Midwest Dispatch: White People, Do Something

The sun is shining brightly in Minneapolis this morning. From the window of my home, I can hear traffic rushing by on the nearby interstate. It is a surprisingly normal sound in a world that has turned upside down.

I live a mile from where George Floyd was murdered on May 25, just one week ago. Nothing feels the same. Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers has set my neighborhood, my city, this country, and the world on fire.

We are struggling against despair, trying to see the hope and good around us without clinging to it too much as an inoculation against the very real pain brought by Floyd’s death.

The post office near my home is a charred hull, set ablaze three nights ago as protests and riots raged through the city of Minneapolis. Just blocks away, a war-like tangle of twisted metal and rubble smolders where a Family Dollar and auto parts store once stood. Next to it, a tiny, immigrant-owned car repair shop appears intact, except for the black smoke staining its outer walls.

Up and down Nicollet Avenue, a main neighborhood thoroughfare, restaurants, hardware stores, and ethnic grocery stores are boarded up to ward off looting and destruction. Much of the plywood hastily put in place over their windows and doors is covered in graffiti and messages of support for Floyd, for the Black Lives Matter movement, and for justice.

As I reflect on what has taken place, a Minnesota Public Radio show comes on the air, with local attorneys weighing in on whether or not Chauvin or any of the officers involved in Floyd’s death are likely to be convicted of his murder. Don’t assume they will be, they warn.

Just then, my eighteen-year-old daughter walks past my door, deep in conversation with her older sister about what is happening in our city and country. “America’s never been good, ever. Since day one, it’s been bad,” she insists, while listing the other countries where she believes police reform efforts have been in place for far longer.

Her sister agrees, but my husband pushes back, trying to offer a more tempered view of this country. He tries, but is left grasping for words.

We are struggling against despair, trying to see the hope and good around us without clinging to it too much as an inoculation against the very real pain brought by Floyd’s death.

Our streets are shuttered, our elderly and vulnerable neighbors left stranded without the pharmacies, grocery stores, libraries, and public transit they need to get through their day.

The Mexican, Ethiopian, Japanese, and Indian restaurants lining Lake Street, close to our home, were barely hanging on already, thanks to the COVID-19 shutdown. Now, many have had their windows shattered, their iPads, cash registers, and food supplies destroyed, or their entire buildings consumed by fire.  

We still don’t know who did this, as we are also struggling against the rapid fire spread of misinformation. For the past few nights, my neighbors have taken turns staying awake until dawn, trading information and rumors via text, walkie-talkies, and private Facebook groups. 

Was it anarchists? White supremacist infiltrators? Militant extremists? Someone swears they saw a band of young, white males lurking at a BP gas station nearby, with KKK stickers visible. 

Someone else witnessed a man dressed in camouflage pants and a black T-shirt taking pictures of the boarded-up Cinco de Mayo grocery store in our neighborhood, and worried that the man was planning to set the whole building on fire.

This vigilance has been laced with reminders not to racially profile anyone and thus add to the terror and trauma that people of color are already experiencing.

At a neighborhood safety meeting held on May 30, the day after our local post office and strip mall were ravaged by fire, a Latinx resident spoke to the hundreds of us gathered together outside, ready to hear about how we can protect each other.

“Protect people of color,” she implored the mostly white crowd, her voice shaking with anger and passion. “We are afraid! Do you feel afraid now? We’ve felt afraid for years!” 

Before stepping away from the microphone, she had one last point to make: “It’s your turn, white people, to do something. White people, do something!”  

White people. Do something.

That may feel overwhelming, too broad a command. So here’s a look at some of what has been recommended in Minneapolis, with communities of color taking the lead.  

1. Support the call for community policing. This began long before Floyd’s murder and will continue long after.

2. Attend protests. These efforts have resulted in three significant changes here in the past week, including the rapid firing of the four officers involved in Floyd’s murder, the arrest of Derek Chauvin, the officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine brutal minutes, and the criminal case against the officers being placed in the hands of Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general.

3. Keep giving to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a group dedicated to ending the deeply unjust cash bail system that exists only in the United States and the Philippines, or to the Black Vision Collective, a local group that prioritizes community-led transformation.  

4. Donate to the Northside Funders Group to help restore small businesses in North Minneapolis, a predominantly black neighborhood, and the We Love Lake Street fund to restore the small, mostly immigrant- and people-of-color-owned businesses that have been destroyed in recent days.  

5. Follow and help fund alternative media outlets that are documenting how communities of color—Native, Somali-American, Latinx, African American—are defending and supporting one another amid this crisis. 

This is what we can do, today, to match our hope and grief with real progress. Or, in the words of Bob Dylan, “You who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears/Take the rag away from your face/Now ain’t the time for your tears.”

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Sarah Lahm | Radio Free (2021-12-04T01:56:17+00:00) » Midwest Dispatch: White People, Do Something. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/01/midwest-dispatch-white-people-do-something/.
" » Midwest Dispatch: White People, Do Something." Sarah Lahm | Radio Free - Monday June 1, 2020, https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/01/midwest-dispatch-white-people-do-something/
Sarah Lahm | Radio Free Monday June 1, 2020 » Midwest Dispatch: White People, Do Something., viewed 2021-12-04T01:56:17+00:00,<https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/01/midwest-dispatch-white-people-do-something/>
Sarah Lahm | Radio Free - » Midwest Dispatch: White People, Do Something. [Internet]. [Accessed 2021-12-04T01:56:17+00:00]. Available from: https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/01/midwest-dispatch-white-people-do-something/
" » Midwest Dispatch: White People, Do Something." Sarah Lahm | Radio Free - Accessed 2021-12-04T01:56:17+00:00. https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/01/midwest-dispatch-white-people-do-something/
" » Midwest Dispatch: White People, Do Something." Sarah Lahm | Radio Free [Online]. Available: https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/01/midwest-dispatch-white-people-do-something/. [Accessed: 2021-12-04T01:56:17+00:00]
» Midwest Dispatch: White People, Do Something | Sarah Lahm | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/06/01/midwest-dispatch-white-people-do-something/ | 2021-12-04T01:56:17+00:00
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