29 May 2020

Minneapolis on fire

Yesterday and today my hometown has been on fire. Protesters have taken the Third Precinct police building. Riot police lines have used tear gas and rubber bullets on the protesters. Our mayor Jacob Frey has expressed his understanding of the emotions of the protesters but has said in no uncertain terms that property destruction and ‘looting’ are unacceptable and will be countered. The president has weighed in on Twitter with his usual subtlety and compassion.

This is all in response to the needless killing in cold blood of a good man, George Floyd, at the hands of a wretch in blue uniform – who still for some inexplicable reason has not yet been arrested, and whom county attorney Mike Freeman as yet refuses to indict. This death, by the way, is largely the result of our city’s indifference and inability to adopt common-sense reforms to our municipal police force.

Here is what I said on Facebook after the protests escalated yesterday:
If you’re the praying sort, please spare one first for the soul of George Floyd, unjustly killed. And a second for his city and mine. I truly hope that something more just for black and brown folks, and something better ordered for all of us such that law is not enforced by the lawless, comes out of all this…

Many of my fellow Minneapolitans have registered that they’ve stayed silent on this - not because we have nothing to say, and not because we do not feel anything, but because we feel any words we have are inadequate. This describes me as well. I am shocked and dismayed out of words.

What truly bothered me was not the force itself – though that was heinous enough – but the casual, callous indifference of both policemen involved to the suffering that they were causing. Rage and fear – those I can understand, even if I don't condone them. I get that being a policeman is a dangerous job. But neither of those men were under threat. They crushed the life out of George Floyd, with all the emotion they would have used to write a parking ticket. It’s hard for me to even process the kind of mentality that would do that.
I thought I would actually have a lot more to add to this, but I don’t. For a little while I toyed with the idea of bringing the writings of Georges Sorel (a French philosopher and activist of both the far-left and the far-right) to bear on this situation. He does have some relevant things to say on the subjects of violence and force, and the moral psychologies of each. But ultimately I thought better of it. There is a time and a place for such reflections – and that time is soon, but not now. Right now it is time for others to speak, and they are doing so. At the moment all I can truly feel is grief and rage for the death of George Floyd, sorrow on behalf of my city, and a desire to support and comfort those around me who need both – coupled with a frustration that at the moment in-person support and comfort might do the opposite of what it intends. But: George Floyd matters. Black life matters. And my city, my neighbourhood, even my self – need to repent. May God grant rest unto George Floyd, and may He have mercy upon us.
I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

EDIT: It looks like the policeman who killed George Floyd has been taken into custody on a charge of third-degree murder as of this afternoon.

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