In Twin Cities, a search for steps forward
While protests over the Castile shooting continue, so does the violence
As the opening chords from the church organ filled the air at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Sunday, a woman shouted encouragement from the center pew:
“Y’all better sing, choir!”
And sing they did, the powerful, soulful voices of the visiting New Salem Missionary Baptist Choir breaking into Change Your Situation, a song written by Minneapolis gospel performer Darnell Davis, with a message of immediate relevance to the streets outside this South Minneapolis church:
“Dry your eyes … It’s not over. It’s not over.
Keep your head to the sky … It’s not over. It’s not over.”
In a metropolitan area still reeling from the horrific shooting death of Philando Castile at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop on July 6, Sunday represented a step toward healing. From the black-owned radio station in North Minneapolis to the gathering at the location where Castile was killed to churches across Minneapolis and St. Paul, people were trying to figure out their next step.
At the Sunday evening service at Greater Friendship, pastors, politicians and parents concerned about their children gathered to find guidance in the Scriptures and strength in song.
Last November, a website named Minneapolis/St. Paul as the best place to live in the United States for 2015. But Castile’s death, followed two days later by the shooting death of a 2-year-old boy in North Minneapolis, has revealed problems within the Twin Cities region similar to those of other major urban areas.
Pastor Jerry McAfee of New Salem Missionary had a question for the church gathering about last week’s violence:
“We are in so much turmoil, so much hurt and so much pain,” he said. “How do we flip this script?”
A few hours earlier, as church services were underway at Progressive Baptist Church in St. Paul, Gov. Mark Dayton, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman and NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks were among approximately 20 local and national officials huddling in a downstairs meeting room to discuss what’s next for an area that for the last week has been under an international spotlight.
Dayton and Coleman ducked out of the church without speaking to reporters. But during a meeting with civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson over the weekend, the governor vowed to work with local leaders to address the treatment of the African-American community by police.
Brooks, who also traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last week in the aftermath of the shooting death of Alton Sterling, addressed the media and spoke about the protests that are becoming increasingly common across the country following police shootings of African-American men.
“You have a generation that is woke, aware and committed to bring about reform,” Brooks said. “I think Philando Castile is a special case because he was recorded dying. The gross generalization and stereotypes that led to his being stopped speaks to what we’re up against.”
Brooks was asked about the lack of criminal charges against officers nationwide. For example, of the 148 people killed by police in Minnesota since 2000, not a single officer has been charged.
“It speaks to the problem we see across the country,” Brooks said. “We have investigations where witnesses aren’t talked to. Investigations that are done in a superficial, sloppy and incomplete fashion. Investigations where the complaints of citizens aren’t taken seriously.
“When we see investigation after investigation and no law enforcement officers are held accountable? That breeds distrust.”
As Brooks spoke, Peter Lindstrom, the mayor of Falcon Heights, the suburb where Castile was killed, settled into a chair next to him. It was a rare media appearance for Lindstrom since the shooting.
“We are absolutely committed to working with the NAACP to look over our policies and procedures,” Lindstrom said. “We want to do what’s right with justice.”
That article that cited Minneapolis/St. Paul as the best place to live in the United States cites the Twin Cities region for being “very green, with a great food scene and fantastic job market.”
It is a desirable place — if you’re white.
The life experience for blacks is different. A 24/7 Wall St. study, using data from the 2014 census, published a list of the 10 worst states for blacks to live. Minnesota ranked second behind Wisconsin.
That metropolitan area with the “fantastic job market” is in a state where a typical black household makes $27,026 a year, less than half that of white households, according to the story. And Minnesota jails its black residents at greater levels than whites: 216 of every 100,000 whites in the state are in prison, compared with 2,321 of every 100,000 black residents.
Friday’s shooting death of 2-year-old Le’Vonte Jones (his 15-month old sister was wounded) in a North Minneapolis drive-by is just the latest violent crime that has shocked the area. The killing happened a short distance from the site of the shooting death of a 59-year-old woman who was hit by a stray bullet while sitting in a car with her granddaughter.
“When they talk about this being the best city to live,” said community activist Spike Moss, as he pointed out the problem areas of a city whose black neighborhoods are plagued by gang activity. “They’re not talking about the north side.”
KMOJ bills itself as “The People’s Station” in Minneapolis, and during Sunday afternoon’s “Community Values Conversation” show, it’s clear the people are eager to be heard.
Callers told host Al Flowers, who was joined by Moss and former Minneapolis police officer Alisa Clemons, that they were angry over the Castile shooting. But there was equal outrage expressed for the two small children shot Friday while riding in a van with their father, whom police believe was the intended target.
A caller asks about the code in the streets that would lead someone to fire into a car with children. Moss, who took me on a tour of North Minneapolis and pointed out the drug markets that openly function in the parking lots of strip malls in broad daylight, said there is no code.
“While you say, ‘This is a tragedy that a 2-year-old was killed,’ the guys on the street don’t say anything because snitches get stitches,” Moss told the caller. “As a people, we’re only mad when police officers shoot us. We’re not mad when black people shoot us.”
After the boy was shot, Clemons, who now works with a police response team, went to the hospital to console the family as the wounded 15-month-old was being treated.
As Clemons watched the news the next day, she was disturbed to see a report about the sparse attendance at a rally for the boy’s family.
“I’m always happy for our people to fight for what’s right,” Clemons said. “I’m happy 2,000 people showed up to protest the death of Mr. Castile. But we lost a child two days later, and only 20 people showed up for support? Our people have become desensitized when someone gets killed in their own backyard.”
On the sidewalk just outside the entrance of the Minnesota Fairgrounds, Mike Collison grabbed a piece of blue chalk and knelt down. Just feet away from where Castile was killed here on Larpenteur Avenue in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights, Collison left his message among hundreds of others that cover the sidewalk.
“Where do we go from here?”
Collison, a white man, drove here from the south suburbs. He didn’t know Castile. But he felt a connection to the victim, who was well-respected by his community.
“One of my best friends as a kid was mixed-race, and I saw some of the terrible things that he had to deal with,” Collison said. “I thought growing up during the civil rights movement of the Sixties that we were in a better place. The events of this summer have made it clear that we’re not.”
Pulling out a handkerchief, Collison began to dab the tears welling in his eyes.
“I just couldn’t go on with my day without coming here,” he said. “I don’t know if it made a difference to anyone. But it made a difference to me.”
Back at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is introduced, and said that the power and message from the church choirs and soloists have provided her strength.
“What do you say to a mom who lost a 2-year-old, and what do you say to comfort a mother, a partner and those elementary students who lost a friendly face?” Klobuchar asked. “This has been a tough week.”
Klobuchar called for peace, as did other elected officials after the Castile shooting and the violent protest in St. Paul on Saturday. There were no confrontational marches reported in the city on Sunday, although protesters continued their presence outside of the governor’s mansion.
Peace and love were the message during Sunday’s church service.
After swaying to the beat of the various singers who entertained the crowd at Sunday’s service, Billy Russell, the pastor at Greater Friendship since 2001, took the mic.
“I’m a pretty big man, but it’s OK to cry,” Russell said. “You see these tears in my eyes? My emotions are real. It’s OK to cry.
“But let us let the healing begin.”
“Amen,” came a voice from the crowd.
And others chimed in: