Place Matters, or, why you might not “get” that Some Deaths Demand Protest

I just want to start this post with a simple idea: place matters. Where you live matters in significant ways. For starters, just take a moment to think about your answers to these questions:

  • What do your neighbors look like?
  • When was the area you live in built? Who moved there? When? Why?
  • Who didn’t move there? Why is that? What would happen if they tried to move near you?
  • Is your community wealthy? Poor? Economically mixed? What does this mean?
  • What is your community’s proximity to a major urban city center? Do most people commute there for work, and then commute back home? In other words, how much does your community depend on the economic well-being of and opportunity from a city or the older, first-ring suburbs?

I would just ask you to keep this in mind as I attempt to bring this awareness to the main conversation I’d like to have here.

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Yesterday, I joined the St. Paul chapter of the #BlackLivesMatter movement to march in the #BlackFair event, which was organized in order to raise awareness of the movement’s demands for justice, more equitable policing in communities of color, and the demilitarization of police forces to a wider community of Minnesotans who may not otherwise be aware of these issues. After all, thousands of Minnesotans from rural and fringe suburbs come into St. Paul each year for the fair.

The reactions– both in person and online– to the protest were varied. Some were supportive, but many people complained about the protestors blocking traffic and a fair entrance. Others were much more vile, throwing around racial epithets, calling for black people to “just get a job and stop breaking the law,” and worse. The media they consume has clearly failed them if this is what they think.

Not surprisingly, many others pointed out the tragic death of Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth on Friday night at the hands of a young black man (who, I will mention, is already in police custody). The people who have been bringing this up have done so in a fiery fashion in order to point out the “hypocrisy” of the Black Lives Matter movement, criticizing it for not protesting deaths caused by black people around the country.

This is where I will urge you to click here to read a beautifully written post about why this logic just doesn’t work. Pastor Lura N. Groen, a Lutheran pastor in Houston, TX brilliantly lays out why it is that– even though all lives matter and all deaths require mourning, respect, and vigil– sometimes it doesn’t happen. In order to proclaim that “All Lives Matter,” we must start seeing evidence that Black Lives Matter. Actually matter. Because in our country, this frequently doesn’t seem to be demonstrated.

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Okay, so remember when I asked you to consider the concept of place, and where you live?

This idea became a front and center thought for me today, as I read tweets and Facebook comments from people outside of areas where more diverse populations, cultures, and ideas dwell. The angry and aware side of me wants to shout out, how can these yahoos even try to have an opinion about this issue when they’re so ignorant to reality? They’ve chosen to live in relatively affluent areas devoid of dark-skinned humans (“low-crime,” “safe” areas)– of course they see other people as dangerous, as drains on the economy, and as “exactly what’s wrong with America.”

But then my empathetic tendencies start to settle back into place, and I start to feel more sad than anything for how broken we all are, and how separate we’ve become. When people from outlying suburbs and “the country” start to see black Minneapolitans for how they’re been caricature-ized to be by the media, I recognize that my anger stems from deep sadness for their ignorance, for their constant fear, and for their lack of access to vibrant, soulful communities like the ones I live and work in. Similarly, how can I have a real conversation about Donald Trump when all I ever do is listen to him with the intention of picking him apart later? Or, how can I speak to a salesperson about their business and life in the suburbs if I’m just… not around them? Where you live determines who you hang around, what you talk about, and how isolated from the larger world you become. You see, place really f*&#ing matters.

It’s fear that drives us apart. It’s fear that creates these terrible stereotypes and caricatures. It’s fear that has desperately searched for ways to build neighborhoods that are able to keep poor (and many times, black) people out. It’s fear that has made us okay with militarized and oppressive police forces, and it’s fear that makes us unwilling to listen & learn in order to know & understand what’s actually going on. In other words, fear grasps on to the status quo. Fear turns truth into farce. Fear drives us to stay a little bit dense.

Even if you’re not willing or able to join a peaceful protest near you, at least listen to stories. Be aware of how our society is designed to make lives easier for people who have skin like mine– white. Be aware of the fact that black people are targeted, arrested, jailed, and even killed by our law enforcement systems at a higher rate by total population than white people.

And then realize that asking that police are held accountable is not an attack on all police officers. And then realize that I’ll join you in proclaiming that “all lives matter” only when I see evidence that black, Latino, Asian, LGBT, Muslim, [insert the “other”] lives matter as much as mine does. Until then, I’ll keep saying it:

#BlackLivesMatter

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