, the police made the decision to escalate a situation when their job is exactly the opposite of that. Instead of ensuring the safety of peaceful community members, they decided to resort to violence themselves and maced one of our children and dozens of people. It's shameful, and if [Chief] Harteau really cares about Black lives, there needs to be repercussions for police who commit unprovoked violent acts against us to silence us and harm us."
The calls for accountability led Chief Harteau to issue a public statement about the macing incident that appeared on the Facebook page of the Minneapolis Police Department:
"I am launching a full investigation into the concerns brought forth this evening. Our investigation will include gathering surveillance video and interviewing witnesses. I understand and appreciate people's concerns and will gather the full set of facts as quickly as possible. I assure everyone this will be a thorough investigation."
Initially, when I heard the news of Taye and other protesters being maced, I wondered how could police spray chemical weapons into a crowd of people without warning or regard for the possible harm that would be caused. And then I remembered Ferguson. Remembering #Ferguson
It was not that long ago that I traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, during the week of Thanksgiving in 2014, as a legal observer through the National Lawyers Guild and was tear-gassed my first night in town. The officer sprayed the crowd without warning, leaving us choking, gasping for air, unable to see and in pain. That was the first of many such incidents that I witnessed while in Ferguson that have left me rattled to this day.Somehow when we hear about protests, riots, and uprisings in places like Ferguson, Oakland, and Baltimore, we Minnesotans tend to distance ourselves from those people and places with notions that we are different and even immune from such incidents happening here. Recent articles such as the mythical 'Minneapolis Miracle' give the misimpression that the Twin Cities are an oasis of good health, wealth, and access to opportunity for all. What such articles fail to reveal are the stark differences in quality of life for white Minnesotans and people of color. Although we have known about the persistent racial disparities for a long time, not enough is being done soon enough to prevent the catastrophic events that happened in Ferguson and Baltimore from happening here.
Is this the Jim Crow North?
The reality is that African Americans in the Twin Cities, particularly those who live below the poverty line, feel as though they are living in the Jim Crow North, because of the oppressive laws and socio-economic conditions with which they are forced to contend. African Americans in Minneapolis and throughout the Twin Cities experience grossly disproportionate rates of arrest, disparate rates of contact with the criminal justice system, excessive force by police officers, and unequal treatment throughout the court system in comparison to their white counterparts. African Americans are also stopped by police more often for petty offenses such as lurking and spitting and they experience over-policing in their neighborhoods. A recent USA Today study showed that in 2011-12 the black arrest rate in Minneapolis was 480.3 per 1,000 residents; while the non-black rate of arrest was 73.8. The disparity in the city of Bloomington was even worse, with the black arrest rate at 831.5 per 1,000 residents; while the non-black arrest rate was 86.2. The study noted that such "staggering disparity" in arrests was larger than in Ferguson, Missouri.
We are Ferguson
Excessive contact with police, coupled with the inadequate socio-economic conditions that poor black people experience in Minneapolis, is a recipe for disaster. The cumulative effect of these experiences creates hostility between Africans Americans and members of law enforcement, making confrontation inevitable. As I have said many times before: We are already Ferguson. We just don't know it yet.