I am troubled to my soul’s core by the deaths of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile.
As a recently retired white guy who has been a Minnesota resident for over 35 years, I know I share accountability with the police for the killing of Jamar and Philando. The police work for the government officials I elected, enforce laws created by government officials I elected, and apply tactics that protect my white privilege.
The society we live in has been rigged to protect my white privilege. Our society is not oriented toward justice, but for maintaining white privilege.
This truth has become painfully obvious. I have participated in protests and watched friends be arrested. I have seen my white privilege being protected even as I try to live out my repentance for the racial injustice I have facilitated in our community, state and country.
Courthouse protest is illustrative
I have observed the police apply a double standard of justice as I stand and march with people of color leading the struggle to bring about the creation of a just society. This was starkly illustrated on Tuesday, Sept. 6, when I gathered with a group of folks at the St. Paul courthouse to protest the injustice Jamar and Philando experienced.
About two hours into that protest, when we were all standing on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, the police moved in with riot gear and broadcasted over a speaker system that we were all going to be arrested for standing in front of the courthouse. The police then began to call out the names of a few specific individuals (i.e., organizers of the protest). In the end the police arrested only one person, Eli, who is black and whose name was specifically called out shortly after the police stated we were all being arrested.
Eli was the only person to be arrested on Sept. 6 and the first to be arrested on July 26, when the police ended the 20-day peaceful protest in front of the Governor’s Residence. The fact that Eli was arrested and I wasn’t demonstrates that white privilege continues to be protected and particularly during times of protest.
There is a backstory; Eli and I became friends in the early days of the occupation at the Governor’s Residence. He is a gentle and gracious soul dedicated to bringing about change. Eli has an infectious smile and an embrace that makes all who come to support the struggle, feel welcomed and appreciated, white or black.
Eli was at the Governor’s Residence during most of the days and nights of the 20-day protest, but never complained about the uncomfortable conditions. He also did not complain about the negative impact the struggle had on his life, even though he lost his job because of the time he dedicated to supporting the protest.
Tried to orchestrate police-protesters meal
In the middle of our time at the Governor’s Residence, Eli tried to orchestrate a meal between the protesters and the police surrounding the encampment. I know about this because when I returned to the Governor’s Residence on the evening of July 17, Eli was excited to see me. It was the day he was hoping to arrange a meal with some of the police. He wanted to know if I knew any police officers who might help facilitate this. As it happened, I and some friends from my church had a conversation the previous Thursday with a police officer who I thought might be able to help. When I got the police officer’s phone number from our intern pastor, Eli called but was not able to get the hoped-for assistance. And then the next morning the hopes for creating a connection with the police were lost when the police forced the protesters to move all of their supplies from in front of the Governor’s Residence to a local church.
Eli was also part of a group of protesters who were working on formulating a strategy for a conversation with the governor about desired reforms and actions the protesters wanted. On July 25 Eli was excited about the progress that had been made in defining the actions the protesters wanted taken. When I mentioned that I knew some legislators who might be able to establish some back-channel connections to the governor for setting up a meeting, Eli quickly encouraged me to contact a friend in the Legislature who I thought could help. While I was able to connect with my friend, her efforts to start the back-channel work of creating a meeting got delayed because the governor and several of her colleagues were at the DFL national convention. The next day hopes for dialogue with the governor ended when the police forced the protesters to again move all of their supplies from the Governor’s Residence and then began arresting many of the protesters who had been at the residence for days.
Eli was arrested during the last day at the Governor’s Residence when in frustration he threw into the street a temporary parking sign that was stapled onto a small wooden slat. Unlike me, an older white guy, Eli, a young black man, was not been given the option to avoid arrest by leaving a protest site.
I am a white guy who does not want to be arrested. I am also extremely frustrated and unwilling to continue to support the racial injustice that permeates our society and protects my white privilege. I am a white man who has realized I must humbly live out my repentance on a daily basis.
Same march, same behaviors
On Sept. 6, during the protest at the courthouse, I marched with Eli through the streets of St. Paul demanding justice for Jamar and Philando. Like Eli, I blocked cars at intersections to prevent them from being a threat to the safety of the marching protesters. During that protest, the only material difference between Eli’s and my actions was that Eli wore a green vest indicating he was an official protest marshal and Eli spent 61 seconds lying in the street during a die-in while I spent the same 61 seconds lying across the adjoining sidewalk.
Eli was arrested and I was not. Is that justice?
The people I have gotten to know and respect at the occupations of the 4th Precinct and the Governor’s Residence are the Rosa Parks and Martin Luther Kings of our day. How long are we going to continue to support the injustices they are protesting and enduring?
Please show up and stand with these heroes. Please come out and say “no more.”
Jamar Clark was killed on November 15, 2015,
in Minneapolis by the police 61 seconds after they approached him.
Philando Castile was killed on July 5, 2016,
in Falcon Heights by the police during a traffic stop.
Dennis Skovsted, a retired member of the University of Minnesota management team, is discovering renewal as a volunteer.
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