fourth precinct occupation

Dear friends and family,

I’m a young, white woman whose most intense run-in with the police was a speeding ticket 10 years ago. I have never doubted that police brutality exists, but from this perspective, it can be easy to feel that it’s something that happens out there, to other people.

In the last five days, this perspective has completely changed. Two nights ago, a cop aggressively made a move to run me over while I was traffic marshaling at the protest. Last night, for the first the time, I felt the sting of pepper spray in my eyes. I watched an armed SWAT member stand on top of a van full of his fellow team members and felt a new sense of empathy for people who live in war zones, who live constantly under fear. I heard the deeply unpleasant shots of rubber bullets and helped a fellow protestor care for a wound after a cop jabbed him from behind a fence with a wooden baton.

For me, though, this isn’t about proving that cops can be utterly dehumanizing. This isn’t about whether, from another perspective, any of the actions taken by the MPD last night were warranted. This is about waking up to the nature of racism, both overt and institutional, in this city.

My great-grandmother grew up in North Minneapolis just blocks away from the police station at 1925 Plymouth Ave. N., but the truth is that, before this week, I could probably count the number of times that I visited North Minneapolis on one hand. They aren’t joking when they say that Minneapolis is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. The only time I have felt part of even a somewhat diverse community was ironically at a small, liberal arts college in Iowa.

For the past five days, I’ve spent much of my waking hours and even more of my sleeping hours at the 4th precinct police station. I’ve shared conversation, food and warmth with people of every racial and socio-economic background. I have started to get to know the northside community and I have become friends with folks I probably would have never met in any other circumstance. If nothing else has been gained by my time and energy this past week, I know that I have benefited tremendously from being there, watching, and listening.

If you have been reading the news, you have probably seen the word “angry” describe the crowd gathered outside the police station. This is not untrue. In the past few days, I have seen more direct anger then I have probably ever seen in my lifetime. Anger, like all types of anger, that comes from a place of deep-seated hurt. I believe that white people are often scared of black people’s anger because it’s different than the type of anger they see other people like them feel and express. In the past week, it’s been important for me to see, hear even start to feel a glimpse of myself the anger of the people around me. This anger is valid. This anger is important. This anger can seem different than the anger of my white friends and family because our historical and lived experiences are different.

Adjectives that I’m not seeing a lot of in the white media are those such as “power, strength, hope.” These words describe my time at the precinct much more so than angry. Yesterday afternoon, I linked arms with my friends, was given a doctor’s mask, and told that the police might try to mace us, but we were not to move. There would be folks to help pour milk into our eyes to help ease the pain. I felt real fear but, as I looked around me, it didn’t seem that my fellow protestors were scared at all, so great was there strength, so great was their conviction that what they were doing would make a profound difference for the lives of black people in our city. They’ve made me braver. They’ve made me stronger. Many of my fellow protesters, like me, have gotten perhaps 6-10 hours of sleep in three days, yet you wouldn’t know it from the energy exuded last night. We are powerful and unstoppable.

I know that, when this is over, I will relish the opportunity to get regular sleep and eat home-cooked meals. But I will miss this pop-up community where folks take great care of each other and are united deeply by a shared cause. And I know that, without any warning, my life has fundamentally changed in this past week. At some point, the occupation of the 4th district police station will be over, but I believe that a new civil rights movement has gained tremendous momentum in Minneapolis. I will keep fighting for a society where people, regardless of their race, feel loved and respected by other people as human beings

Details of Jamar’s case and the demands of the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis movement may seem confusing and even disagreeable for you. If this is the case, I’m asking you to look beyond the details and see this as a powerful opportunity to support black people and the health of our city as a whole.

Thanks for hearing this and for your support.

Love,

Erica