I never dreamed I would acquire such a unique new skill — being able to differentiate between fireworks and gunfire. But nearly every night for the past several weeks both sounds have cracked through the air in my neighborhood. I relax now when I hear the former.
On the night of July 15 I was at the back door when I heard shots closer than they had ever been, eight or nine of them in rapid succession, then a pause, then additional rounds. It took a few moments to recognize the loudest cracks for what they were. One bullet pierced a neighbor’s car, a second struck our wooden fence, and a third zipped through a second-floor screen, skidded along some interior woodwork, entered and exited a wall and finally lodged in another. I stayed down for a few minutes and then rushed upstairs (trying to crouch low, though of course that instinct does little good) to check on my wife and 4-year-old son. No one was hurt.
That is, no one was physically injured. But there is pain. I think about how my brilliant and lovely wife could have been killed, walking down the stairs checking to see if I had fallen asleep reading on the couch again. Or how my son could have been killed as he slept because if the bullet had pierced one more wall, it would have entered his room.
I try to hold multiple truths in my head, when I realize that I could have been struck randomly, while also understanding — to what limited degree the luxuries of my race and class permit me — that it is because of those privileges that having my house shot up is an exception and not a more probable event.
I am hurt, I am scared, I am angry, and I am profoundly frustrated and disappointed that the government of my newly adopted hometown has consistently failed to provide even a modicum of safety during a tense time in a tense area.
This does not have to be the police. But it has to be something.
One of the many things I and a majority of my neighbors expect is an honest attempt by local government to keep our families safe from the tiny number of disproportionately loud individuals who wish to do us harm. The reality on the ground in south Minneapolis neighborhoods is that there has been anything but a reasonable attempt to keep us safe. Officials have been absent, derelict and unresponsive.
They have been too late too many times and disinterested when they do arrive. They have moved the burden of safety onto us. As members of a community, we have an expectation of reasonable protection from bad actors. Instead, I am honing a new skill — tracing bullet trajectories. I imagine learning to “read a scene” with the exactness of special effects from crime dramas, but in reality, the path is often unknowable. The person who fired the gun was standing over there somewhere — out there in the park, in the dark — aiming who knows where and who knows why.
Our expectation and our right is to help with this effort of community protection, but we cannot do it alone. I do not mean “protection” by a militarized police. Protection in my mind is rather a proactive force of communications specialists with the humanity and the training to assess a situation with a commitment to de-escalate rather than to overpower.
One difficulty is that such reimagining of the police will take time — years and at least one generation of newly trained officers. But we need protection now, even if we have to move city money around quickly, even if the results are imperfect.
The ponderous pace of city government is not sufficient. I call upon the City Council and the mayor’s office to work with all stakeholders to immediately implement new models of response. Understand that this is an emergency. We do not have all the details settled, but we do know that we need a new way to proceed.
Start there, move forward. Go. Start. The bullets are real and they are flying.
Peter Hayes lives in Minneapolis.