These, the derisive words of then-President Obama to an unruly crowd at a campaign stop for Hillary Clinton in 2016. They would become, in the years that followed, a calling card for Democratic operatives, printed on stickers and hats and coffee mugs, taken up as organizational slogan and event title. They are words which would become particularly relevant after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers and subsequent protests which erupted in the Twin Cities and across the country and world. As people poured into the streets, Democrats like 71-year-old white millionaire Senator Ron Wyden, insisted, don’t protest, vote!
Of course, when Democratic politicians like Obama and Wyden say ‘vote,’ they don’t simply mean ‘participate in the electoral process.’ They mean, vote for Democrats.
Perhaps nowhere in the country has this advice been taken to heart quite like the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis. The state is led by a Democratic Governor and has had a Democratic Attorney General, that is, a Democrat as its chief legal officer, since 1971. The Mayor of Minneapolis is a Democrat, and has been since 1978, while 12 out of 13 seats on the Minneapolis city council are held by Democrats (the final seat is held by the Green Party).
‘Minnesota Nice’ may or may not involve booing, but it has certainly included voting for Democrats.
The results of this approach are well documented. A 2015 study revealed Minnesota to have “some of the worst racial disparities in the country,” gaps larger than most or all other states in education, employment, household income, home ownership, and poverty. African Americans in Minneapolis are nearly five times more likely than their white counterparts to live in poverty, and nearly three times more likely to be unemployed. They are nearly ten times more likely to be arrested for low level offenses and 13 times as likely as white Minnesotans to be killed by police, a disturbing fact born out in the high-profile killings of Jamar Clark in 2015, Philando Castile in 2016, and now, George Floyd.
It is telling to note that the state’s current Democratic Senator, and, perhaps until this week, the presumptive vice-presidential frontrunner to join Joe Biden atop the Democratic ticket, has been an integral part of the construction of the way Minneapolis functions today. From 1999-2007, Amy Klobuchar was the chief prosecutor for Hennepin County, encompassing the city of Minneapolis. During this period, Klobuchar declined to bring charges in over two dozen cases where people were killed by police, instead, focusing her attention on aggressively prosecuting low-level offenders, disproportionately people of color, for whom she sought longer-than-recommended sentences. Summed up by longtime Minneapolis community activist Michelle Gross, “she’s a racist who basically made our prisons the blackest place in this state.”
As part of her agenda, Klobuchar declined in 2006 to bring charges against six Minneapolis police officers who had shot and killed a man. Among those let off the hook was an officer Derek Chauvin; the same Derek Chauvin who murdered George Floyd.
Incredibly, over his 19-year career, Chauvin has been the recipient of no less than 17 official complaints, all closing without discipline, but for one letter of reprimand. In 2008, he was involved in an altercation during which he shot a man twice, though the man survived, and then again, in 2011, he was placed on a three-day leave of absence after a non-fatal shooting of an indigenous man. Many police officers say they never use their gun over the course of their entire career; Chauvin had been involved in three questionable shootings in five years. And yet still, in a city run by a Democratic Mayor, in a state overseen by a Democratic Attorney General, this dangerous individual was left to prowl the streets, until finally, he killed an innocent person.
Perhaps here, a step back should be taken before things get too heated. Perhaps President Obama’s 2016 calls to vote rather than boo, echoed now by Democratic politicians in the face of an uprising, were more innocuous than they seem. The booing in question, that which precipitated Obama’s famous remark, was, in fact, in response to mention of Donald Trump. Most literally, Obama was saying, in his usually charismatic way, don’t boo Trump, vote for Hillary. It was a continuation of “when they go low, we go high,” the same unsubtle mandate as always – stay away from uncouth Republicans, a Democrat must be President!
It goes without saying that Republicans are not the answer; unlike Democrats, they do not even pretend to be. When protesters took to the streets after the murder of George Floyd, they were called “thugs” by President Trump, that familiar racist dog whistle, consistently used to mute the anguished voices of the oppressed.
A Democrat must be President. No one has followed this suggestion more doggedly than the good people of Minnesota. Literally, no one – they are the only state in the nation won by the Democratic candidate for President in each of the last 11 elections, the only state to go for Mondale over Reagan in 1984. And yet, their current plight, like that of the rest of the country, has grown under Presidents Democrat and Republican.
Consider, after the murder of Freddie Gray by police in 2015, then-President Obama called protesters in Baltimore exactly the same thing as President Trump called those in Minneapolis – “thugs.” While in the White House, the proprietor of ‘don’t boo, vote’ oversaw the continuing militarization of American police forces, and stood idly by while the jackboot of the state hammered down on the people of Ferguson and Standing Rock and elsewhere.
In 2016, President Obama was insisting that we didn’t boo Trump, but rather vote for Hillary Clinton, a woman who, while championing arguably the most racist piece of legislation in the modern history of the country – the 1994 crime bill – called African American youth “superpredators,” a woman whose racism permeated her career up to and beyond when her campaign used racist literature against Obama in their 2008 Democratic primary. Now, President Obama insists that we should not boo, but vote for Joe Biden, a former segregationist who literally wrote the racist 1994 crime bill, a man who casually used racist remarks as recently as last week.
In order to satiate the unheard, Obama suggests a vote for the architects of the current situation.
There is a curious quote in a recent Politico article on the shocking levels of racial inequality in Minnesota:
It seems illogical that inequality could thrive in one of the country’s most liberal states.
Yes, it does seem illogical, but only for those still clinging to the fantasy that Democrats are somehow the opposite of Republicans. The state of Minnesota, to say nothing of the careers of people like Obama, Biden, Clinton and Klobuchar, has quite clearly shown that this is simply not the case.
If a vote for either party delivers the same results, then ‘vote’ is removed as an option for the oppressed to have their voices heard.
That leaves ‘boo.’
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Over 50 years later, a younger generation might say, “fuck around and find out.”Print