“Sparked”: Background Experiences (part 1)

Reflections on the murder of George Floyd and the uprisings that followed, and on racism in Minnesota, as told by former residents of the state

These excerpts come from the book “Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion,” published in May 2021 by Minnesota Historical Society Press, edited by Walter R. Jacobs, Wendy Thompson Taiwo, and Amy August. Purchase copy here.


Alternatives to Policing

by Jerry and Sarah Shannon, University of Georgia

“Looking back, it’s hard to identify any specific ways that interactions with police increased our personal safety. What did make a difference: building relationships with our neighbors and working with our local representatives.

“While living in north Minneapolis, we sometimes wondered what an alternative system would look like. One sunny afternoon, a man we didn’t recognize stood on the corner diagonal from our house. He was rocking back and forth and held a cane in his hand. He clearly couldn’t see and, when approached by neighbors, appeared disoriented. After a long while, someone called the only agency we thought could do something: the MPD. Not because this man was in any way a threat, but because no other community agency existed that might be of use. We collectively held our breath as the officers approached the man (who was also Black), and he was eventually peacefully taken away in the squad car.

“While this last incident may look like a success — after all, no one ended up injured or arrested by the MPD — it shows the value of creating alternatives to policing like those that are being proposed in Minneapolis and elsewhere in the United States. Disbanding the police may sound radical, but it isn’t a new idea. […] These scholars and our experience suggest that community safety comes from focusing on real harms, making sure folks’ basic needs are met, and providing community services that people can call without fear of intimidation, arrest, or violence.”

See also June 6, 2020: “Listen: Would defunding the police make us safer?,” The Atlantic

Question: How should we handle community and personal safety?


Black Anger

by Marcia Williams, professor at Marquette University

“… Black people are often accused of being angry, and we are. But underneath our anger is a pain so raw, so intense, and so constant that they only way to keep going is to ‘numb’ ourselves to the many faces of racism that reveal themselves day to day. […] When sharing the trials and tribulations of the day, we see our parents and grandparents nodding their heads in understanding. They recount stories and feelings that echo our own. We realize that while much has changed since they were our age, so much has stayed the same, not because it had to, but because white people were too invested in the status quo.”

Williams recounts the stories of male Black friends who recount incidents of being pulled over and harassed by police — for driving a nice car, being in the wrong neighborhood, sitting beside a white girlfriend. She tells how the police become the predators — not to ‘serve and protect’ — with Black people as the prey.

“The instigators of the riots are largely thought to be white supremacists, but that little piece of information seems quite watered down. Many of the people who have turned a blind eye to the violence against Black bodies for so long now either tell us to ‘focus our anger more constructively’ or call us ‘animalistic and barbaric’ for ‘looting’ and ‘destroying.’ […] One would think that labels such as ‘animalistic’ or ‘barbaric’ would be placed on policemen who have ended Black lives.”

Question: Think of a time when you felt deep anger about a personal injustice. What did you do about it?


Protecting Children From Police Guns

by Rachel Raimist, a professor at Elon University in Los Angeles

“I will never forget the time the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) sent its SWAT team to a domestic violence incident at our house. Instead of sending a peace officer to help assist [my son’s] father with the duress caused by mental issues, they busted into my Northeast Minneapolis apartment with big guns blazing. They pointed them at me, at my daughter, and at the crib where my son was sleeping. They tore up our place but found nothing, just as I’d said after they stormed in. I don’t share this story because my experience is unique or special, but precisely because it’s not. We are just lucky that my white skin privilege afforded me the ability to get between the guns and my brown children and yell at the police. Or at least it did at the time, but I’m not sure I would yell again. The MPD has shown too many times that the lives of the Black and brown community are disposable.”

Question: How should domestic violence issues be dealt with?


“The Talk”

by Wendy Thompson Taiwo, professor at San Jose State University

“The addition of Philando Castile’s name to the growing list of Black casualties of state-sanctioned violence and disposal is the reason why Black parents for generations have had to have ‘The Talk’ with their sons and brothers and nephews, a conversation that usually begins with the first driving lesson and progresses in urgency after a teenager has received their first driver’s license, about driving (or simply existing) while Black and what to do when they encounter the police. Put your hands where the officer can see them. Announce any contraband well before they pull your body out of your car. Lie prone on your face. Don’t move. Don’t run. Don’t tell them anything. Remain calm and courteous in the face of an officer whose imagination keeps him perpetually triggered. Make sure there are Black witnesses watching because they will be the only ones to intervene in the performance of chase, capture, and punishment that we have all seen before.

“But as much as Castile’s murder was about restricting Black mobility on the open road, it was also rooted in the legacy of redlining and the dedication of law enforcement agents to continue to defend and protect the borders of Minnesota’s wealthy white suburbs, such as the one in which Castile was killed. […] To be Black in America is to be considered a trespasser, a person who only conditionally belongs, and even then that belonging is dictated by white feelings and fears, and tolerated with white approval and permission. And for me, living in the Twin Cities where all the surrounding suburbs were white and therefore dangerous, I felt very much like a captive: unfree but given a little room to move.”

See also our conversation with Valerie Castile in 2020

Question: When have you felt like you did not belong? Describe how it made you feel. Did you do something to resolve the situation?

Purchase copy here.


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