Trying to make sense of calamity
Growing up just a couple miles from the border of Minneapolis, it’s been agonizing to watch as my home city has repeatedly been set on fire. It was even more painful to watch the video that started it all, of a man being choked to death on the pavement in broad daylight.
I want to believe this has all been a nightmare, something I will soon wake up from. But, it’s clear from the wave of protests and riots sweeping the country that this is not going away easily.
The senseless death of George Floyd — and the ensuing chaos in the streets — has in some ways shattered my vision of the Twin Cities as a quasi-utopian metropolitan community. I’m not naive enough to think that racism, police brutality, and unequal justice somehow don’t exist in Minnesota. However, it is tempting to believe that those social ills are like giant cockroaches and deadly lizards — they normally don’t come this far north, and if they do, they don’t last long in our climate.
This idyllic notion of my home city comes in large part because of my unique family situation. My father was a deputy with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department for over 30 years, and so I learned early on to have a healthy amount of respect for law enforcement (with occasional bursts of rebellious trouble-making, of course).
My dad’s side of the family is also racially diverse. My paternal grandmother was from Puerto Rico, which added some color to the predominantly Irish part of my family tree. Even more color was added when my dad’s oldest sister married a black man — decades before it was socially acceptable. They produced the first generation of cousins on my dad’s side, people I’ve gotten to know and love since I was a kid.
My sister Tracie, from my dad’s first marriage, also married a black man and now has three mixed race kids — the first people to ever know me as “Uncle Kevin.” All three of them joined the protests early on last week, but then backed away when things got violent. I couldn’t be more proud of them.
Still, it’s tough to hear the rhetoric about all police officers being inherently racist, just as it is supremely irritating to hear people claim that “race isn’t an issue” or to deny that racism still exists at a systemic level. Neither side of that argument is willing (or capable) of experiencing life with a different skin color or wearing a uniform that conveys so many negative connotations to so many people.
Here’s one thing to remember: there are cops who happen to be black, and one of them is married to a cousin in my giant multi-racial family. We manage to keep our bonds unbroken, even at a time of turmoil. I hope more of us can realize that we’re all part of one human family.
OUT FOR A WALK