American Opinion: We all need to start by just listening
Summary: We condemn violence, and we don’t claim to have the answers, but now we all must listen.
The worst lies are those we tell ourselves. Many of us go about our daily lives telling ourselves that we live in a just society that provides equality for all of its citizens, ignoring evidence to the contrary. But that comforting illusion has been shattered.
The death on May 25 of George Floyd, who asphyxiated while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, while he pleaded for mercy as three other officers did nothing to intervene, has convulsed the nation.
It was the latest in a series of horrifying incidents around the country in which black men died in police custody, exposing the stubborn racism that has always been a part of this nation, although seldom so blatant as in recent years.
Minneapolis erupted into violence, with parts of the city burning and police officers nowhere to be seen. On the first of what would be a string of chaotic nights, protesters destroyed some 150 businesses, vandalizing and looting. That total now stands at more than 360, and violent demonstrations continue.
This happened because a relatively small number of opportunistic criminals exploited the situation, perverting peaceful demonstrations by people of good will who are clamoring to change problems that are resistant to change.
Gov. Tim Walz failed to demonstrate leadership on the first three nights of the crisis in Minneapolis. The looting finally stopped when the Minnesota National Guard was called in. By then it was too late. Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey will have to answer for their failings.
Then, on Saturday, May 30, it was Fargo’s turn. A peaceful march that drew 2,000 or more participants was marred by minor incidents of bottle and rock-throwing until the crowd reconvened downtown that evening.
A mob surrounded two police officers in a squad car, threatening the officers by hurling objects and shattering the windshield — a violent turning point that convinced Chief David Todd that he had to clear the demonstrators from downtown.
Law enforcement acted with remarkable restraint, and yet a relative few turned the demonstration into a riot with looting that damaged several businesses.
It’s worth noting that the convulsions this country is going through are happening in the midst of a deep recession, at a time of deepening income inequality and a global pandemic that has forced people to contain themselves to control the spread — a volatile combination of forces that, mixed with longstanding frustration over racism and social injustice, boiled over.
Even here in normally placid Fargo. In nearby Grand Forks, a black man shot and killed a white police officer helping to serve eviction papers. Was that senseless violence, race, socioeconomic anxiety?
Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd placed the issue squarely before us: “We honestly need to have a very serious conversation about race in this country,” he said, including a “candid conversation about institutional racism.”
Then, anticipating those who would question that need, added, “It’s true, folks.”
The problems of race and social justice are not new, but they are urgent and will not go away. We face a set of difficult questions that we all must try to answer.
How can we have a constructive, inclusive dialogue about racial disparities in law enforcement, housing, employment and education?
What can we do, as a society, as communities and as individuals, to address these problems of inequality and injustice?
How do we find a way to come together and heal these wounds?
During another time of turmoil and racial tensions in this country, Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
We condemn violence, and we don’t claim to have the answers, but now we all must listen.
This editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of The Forum of Fargo/Moorhead.