I visited an eye of a hurricane while in Minneapolis recently. I’m speaking metaphorically of course. This storm’s center, set at an intersection of an apparent low-income neighborhood, did not appear a lightning rod of angst. Yet, across the nation, and in some cases the world, tempers flared to the point of violence because of an act of sheer depravity which occurred at this very spot. When I visited, I was struck by the calm and serenity I felt while treading the black top. And even if I sensed the underlying defiance and angst, the George Floyd memorial struck me as one of compassion and homage.
For a second, the clash between the left and right on how to combat police brutality disintegrated. Instead, which was not the case months earlier, a peaceful reminder of injustice struck me like nothing else ever had. I saw the people that lived in these neighborhoods, the meager buildings that lined the streets and sensed a desperation hinging on surrender that has been transformed into skeptical hope. A hope that their voices may change an attitude, climate and fear.
For myself, as I made these observations, I realized that I am, and always have been, far removed from this struggle. Of course, as we all know, thanks to modern technology, the world witnessed concrete evidence of a death, resulting from a policeman’s use of excessive force, at this spot. And I, being from a small rural community in Wisconsin, have felt wholly removed from the violence on the streets of such neighborhoods. When I walked the intersection, I don’t want to say my eyes were opened, but I felt something that seemed to only exist on viewing screens become tangible and relevant.
This memorial meshes with the neighborhood perfectly. It isn’t gaudy, nor is it stately. Along the streets and painted on buildings are remembrances rendered by true artistic talent. There are murals on buildings, tons of flowers clustered about and a slew of names printed atop a street’s blacktop. I don’t feel threatened here, nor do I see sentiments of hatred. As a matter of fact, African-American eyes are greeting this white midwestern farm boy warmly.
Yet, along one of the streets, I hear a man talking on his phone, “Me and him are going to have a shoot out.” The man says and repeats. I smell the distinct scent of marijuana emanating from his dilapidated automobile. I remind myself, as I am just a hick, that this could simply mean a basketball game, or poker, or a million other things. My impression of the neighborhood, through the media, cinema and careless talk probably paints a darker image than what is truly meant.
And I think, truly, as I’m not impervious to biases and stereotypes, that this may be the very root of the problem. I also realize, that no matter where they work, policeman have a tough and dangerous job. However, what needs to happen is a restructuring. Not only in legislation and operations, which is underway in the Minneapolis police force. A restructuring of perception and opinion needs to occur. We need to see compassion in regard to a life that is unavoidable, and a way to tear down boundaries that exist spiritually and emotionally. A society that is untethered from opinions on race, color and creed is susceptible to love and freedom.