Tag Archives: protest

Nekima Levy-Pounds on Racial Justice in Minnesota

I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Luther Seminary today to hear Nekima Levy-Pounds speak. She preached.

Powerful words like hers are so needed today and every day.

  • We are part of the solution or we are part of the problem. Our silence makes us culpable.
  • We’re living off the legacy of Hubert Humphrey, but we haven’t done the work.
  • Instead of compassion we’re taught to look the other way and focus on self preservation.
  • We’re told to trust the law, to rely on the system. But the law gave us slavery. The system gave us Jim Crow. It gives us mass incarceration today.
  • Public policy changes incrementally or not at all. Sometimes you need direct action to disrupt and get attention.
  • People are not going to be Minnesota nice when their brother is killed.
  • We need to personalize these injustices.

So many thoughts.

I think our problem today, especially here in Minnesota, is that we fall back on a lot of excuses instead of engaging in the hard work of racial justice.

We talk about the importance of supporting our police officers instead of acknowledging the disparities in our criminal justice system.

We complain about the disruption of protests and plea for tactics that will bring people together, when those disruptive protests are the only effective way to bring attention to the issues. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” was a response to white pastors urging King to find less disruptive tactics.

The reality is that there is very real and justifiable rage in our communities of color. If you don’t know that or understand why that rage is happening, you need to listen and start understanding instead of constantly dismissing.

Many of these protests that some people bemoan and dismiss are the only reason Minneapolis isn’t burning to the ground. These protests are offering productive ways to channel that rage. The 4th Precinct Shutdown protest in Minneapolis after the police shooting of Jamar Clark is a perfect example.

This work of racial justice is hard. It’s not going to be a simple conversation on social media or a blog post. It’s going to take personal investment instead of self preservation and defense.

My favorite story that Nekima Levy-Pounds shared is from the 4th Precinct protest when they were going to shutdown I-94. She was talking about it with her 10-year-old son.

“I might be arrested tonight, are you OK with that?” Nekima asked.

Her son responded, “Can I be arrested too?”

Reflections on MLK’s Birthday

This week #BlackLivesMatter protesters were charged with various crimes and restitution for the Christmas protests at the Mall of America. At the same time I’m reading the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. and hoping to actually attend MLK Day events instead of just enjoy another day off. I’m troubled by the continual question of whether or not black lives actually matter—questionable police killings, terror in Paris that trumps massacre in Nigeria, and condemnations for protests that inconvenience people.

I’m frustrated by all of it. So I rant…

In this day and time when we celebrate the work and life of Martin Luther King Jr., why is it that we sanitize the man?

We want to make him a hero of racial harmony, the winner in the battle for freedom and equal rights.

We forget his challenge to the churches of the time, who stood by in silence while King wrote to them from his jail cell on scraps of paper. We forget that King not only wanted racial equality, but progress. Jobs, housing, education—King wanted fairness and equality in all of these areas of life. He was anti-war and even argued for a nationalized healthcare system.

We forget all those unrealized dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. Instead we focus on free at last. We look around and decide that segregation is gone so we must have made it to the mountaintop.

Such a vision of King allows us to declare his work done.

Here in the North we like to congratulate ourselves that we weren’t the center of marches and protests, we didn’t unleash dogs and fire hoses.

Yet here in the North, in Minnesota where we pride ourselves on being nice, it’s really just a facade. While our education system is the pride of the nation, it fails Minnesotans of color. Our achievement gap is among the worst in the nation. Blacks make up only 5% of Minnesota, yet they fill 37% of our prisons—the black to white disparity in our prisons is among the worst in the nation (Council on Black Minnesotans Disparity Analysis, PDF). Across the country the net worth of blacks is one-thirteenth the net worth of whites.

50 years after free at last why do these basic inequalities still exist?

If we truly believe that all people are equal, if that’s the foundation of our society, the basis of our freedom, the ethos of America itself—then why do such disparities exist?

It is time to open our eyes to the casual, hidden racism in our own hearts. It’s time to stop thinking that we are post-racial and realize the million tiny ways that our society is still segregated, still racist, still separate and still definitely not equal.

Disagree? Then why are black people 20 times more likely to be stopped by police? And it’s not justified, because “whites stopped during traffic searches were found to carry contraband at higher rates than blacks and other minorities, [yet] resulting arrests and prosecution rate were ten times higher for blacks than for whites,” (Disparity Analysis).

There’s Minnesota Nice at work.

We think the black man needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps, but we forget, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that the black man is actually barefoot.

We bristle at the idea that a black person should get help that we never received. I worked hard to get to where I am today. Yes you did. But so did your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom benefited by ousting Native Americans, by enjoying the benefits of free slave labor or milking the lives of sharecroppers. None of that is personally your fault or mine (and we bristle at the idea), but we have privilege lifting us up, while the black community has centuries of weight holding them down even today.

This cartoon so simply illustrates the differences:

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It’s time we open our eyes to the realities. Today it’s not blatant Jim Crow laws, but hidden biases in our justice system that seek anything but justice. A white teenager caught with drugs made a simple mistake, boys will be boys and they’re given a slap on the wrist. Black teen drug offenders are thugs and gangbangers. They get criminal records.

We villainize  criminals today, forgetting that Jesus Christ was a criminal, falsely accused and executed by the state. While hanging on the cross with thieves and robbers on either side, he turned and forgave the criminal.

When a black man is shot and killed by the police, we pull up every wrong the black man has ever done. We pull up his criminal record, the bad things he said, the questionable photos on social media. The forgiveness that is supposed to be at the very heart of our Christian faith goes out the window as we justify why this man deserved to be killed. He said bad things, once upon a time, so it’s OK for the police to shoot him. He robbed a store, so the death penalty is OK. Innocent until shot by police and proven guilty by a jury of sensational media. But he broke the law, so he had it coming.

It doesn’t matter if that black man was 12 years old.

It doesn’t matter if that black man was innocent.

Forgiveness does not apply because that black man was a bad man.

Not only was Jesus Christ a criminal, but so was Martin Luther King Jr. He sat in jail more than 30 times. The FBI had him under surveillance. They were more worried about this black man protesting and marching across the south than they were the KKK who were bombing and murdering across the south.

This is where we are today. We have sanitized—dare I say whitewashed—the civil rights movement to make it safe and comfortable and convince ourselves that we arrived at the mountaintop a long time ago. That way we don’t have to look around at the injustices piling up at our feet. We can ignore them and keep on walking.

We can decry the protesters who block freeways and clog shopping malls, dismissing them and labeling them as law breakers and criminals, ignoring that these same tactics were used 50 years ago in the civil rights movement. We herald these actions in history but condemn them in the present.

freewaysitin1964

We do not have equality today. We do not have justice today. We have not made it to the mountaintop.

There is still work to be done.

As we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the many other civil rights pioneers, let us not give in to the thinking that the work is done. Let’s find today’s civil rights pioneers, today’s strugglers and join with them.

What Now?

If, like me, you’re wondering what to do and want to be involved and know how you can help, then join me in listening.

Let’s read the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a good place to start.

But let’s not stop with powerful words written more than 50 years ago (as amazing as they are). Let’s listen to today’s leaders like Nekima Levy-Pounds, a local civil rights lawyer and law professor at St. Thomas. She’s one of 10 charged with organizing the #BlackLivesMatter protests at the Mall of America and charged with $25,000 in lost income and police overtime, in addition to other fines.

Let’s read books like The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Let’s attend MLK Day events and celebrate more than a sanitized legacy.

Let’s begin to understand how the promise of American has been limited to a select few, and that struggle and protest are the only way that promise has been opened to all. Keeping that promise is never easy or automatic. For justice to roll down, the people must rise up. Let’s do the work to ensure that all people truly are created equal and have the same advantages and opportunities.

Let’s make America the land of freedom and equality we claim it is.

Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter Protests

It’s been a busy week. Two weeks ago my family joined the Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Minneapolis. Last Saturday they protested at Mall of America (we did not attend) and police turned out in riot gear and shut down the mall for a peaceful protest.

On the same day two New York police officers were shot and killed by a mentally unstable man who had killed his girlfriend earlier in the day, killed himself after the incident, and has spouted revenge rhetoric, implying his actions were in response to recent police killings of black people.

Some of the response to that tragedy has blamed the protestors. Not just mild finger pointing, but incendiary language about “blood on your hands.” (Here’s perhaps the best response I’ve seen.)

So here I sit on Christmas Eve writing about it. The whole situation is pretty intense (especially as yet another case is breaking news).

Continue reading Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter Protests

Black Lives Matter Rally in Minneapolis

Today my family went to the Million Artist Movement rally/protest in downtown Minneapolis. It’s part of #BlackLivesMatter response to the continuing racial injustice in cases like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others.

It’s interesting. I’ve never really protested before. I’ve been to a few peace protests, mostly in response to 9/11 and the continuing war in Iraq, but I was more there as a journalist/observer than a participant.

Today I was here first and foremost as a dad. Secondly as a protestor myself.

It’s been kind of a bizarre week talking about these cases with our kids.

How do you explain all of this to your kids?

How do you explain what a “die in” is?

How do you explain to your brown-skinned son that police are killing brown-skinned people?

How do you explain that police are still heroes? That while this injustice happens and it’s bad and we want to stop it, not all police officers are bad?

None of it is easy, I can tell you that.

When we told Milo that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were black, he broke down in tears.

His reaction broke my heart. But it also seems like the only appropriate way to respond.

The civil rights movement may have been 50 years ago and we did elect a black president, but that doesn’t mean injustice is over. It’s still all around us, it’s still causing pain, and it’s our time to stop it.

At the rally they led us in a song. I shot a quick video of part of it:

Oh the day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
But while my sister ain’t equal
And my brother can’t breathe
Hand in hand with my family we will fill these streets.

I can’t help but think of the day that will come when we don’t have to march or cry or fight or despair no more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It’s a kingdom hope, but it doesn’t have to be an unattainable hope.

This whole thing is hard and complicated and painful and difficult. If you’re feeling those things, I feel them with you. Please listen.

At the end of the rally they had ribbons and asked us to write something on the ribbons. Here’s what we wrote:

Black Lives Matter A Lot Black Lives Matter!My Boy Shouldn't Cry No More!

Immigration Protest: “It’s Not About Us”

I’ve confessed before that I’ve turned into a pretty sappy guy of late. Today while listening to a news story on immigration I felt those familiar heartstrings being pulled. The tears weren’t coming—not just yet anyway. But if the story went on it could have gotten ugly.

It was a story on The World about a group of immigrant students who held a sit-in protest in Senator John McCain’s office in Arizona. They spoke with one student, Yahaira Carrillo, who has lived in the United States since she was seven. Her parents were migrant farmer workers for a time and she was brought into the U.S. illegally by them, with no choice in the matter. She’s been in the United States her entire life and considers herself an American. However, she has no path to citizenship. She represents as many as 65,000 students who are in the U.S. illegally, brought here by their parents. Now they’re being punished for their parents’ mistakes.

These students’ only hope is a piece of proposed legislation, the Dream Act, that would give students like them a path to legal citizenship.

Carrillo sounded like your typical American college student. She didn’t have a hint of an accent and says she speaks and writes English much better than she does Spanish (though that shouldn’t matter). The only thing she’s ever known is America and if deported—something she could face after the protest—she has no idea where she would go. And that’s when I felt the heartstrings being pulled:

“We knew what we were facing by going into the Senator’s office, we knew that deportation in the long run is a possibility. But It’s not about us, it’s about something bigger. What matters is the Dream Act, what matters is all of these thousands of young people—like I said, it’s 65,000 a year who graduate who don’t have a path to follow their dreams.”

When Carrillo says she loves America, she’s not just full of it. She wanted to join the Marines and spent a year in an ROTC program before realizing that she’d never be able to join the Armed Forces as an illegal immigrant.

“I love this country,” she says, “I want nothing more than to contribute fully and as much as I can to it.”

Call my sappy, but that kind of initiative and sacrifice on the part of her fellow undocumented students is incredible. I’m no expert on the Dream Act after listening to a five minute radio story, but it seems to me that students like her who didn’t have a choice in breaking the law should have some option other than deportation.

Immigration is a pretty touchy topic these days. I certainly don’t know what the best solution is, but as I read a New York Times piece on the generational divide over immigration, I was reminded that only a hundred years ago my grandparents’ church still had services in German. We are a nation of immigrants. We should never forget that.

RNC Protests in St. Paul

2008 RNC Protest MarchI went to a protest today. I didn’t really participate, more observed. And took lots of pictures (I’m still working on uploading them). And a video.

The event I went to was a peaceful march from the State Capitol to the Xcel Center and back. But things haven’t been so peaceful all day in St. Paul. The Pioneer Press has a good overview of the various skirmishes between police and protesters. It seems the 10,000 or so marchers were mostly peaceful, but some anarchist groups (for lack of a better description) have been causing mayhem downtown (breaking windows, slashing tires, blockading streets) and police are rightly moving in to stop them (tear gas and rubber bullets). The show of force is a little disturbing, but so is hurling bricks at cops. (It’s unclear at this point what’s rumor and what’s reality, so take what you hear with a grain of salt. At any rate, there was enough documenting going on that any police brutality should certainly come to light.)
Continue reading RNC Protests in St. Paul

Police Raids on Protesters in St. Paul

If you don’t follow my Twitter updates, you probably missed much of the hubbub over yesterday’s police raids in the Twin Cities. In anticipation of the Republican National Convention, police have been raiding homes, detaining people and pulling over buses. Most of yesterday’s raids centered around a self-described anarchist group, the RNC Welcoming Committee. Five or six of their members were arrested on charges of conspiracy to riot and a number of weapons or potential weapons were seized (among them what could be some regular household items, what actually are weapons [slingshots mostly] and what’s just bizarre—buckets of urine, later explained by protesters to be a gray water system and not actual urine).

It’s all kind of bizarre, and as early stories come in it’s hard to know who to believe (like I just blogged, nobody just disagrees, we have to insult, mislead and insinuate).
Continue reading Police Raids on Protesters in St. Paul

King/Bush

Yesterday President George W. Bush laid a wreath at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on what would have been his 75th birthday while protesters chanted in the distance.

Many protesters accused Bush of staging a photo opportunity, citing King’s non-violent stance. The image of a president leading a divided country into a questionable war standing at the grave of a man who gave his life for peace seems a bit disjointed.

In a twist of history, city buses were used to block any view between the protesters and the president.

A War Broke Out Today

So war broke out. It took me an extra half-hour to get home on the bus today, thanks to the protesters in downtown Minneapolis. Hurrah to your anti-war efforts, you inconvenienced a few thousand poor schmucks. I hope that helps your cause. You could certainly use some help. Someone ought to explain to the poor fools in San Francisco that when you’re arguing for peace, violence is not a very persuasive tool.

Extreme nutcases aside, I’m having trouble understanding the anti-war movement. Now I’m not a pro-military guy. You’ve probably noticed the big feature on the book Iraq Under Siege on the ReALMagazine.com homepage. I wrote that. It’s a bit out of date now, but it’s still interesting. I read the book with some skepticism, but came out with a lot of questions about U.S. policy. Granted Saddam is not a great guy, but we’re no Ghandi.

I have my reservations with war. My selective service card is tucked away somewhere, and if that number was ever called up, I don’t know what I’d do. I would have trouble shooting at my fellow man. My grandpa fought at Iwo Jima, and I respect his sacrifice, but I still approach war with fear, hesitation, and questions, much to the irritation of my own dad.

But despite my aversion to war, I’m just as put off by the anti-war demonstrators. Their complete lack of logic, balance, and inability to present a decent argument are astounding. I can see a legitimate anti-war platform, but I’ve yet to see a protester argue that platform.

They spout off rhetoric about Bush trying to rule the world, trying to run a race war in the Middle East, trying to claim all the oil in Iraq. What a load of crap. The only argument there that has any validity is that the war has to do with oil. It’s fairly legit to think that oil is a motivation. But if Bush was really oil hungry, would he really be promising to use the oil for the Iraqis, to let them have what’s theirs. If it was really about oil, we’d be seizing the oil fields, selling the oil, and paying for our war. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. If anything, oil is a way to pay for rebuilding the damage a war has caused and a way to get a liberated people back on their feet, a motivation that doesn’t exactly exist in a place like Sudan.

Many people are arguing that we shouldn’t be fighting this war because we don’t have international consensus. That’s a decent argument–though I don’t see any protesters chanting about that. The problem with international consensus is that it’s rare. This conflict has dragged on for a long time, and at some point you have to draw the line.

War is not a pretty thing, but it’s inevitable. That doesn’t mean we have to like it or even pursue it, but it does mean that it’s going to happen. We can do everything we can to avoid it, but it will happen. Especially if you value freedom, war is necessary. So many people find it ironic that war is what enables the protesters to protest war. Without the American Revolution, we wouldn’t have the first amendment that gives us the right to petition our government. Without World War II, we might be under Nazi rule. And I don’t think fascism looks too kindly on a ‘puke-in.’

There’s a lot of tough questions the anti-war movement needs to address, and I see very few addressing it. What about Hitler? They tried diplomacy with Hitler and he invaded Poland. What about the terrible things Saddam has done? Do we just ignore those? True, we ignore other terrible things around the world and we end up enforcing justice inconsistently. I agree. But is it better to stop the one massacre you can than to let it happen? True, we often make big mistakes, like selling someone like Saddam chemical weapons. I think we should fess up to them and try to make smarter decisions in the future. U.S foreign policy is fraught with some big blunders. I’m the first to point those out. They make me nervous. But sometimes those blunders were an attempt to keep something worse from happening. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Meddling in El Salvador didn’t come off too well. But taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan seems like a no-brainer.

Sometimes I just wish America would be the world’s police and do it right. Stop the bloodshed in Rwanda and Sudan. End the guerrilla fighting and drug wars in Columbia. But it’s not that simple. I wish it was.

True Christian pacifism is an interesting idea. Jesus talked about peace, and so some Christians think that’s the way to go. The Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. approach that turns the other cheek. You love your enemies, and that doesn’t happen with smart bombs. It’s a great personal philosophy, but I get squeamish when you have to think about nations. I can decide to be non-violent, and take a punch in the gut when it happens. But when it comes to a nation, if you don’t defend yourself, innocent people die. If a nation turns the other cheek, trades flowers for bullets, eats pastries for peace, you have no more freedom. You become a country in occupation. Maybe that’s okay for some people. It works for Switzerland. But I have a feeling most of us freedom-loving Americans would be shot by the invading army pretty quickly. We’d want to speak out, to say what we want, do what we want, and they’d kill you. That’s what turning the other cheek gets you. Loving your enemies is not compatible with freedom. You have to fight for freedom in this world. We can have freedom in Christ, but it’s more of a personal commodity that bears fruit on the other side.

So I’m not liking the anti-war protesters. I sympathize with them, but I wish they’d make some decent arguments. I wish they’d address the real issues. This world is a complicated place, and it doesn’t work to just say can’t we all get along. Because some jerk comes along who doesn’t want to get along, and pretty soon people are dead. You can either stand up and make sure that innocent people don’t die, or you can hold up your hands and be willing to die along with them. On a personal level, one sounds a lot like Jesus. But nations are different, and I’ve never seen that kind of a Christian nation.

It would be interesting to see America the Christian nation, as in the country that makes every effort to be Christ-like, even in the way we wage war (can there be a Christian way to wage war?). But maybe that’s what we’re doing. A “smart bomb” that lands on target more often than a conventional bomb and hopefully destroys the military target more often that it destroys a civilian target seems like a humane advancement. Moving in with humanitarian supplies seems like a Christ-like move.

Maybe it would help if our government made better choices across the board. If we got tough with countries like China that don’t offer freedom of religion. If we stuck up for the fatherless, the widow, and the orphan all across the globe. The prophet cried out for justice to flow down like a mighty water, and maybe that can’t happen until God steps down onto this earth, but aren’t we called to bring justice now, in whatever way we can? We’re certainly not God’s henchmen, and we shouldn’t claim to be, but some things are pretty clear cut. Mowing down your own people is not justice, and that’s a worthy fight.

Oh, the rambling. Sometimes I find myself easily swayed by arguments. Last week I was angry when someone was so incredibly Republican that they refused to see the duplicity in American foreign policy. I don’t like war hawks. But this week I’m angry at the protesters who don’t see the necessity of war in a modern world. There’s a shaky middle ground somewhere, and that’s where I find myself. Raising a flag for peace is a lovely gesture, but it’s also an idealistic one.