This country of ours, this shining city upon the hill which Puritan pilgrim John Winthrop first spoke of, and Ronald Reagan expounded upon, has had its light dimmed. It is not shut off, yet, but we are dangerously close to darkness. If the only bright light in America last night was a fire at a police building, set by mostly white folks after a cop killed a black man, then we have a very serious dilemma.
I hope Martin Luther King is not looking down at us and saying, “You have learned nothing. You haven’t come one inch in terms of progress.” But if he is saying that, he’s right.
The dilemma has more facets than a brilliant-cut diamond, and no doubt I will miss one or two. Feel free to comment. This isn’t about Minneapolis, entirely; some of my favorite cities erupted in protests within hours of last night’s fire… Denver, Louisville, Phoenix, Los Angeles. The sheer numbers of cities protesting speaks to the national message, the national dilemma.
Deadly force is one facet that is killing us and turning our shining light closer to the off position.
I’m not the perfect example of tolerance. Maybe none of us are. The arsonists and looters showed no tolerance. Some of them were burning Minneapolis and didn’t even know why they were doing it. It was a party. They could finally get out of the house and ignore social distancing. Only a fraction of the protestors held signs that reminded us of the dead man – George Floyd. The majority were holding a sick celebratory party that empowered them to steal from stores and set fires. Some of the rioters were professional provocateurs – professional protestors – as described by one retired cop on TV last night. Yes, we have professional provocateurs who go from town to town leading the pack, and sometimes they get paid for their vile.
Another facet of the dilemma is rogue cops. I respect all cops. That respect is shown in my law and order articles and my “Blue Lives Matter” post on my Facebook page. But how many rogue cops have brutalized citizens when a cell phone camera was not recording? How many white women are screaming for help about a black man standing too close when the cell phones are recording? We saw one on TV this week. Both of these are facets in the big diamond – the shining city on the hill.
Attorneys. Wow, where do we start? Half of them are saying Minneapolis didn’t do enough and half of them are saying the town did too much. Let’s just leave the ambulance chasers for another time, another article.
How many white supremacists are enjoying what they see on television? They are a facet in the big diamond, too. We have two dangerous underlying currents in our society – one is white supremacy and one is racial bigotry. We don’t talk about those enough. We don’t bring them out into the open, into the light.
And what about prosecutors? Are they too selective, are they too afraid? In the George Floyd case it sure seems that way. I dare say that if one prosecutor had said the magic words, Minneapolis would not have burned. “We will make a swift arrest of the police officer who may have killed Floyd and bystanding police officers who could have acted.” Those magic words may have prevented Minneapolis thugs from lighting fires.
Courage and leadership from the cops and the mayor may have prevented it, too. But everybody left the Third Precinct Building like cowards. Cowardly mayors, police chiefs, governors and even state legislators are part of the problem when they sit silent or don’t pass laws or make policy to curb violence.
And when the senior leader of the Department of Justice called her news conference earlier yesterday, she spoke of a process and the county prosecutor spoke of a process. They might as well have been talking about what they would be eating for lunch. We don’t need process lectures. The citizens of Minneapolis were not buying what the DOJ and prosecutor were selling, so they burned the city.
Numerous articles have been written about how America has suffered with depression and anxiety and psychiatric problems related to the Coronavirus shut down. Where are those voices, where are the psychiatrists’? Why aren’t they a bigger part of press conferences?
Accountability and taking responsibility went away a long time ago in this country so it is no surprise that throughout Minnesota everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else. No one is owning their own behaviorin The Twin Cities.
The PC Police are another facet of the problem. Political Correctness has paralyzed our country to the point where we cannot communicate anymore. We are now experts at double speak. George Floyd was murdered. We don’t need anyone telling us that we need to wait, not to judge, all legal avenues must be exhausted, and you can’t say “murdered.” I’m hearing that a fourth video of his killing has now emerged. Do you “politically correct ones” among us need a fifth or a sixth video? Of course there will be a trial. I have two journalism degrees and a two-year law degree. I expect justice but we need to rid our country of the PC police or gibberish will continue spilling every time blood is spilled.
As a journalist, I covered all four days of the Los Angeles Riots in 1992. Rodney King had been beaten by cops and it was caught on video. Prosecutors did a horrible job and the four cops walked, no discipline, no jail time. So the citizens of Los Angeles burned the city. Ironically, the first victim was a truck driver trying to deliver goods to the poor section of South Central L.A. – Reginald Denny, a white man, was yanked out of his truck and severely beaten by blacks trying to exact revenge. King later won in federal court on civil rights deprivation claims. The shining city on the hill that was beginning to dim way back then was, ironically nicknamed, The City of Angels.
Looters are also facets of the dilemma. One of my video photographers during the L.A. Riots brought me some videotape of people looting a tennis shoe store. Michael Jordan had left an offer from Adidas and went with Nike, but the problem for those who idolized him in South Central L.A. was that they couldn’t afford the shoes. So our video showed young black teens coming out of the stores with four boxes of shoes under each arm. They would have carried five under each arm if they could. This raises a question of yet another facet – where are LeBron James, and Michael J when we need them to provide a calming message. When they dislike a contract or a start date for the new pro sports schedule – they speak out. Why not now?
Poverty is a facet of the big diamond – the shining city. So is poor education in run down schools. Where are the teachers and professors now? Where are their voices? Their typical reaction is to castigate the white police when class goes back into class session following a white on black police crime, but how often do they open the class room up for discussion of race relations, or criminal justice reform? That’s right, teachers – you’re one facet of the dilemma, and so are the professors. I’m not confident that teachers or professors will present all facets of the problem when school resumes. Predictably, they will go “political correctness” on the students.
It goes without saying that the white mayors and prosecutors and governors – other facets of the diamond – are too weak to say something pithy or important or calming. They have to be prodded by the President and have talking points written for them by highly paid public relations teams.
The police chiefs and fire chiefs are facets of the dilemma, too. Where were they last night? Their absence last night was conspicuous and calculated. Simply stated, they failed Minneapolis last night. The Minnesota National Guard admits they went to a staging area and were ready to act. But no civilian elected official asked them to move in. Why?
We and they have learned nothing over time. When one firefighter was shot in the cheek (and lived to tell about it) during the Los Angeles Riots, the Governor and Mayor assigned State Troopers to guard every truck that went to a fire. Were the Minnesotans not watching and learning from that? The Los Angelinos posted armed Marshalls at all federal buildings and they had National Guard troops occasionally check on all of us reporters and TV crews. Were the Minnesotans not watching in 1992?!
When I was in basic training, we had a tough drill sergeant. One day he gave us a time out in the shade and his tone of voice changed. We had proven we could march straight, button our uniforms straight and shoot straight. But “Sarge” wanted to take us to a new spiritual plane. Our military is comprised of more ethnic minorities, as a percentage, than the rest of the civilian part of our country. “There’s a war going on in Asia,” he said. “If you’re in the last fox hole in the last battle, are you going to worry about whether the guy next to you is black, brown or white, or are you concerned that he can shoot straight?”
It was Sarge’s only and his last comment about race relations and for this 17-year-old recruit, it has stuck for all these decades. As I wrote earlier, I’m not the most tolerant but I I can learn.
What we need now is more town hall meetings on topics of justice and race relations, and a lot less town halls full of politicians. We need Minnesotans to walk the streets tonight and calm things, speak to truth, quell the violence, or the dimmer switch will keep heading to “dark” and the shining city on the hill will have its light shut off.