written by Marcus Mills, Community Power Vice President (in collaboration with John, Lee, Priscilla, and Alice)
At this moment, a degree of triumph appears to be on the horizon for those seeking a better future for themselves and others. The Minneapolis City Council declared that they intend to move forward with their sensible and well-thought-out decision to dismantle the existing Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and replace it. In the short term, it means a contract with another agency, and in the long-term a more holistic, comprehensive and multifaceted response system suitable for the myriad issues present in a large and diverse metroplex like the Twin Cities. We stand with, work with and congratulate those whose struggle and determination, in this moment, brings all of us the hope and joy that we might see positive, permanent and systemic change, in the near future.
We, at Community Power, want to communicate some thoughts on the matter at hand. As the protest organizers know far too well, that this was not about the death of one individual. It is, was and continues to be, about Justice, and as a struggle for real justice, this step, though significant and profoundly hard won, is not nearly enough, and unfortunately the struggle is far from over.
The following is an outline of the topics covered in this commentary:
Part 1: This Moment and What it Means
- SYSTEMIC & STRUCTURAL RACISM
- WHY US?
Part 2: TRACING THE INTERSECTIONALITIES OF RACISM IN AMERICA
- The Historical Origins of Policing
- The Politics of Jim Crow Era Segregation
- Racializing Welfare
- Highways & Urban Planning
- The Criminal System
REFLECTIONS ON THE PRESENT DAY
- Economic Structures
- Injustice - The Default Attitudes of and toward Police
- A Drop in the Bucket - Environmental Injustice towards Communities of Color
Part 3: PROPOSALS FOR A BETTER FUTURE
- Safety in our Communities & a Just Justice System
- Steps Toward Energy & Environmental Justice
Part 1: This Moment and What it Means to Us
SYSTEMIC & STRUCTURAL RACISM
George Floyd’s brutal murder was not the result of one lone actor (or even four). It was the latest symptom of a disease so pervasive and ever-present in our government, institutions, culture and systemic structures that we see the regular emergence of symptoms as so commonplace and blasé that we generally ignore them as the everyday functions of our “healthy” body politic. A rot so deep that we’ve gone insensate to the smell. If you disagree, ask yourself what you think would have been our response if there had been no video of this unspeakable act? Even if eye-witnesses on the scene had told you that the officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for what felt like 10 minutes?
If we hadn’t been forced to watch a dying man, taunted by those chosen as our protectors, beg for his life, and then for his mother, as the agonizing minutes ticked away then this incident, like so many others, would have already slipped from memory and George Floyd’s entire legacy in our national cultural consciousness would be just another few scribblings of sidewalk chalk. This effort, in his name, is but one step in the march to end the systemic and structural racism that lies at the core of his murder, at the heart of our culture and in the very foundations of our nation.
May George Floyd rest in peace. His struggle is over, but the promise of this moment holds the potential that our struggle, our long night of the soul, may, finally, be in the process of beginning. If so, then we must, each and every one of us, be prepared to forgo both rest and peace until we experience the kinds of change that might suggest that his death, and the deaths of so many others that the count staggers the mind and breaks the heart, were not in vain, or until we are ready join them at the end of our own watch.
In responding to the moment, Community Power has renewed an ask itself, “What do we, specifically and uniquely, have to offer in this moment when a thousand others have offered their sincere condolences to George Floyd’s loved ones, and their solidarity with those putting their lives on the line in protest for change?
The answer is that we are big picture-style innovators closely tied into the struggles for energy, environmental, economic, electoral and social justice, alongside our numerous allies (many of whom are responsible for the movement we’ve seen bring hope to our communities). We are in a unique position to witness and report on the intersectional corruption that racism contributes in each of these areas.
There is too much work, still, to do. To that end, we chose to take our place as innovative educators, policy leaders and change makers to shed a bit of light on the depth and nature of the problem, and a few active solutions, both of which you might not have heard of before. And we invite you to contact us if you’re interested in learning more about our approaches (contact info at the end of the blogpost).
Part 2: TRACING THE INTERSECTIONALITIES OF RACISM IN AMERICA
The Historical Origins of Policing
The first questions in an examination of an infestation this deep, usually are: “how did it get this bad?” and “Where did we go wrong?” Let’s start this (woefully inadequate) overview of racism’s deeply rooted history in the topic on everyone’s minds and tongues: The Police.
First, we should all understand that the concept of “the police” as we know them today, has always been a rare and strange artifact in the annals of Western law enforcement. To understand this, let’s think of how we would define a police force: a locally-based, official, standing paramilitary force of armed individuals, licensed and tasked by the municipality or local authorities to keep order, investigate criminality and track down/apprehend offenders in the local area.
Now, western civilization has had some places that, in our history, possessed regular constabularies, usually on the larger/provincial scale or in highly populated capital cities where the local guard had many duties and were expected to be spread far and wide. Examples of this model in the U.S. are Federal Marshals and the Texas Rangers. But, historical Europe and even the American West more regularly ascribed to a different model on the local level, the Reeve. Reeves were individual martially trained functionaries who fulfilled the general tasks of law enforcement on the near scale and when matters became too dire, or a search required more than one set of eyes, the reeve would deputize individuals into the temporary service of law enforcement. Does this sound familiar? As anyone who’s seen a western knows, these are the stereotypical actions of a town’s local sheriff, a colloquial truncation of the title Shire Reeve. The importance in the difference in the two models is that the reeve was an individual who selected and effectively drafted citizens into temporary law enforcement services, and their only remuneration was the continued peace and safety of their community, while the police are a standing, paid force.
So, one might ask, “where did ‘policing’ come from?” And, the answer is older than the nation and is enshrined in its Constitution: slavery. With national and regional constabularies supporting local reeves, deputies and posses, American society had all of the law enforcement it could require, as the North and West often demonstrated. However, the South had an entirely separate population that needed control in order for order to be maintained: its enslaved population. Large plantations and southern towns kept permanent, paid anti-slave militias (also known as the “well-regulated militia necessary to the security of a free state,” seen for over 230 years of our nation’s history as the foundational reasoning of the Second Amendment) to forcibly pacify black and indigenous enslaved peoples. What did their workload look like, you may ask? Well, mostly, they were locally-based, official, standing paramilitary forces of armed individuals, licensed and tasked by the municipality or local authorities to keep order, investigate criminality and track down/apprehend offenders in the local area - sound familiar? As territories and municipalities became larger, more densely populated and racially integrated, this model of standing militias was similarly integrated into local law enforcement.
The Civil War, 13th & 14th Amendments, and Reconstruction brought an end to slavery and the specific purpose of anti-slave militias. During Reconstruction, the rights of blacks from voting to service to ownership were protected against those who would have it otherwise by the ubiquitous guiding hand and clenched fist of the United States Military, tasked with enforcing the new Constitutional laws in the South (when a South-righteous person refers to the Northern Occupation of the South, this is what they’re talking about, FYI). From 1866 to 1877, black people knew the greatest peace and prosperity of any generation of black people in America before or since.
But the general perniciousness of anti-slave police and the tactical benefits to white society, in the service of oppression, were far from forgotten. With the compromise to grant Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in 1877, they rose again. It was a fraught and complicated election (to which we are unsure of the true outcome even to this day), but the price of the compromise was the removal of the military presence in the South and the instantiation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, ensuring that U.S. Military Forces could never be used in a law enforcement capacity on American soil, ever again (something to keep in mind when a president talks about using the military to crack down on protestors). So, just to recap: in this compromise, the North got President Hayes, the South got Posse Comitatus and black people got Jim Crow (for the next 90 years).
The Politics of Jim Crow Era Segregation
The story of segregation, from the authoritarian, apartheid regime commonly referred to as Jim Crow, to the more silently accepted (though hardly less harmful) racial segregation of the Northern states, is where past meets present. The keys to understanding the 100 years following the Civil War rests conveniently on remembering the principle natures of these three things: #1 - Apartheid (the conceptual belief that the races must be separated because of the inherent superiority of one race, either the majority or the race in power, over an Other), #2 - National Partisan Politics (less polarized than today) and #3 - the fact that past value is the basis for growth in value.
The Apartheid politics of Jim Crow are rather clear and well documented, and the understanding of segregation - obvious in the South, but also pervasive and vicious in the North and West – is unambiguous. Hence, the historical infamy of places like Harlem, Bed-Stuy, South Central LA, the South Side of Chicago or North Minneapolis. In short, where the black people live (or are forced to reside) is the bad part of town, and if it doesn’t start out that way, it becomes that way and vice-versa (referring to gentrification).
A powerful illustration of “revenge politics” (retribution for Reconstruction) is the Massacre of Black Wall Street, the most important example of American Apartheid you’ve never heard of. When the railroad came through Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1882, bifurcating the town, North and South, prosperity was on the rise. Black folks, whether coming from former slave states or having arrived with indigenous peoples in the 1890’s, saw the chance for prosperity and freedom in Tulsa. Some successful black businessmen saw the possibilities as so great that they chose not only to move there, but chose to invest there, as well. Buying sections of the town north of the “Frisco” rail line tracks, and specifying that only folks of color could buy, black entrepreneurs created a potent incubator for black wealth, originally dubbed Greenwood, that was already thriving by the oil boom of 1906 and Oklahoma’s statehood in 1907. By 1920, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma was the largest concentration of black owned businesses in the country, which is how it came by its other name, “Black Wall Street.” Several scholars of the day supposed that such wealth and power might actually earn the respect of white people, and Jim Crow and white violence might, thereby, end in a wave of understanding, but it was not to be. Enough wealth and success was created in Greenwood that white people from South Tulsa (originally the better part of town), now often worked for black bosses at black-owned businesses, and with the boundaries of the district expanding to intersect white areas of town, resentment rose swiftly. With but a single accusation of a black shoe-shine worker presumably “assaulting” a white woman in 1921, a tide of fire, slaughter and white rage utterly destroyed the district. With 300 black people murdered and dumped (mostly) in unmarked mass graves, and the greatest wealth Black America had ever seen burned to cinders, the story of Black Wall Street, like that of its victims, was soon all but lost to history.
With the Great Depression, the political structure of the country became more relevant. If you want a deep dive on the dynamics of the partisan politics of this time and its interactions with apartheid politics, please read “A Colony in a Nation” by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and “Why We’re Polarized” by Vox’s Ezra Klein. They get into more of the intricacies than I will have the space or time to delve into here. But for a kind of simplicity and clarity, think of the parties, during that era, as four factions roughly similar to the way we think about them now (with one important exception). Consider the four factions as: #1 - Generally Liberal Republicans (once a small, but thriving species threatened by the Goldwater sea change of 1964, declared endangered in 1998, and driven to extinction by 2010), #2 - Conservative Republicans (much better thought of like the rare Moderate Republican of today), #3 - the Liberal Democrat (much like their present day counterpart though much more likely to be a white male) and #4 - the Dixiecrat (segregationist southern Democrat, otherwise known as a Democrat, in the South).
A decade after the massacre in Tulsa, in the depths of The Great Depression, some things begin to change. Southern whites wanted the benefits of the New Deal, but they would not allow blacks to benefit. In that debate, a trend emerges. Dixiecrats were willing to kill the New Deal, and be bereft of its benefits, denying them also to everyone else, unless language was added excluding Blacks from receiving the bulk of the benefits. Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) faced a dilemma of letting the country continue to suffer or letting just its black residents suffer. FDR agreed to the compromise, and thus began a half century of legislative rule by a Democratic Party (occasionally working with a few Liberal Republicans) allied, internally, only in title and united in sacrificing black people for the prosperity of the rest of the nation.
The Supreme Court made slow progress on equality through the 1950’s and 60’s, hamstrung by the poor and half-hearted execution of their orders. For example, during the mid-50’s the number one employer of black people in the U.S. was the Department of Education. Then the Supreme Court decided the historic Brown v. Board of Education case, a groundbreaking advancement in civil rights. But, in the declaration that separate was inherently unequal, the idea that black schools were inherently inferior took root, leading slowly to the integration of schools and the firing of “the inherently inferior” black teachers. By one decade later, when the enforcement of school integration was well underway, the largest employer of black people in America was (and unless I’m mistaken, still is) the United States Postal Service. So, if you’ve ever wondered why the American Government seems to have a permanent, unstated problem with the postal system, now you know what it is.
The denial of the New Deal has many follow-up effects, especially in combination with segregation and white society’s perception of the expendability of black lives and neighborhoods. Three such poignant examples are welfare, highways and redlining.
Let’s begin with welfare. Welfare is enshrined in the Constitution's preamble (“We the People of the United States, in Order to… promote the general Welfare..."), and whose origins begin with payments to war widows of World War I. It was expanded several times, for children of slain veterans and poor families. This was later expanded to include the children of divorce and unwed mothers, as well. Slowly, the sympathy for children and mothers, trapped in poverty, began to expand and hearts were opening to the idea that poverty was something the government should work to stop, and the “war on poverty” was declared.
Then, in 1975, President Ford signed legislation that opened New Deal programs, such as Social Security and Welfare, to black people. The fallout was intense. Suddenly, sympathy for unwed mothers and their children ceased. The idea of black mothers getting rich off of their wombs as the Cadillac- driving “welfare queens” of the 70’s and early 80’s flooded the media. Gerald Ford, losing support from his own party, now largely swollen with Dixiecrats-turned-Republicans, was challenged by a quixotic, and largely futile, campaign by California governor Ronald Reagan to unseat him. While Ford would defeat Reagan in the 1976 Republican primary, he would go on to lose the general election to Jimmy Carter (a Southern Democrat and Governor of Georgia). Yet, on a messaging platform laced with racial dog whistles, including the “welfare queens” myth and a southern strategy not seen since the Goldwater candidacy, Ronald Reagan (with a little help from violations of federal law that in most other nations would fall under the category of treason) defeated the OPEC Crisis and Iran Hostage Crisis weakened Carter in the 1980 presidential election.
Highways & Urban Planning
Other major national initiatives were also laced with racial inequality. The creation of the nation’s federal interstate highway system was one of the most ambitious government initiatives and successful work programs in the history of the country. Is it any surprise that it was also one of the most casually racist? While the nation had several large roads between its major cities, it was determined that both for military transport in times of war and commercial goods transport in times of peace (a nice ancillary benefit to grease the political wheels), it was necessary to build accessible, stable, paved roads and highways permitting swift traversal to all corners of the country. But there were a few logistical matters, when it came to the placement of highway branches in larger cities and towns. Cities had very established, complex and populated geographies, and the federal government needed to have a strategy for placement so that it could make its initial budget estimates (without having to begin negotiations with states and municipalities years earlier than necessary). So, the general plan and eventual execution involved targeting the centers of black neighborhoods for seizure through eminent domain. It was followed by paying pennies on the dollar for their homes and land, to the original owners, and then splitting up the existing neighborhoods. This would prove understandably devastating for black economic stability, solidarity and, as it turns out… health.
Redlining is another dark legacy of the New Deal denial toward black folks. One of the most successful and predictable programs designed to build wealth, stability and loyalty (the belief was that if you owned a piece of the country, you wouldn’t betray it) in the United States was (and still is) the creation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the FHA Loan program. The basic idea was to create a federal fund guaranteeing that if a bank loaned money to someone buying a home, that the federal government would ensure that the bank would get most of their money back, no matter what. This increased banks’ likelihood to lend and their willingness to do so with less stringent terms.
During the Great Depression, a home loan or mortgage had terms requiring repayment, in full, within 5 years. The current system of 20 and 30 year mortgages is, to this day, entirely due to the FHA Loan program. This program, along with the G.I. Bill, Social Security, and welfare are known to be the sources of the middle class and its wealth, built between the 40’s and the 90’s, although much was considered lost in the three economic crashes of the 21st century (2001, 2008 and 2020).
Now, remember that black people were denied access to the FHA’s wealth-building system of home ownership, every last bit of it, for an entire generation (until 1975). The mechanism, in pre-computer days, was to use the existing systems of segregation to guide their estimates of a loan’s riskiness. So, the new suburban housing developments that black people were not allowed to buy into, no matter their economic standing, were considered Type A, easily insurable, and were outlined in green. Older, outlying areas, which might contain some European immigrants would be labeled Type B and outlined in Blue. Places with high immigrant populations and some black residency were considered to be declining, and outlined in yellow, but the inner cities, where black folks were allowed (and frankly, barely ever allowed to escape), were viewed as unfavorable for loans, in other words not worth the risk, and were outlined in red (hence the term redlining).
In other words, redlining is an obvious and pure example of official, governmentally sponsored, structural racial discrimination. Despite several laws that ended its official use––the Fair Housing Act of 1968, one of the pillars of LBJ’s “Great Society” initiatives (along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, etc), Ford’s Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975, or Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act of 1977––courts are still finding in favor of plaintiffs in redlining cases as recently as 2015 in places like Chicago, New York, New Jersey and Milwaukee. And that is just the active cases of redlining in the modern era. Little to nothing has been done about the effects of the original program.
Remember our three principal natures… #1 - Apartheid politics, #2 - National Partisan politics and, #3 - the fact that past value is the basis for growth in value? The third is the important one here. You see, the fact that the FHA and banks devalued black neighborhoods as undesirable created the basis for housing values (on both the individual and regional scale) going back to The Great Depression, and the main driver of housing value is demand. Demand was driven by how likely the bank and the FHA were to make and insure the loan, respectively, thus spurring potential buyers by granting favorable terms. All of this was driven by redlining without any impediment for over 40 years, and all of that artificially generated disenfranchisement is now baked into current housing values, wealth gaps and credit scores (housing values have risen faster than any other market, in the intervening time).
Even today’s “race blind” lending practices carry forward the impacts of redlining. The current push on the cutting edges of technology and banking is a practice called algorithmic lending. It sounds totally harmless, until you remember that algorithms are a method of economic profiling, and that these computer-generated profiles discriminate against black people in the same way that people did in the past. So, racism made lending to black people seem risky in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s and algorithms take that cumulative impact and use it to trap black people in a cycle of exclusion from building wealth from home ownership.
The Criminal System
Nearing the end of our history lesson, let’s take a look at a topic that most people would naturally associate with the plight of black people and racism in America, the criminal justice system. I wish I could assuage your minds about this, and say that it’s obviously not as bad as it looks, but the truth is that this issue is almost comically worse.
Take the 1987 case of McCleskey v. Kemp. In this case, the complaint was that in a study of 2500 murder cases in Georgia those convicted of murdering whites were more than four times more likely to be sentenced to the death penalty than those convicted of murdering blacks, thus claiming that the state’s sentencing practice was racially skewed. The Majority opinion was against the complaint, suggesting that in the criminal justice system, disparate impact - the North Star of the Supreme Court’s own precedent on racial discrimination law - is discounted as “an inevitable part of our criminal justice system.” This decision assumes and allows the idea that people of color are less worthy of consideration under law, and that their lives are inherently less valuable, as snuffing them out is less worthy of punishment. This precedent has been used to justify all forms of discrimination in the practices of criminal justice ever since. (Realize that this also allows the assumptions that people of color will disproportionately commit crimes worthy of punishment, or be policed, caught, convicted and sentenced harshly at disproportionate rates due to our existing systemic and culturally biased practices).
Othering is our last historical topic, and it takes two forms: passive and active. In both kinds of othering, the person doing the othering sees themselves as somehow superior to the person or group they see as the other. Both types tend to see the other as unworthy, while seeing themselves as particularly worthy, but their responses to the other are quite different. One type sees their own worthiness as unassailable, and simply pities the other, while passively ensuring the other’s exclusion. The basic sentiment for them is “well, at least I’m not a [insert racial epithet, here]….“
The second type sees the other’s unworthiness as a threat to themselves that they have to actively fight. It’s not simply a passive form of unworthiness, but rather a form of active unworthiness such that sharing benefits is untenable (and heavens forbid the unworthy be getting a better deal, due to poverty or the compensation for some other disadvantage), such that, the person is willing to forgo benefits and even suffer loss, if they can feel that they are, in some way, hurting the other. We saw this during the healthcare debate, when folks would tell you in one breath that a program saved their life (or that of a loved one) and then, in the next breath, tell you that they would give up the program to make sure that “those people” weren’t getting a better deal on it. And, while the first version of othering is pernicious and problematic, the truth is that once you’ve overcome them as a hurdle, they’ll share the benefits with you once you have them, rather than lose them to spite you. The second type, though, is far more dangerous, because they will spite themselves to get you.
Unfortunately, the white working class is full of people doing active othering, and to the everlasting woe of climate activists everywhere, so are several large labor unions. As we’ve seen in the Police Unions, recently, and a few Trade Unions in the past few years, when it comes to climate, energy, environment or racial justice there are a few unions, on the opposite sides of every one of those fights and rather than find a positive-sum solution or compromise, they will often dig in their heels, call in every favor and suffer slowly, just to watch you squirm, and wait for the clock to run out. Calamitously for all involved, many labor union leaders have governed from the position of “well, at least I’m not one of them… I’ve got mine, and I can afford to wait them out.“ It’s a strategy that might work against management, but against entire movements, especially ones that are gaining ground…?
When I consider this standoff, I always remember the last days of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Shortly before his death, he had come to Memphis, Tennessee to ally with the sanitation workers’ strike going on there. King came both in solidarity, believing that the plight of blacks and working class whites (really working class people everywhere) was the same, and in that same vein he hoped to unite the two, as a beginning, to create, as he put it, “a multiracial army of the poor” with which to occupy the nation’s capital and demand better for all, from the wealthiest nation on the planet. Tragically, he was killed before that vision could be realized. But, that vision has limitless potential and opportunities, once the “well, at least I’m not one of them…” mentality falls away. But even I will admit it can be strong.
Comedian Chris Rock once exclaimed on stage to a packed house, “Ain’t a white man in this room that would change places with me. None o’ ya, none o’ ya would change places with me, AND I’M RICH!” Why do we laugh? George Floyd knows why… So does Walter Scott, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile and the list goes on and on. We laugh because Chris Rock is right, because every white man in that room knew “Life’s not perfect and I might have it hard, but at least I’m not Black…,” and every black man in that room knew that they thought so. And, until that thought stops coming to mind, the greatest challenges of our generations may remain out of reach.
REFLECTIONS ON THE PRESENT DAY
Compared to the complexities of history, the trials and tribulations of the modern day are simple to understand, though they still represent the toughest, ugliest Gordian knots, because the past is bound up in them, making them so much harder to cut through. Keep our little jaunt through history in mind as I mention a few of the related issues that compound and confound our current struggles. Remember when we learned about the targeting of subprime mortgages towards communities of color so that banks could bundle together mortgage backed securities. Do you remember who we blamed at first when it all went wrong? Hmm, what does that remind you of? College Sports, where so many get injured and lose their scholarships. They aren’t allowed to get paid so that if they lost their scholarships, they could still attend school. Meanwhile, the institutions get lucrative contracts for television and even video games where the popularity and skill of these athletes, many of whom will never get to play professionally, make money for the institutions and the institutions alone, even down to the likeness rights. Imagine that young athletes, mostly black males, are exploited down to the right to sell the particularities and peculiarities of their bodies and identities for the profit of mostly white men. What does that remind you of? And, while that springs to mind, let us remember back to 2009, when the first act of the first black president in the history of the United States, Barack Obama, was to sign his first bill into law, what was it? The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Women, especially white women, in this country saw a study of the wage gap and saw that they made, on average, 77 cents to the white man’s dollar to do the same job he did. The fury was understandable. But, you’ll notice that no one’s eyes slid lower on that ledger to see that a black man made 67¢ to the white man’s dollar, or that a black woman made 61¢, or that a Latino made 59¢ and a Latina, 54¢. And, while the numbers have been improving for white women, we have yet to see the Joy Washington Fair Pay Act, nor the Veronica Hernandez-Santos Fair Pay Act. And, to bring things back to the initial topic at hand, let’s examine policing on a more recent scale.
Injustice - The Default Attitudes of and towards Police
Let us recall that only about a month ago, in the middle of May, men armed with assault rifles and body armor marched on the capitals of many states, near simultaneously, seeking a change in government policy. Now, if you’ll recall, the police responded, but they were peaceful. There was no riot gear, no militaristic weapons or vehicles, no tear gas, no pepper spray, no crowd control tactics, no beatings and no further authorities needed. The police simply stood silently, in their regular uniforms, and, quite literally, kept the peace. Those protesters got what they wanted without paying a price for it. Yet, not two weeks later, unarmed protesters were met with riot gear, severe militarism and overwhelming violence by local police, and when that wasn’t enough the state deployed the state police and the national guard. Now, this is the point at which I should remind you that the average assault rifle can punch through police body armor (like almost any rifle), yet far more dangerous (empirically) protestors are the ones far less prepared for and never violently responded to. So, I wonder why that is.
If there were no differences between the protestors, we might consider it cowardice, but I’ll take you back a few years to Baltimore, Ferguson and a number of other cities with black people protesting for change, the same peacefulness of the protests, met with the same militant violence from the police. While, I’ll also remind you of Charlottesville, where the Unite the Right protestors, advertised on message boards asking people to come armed, stating that they would be violent (a promise they kept), where the night before saw torchlit marches, the air heavy with Nazi Era chants of “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not Replace Us!” The next day, the march itself was overflowing with violence, and the local police decided to not even show up. And, while the state police showed, they chose not to intervene until one of the marchers decided to drive his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, murdering one of them (Heather Heyer).
The differences in all of these scenarios is the race of the protestors. When a heavily armed white man wants something, and organizes even an explicitly violent protest, he can have it until someone dies, but when an unarmed black woman wants change and organizes a peaceful protest to make it so, she and hers are automatically so terrifying, that we need three paramilitary agencies, armored ATVs, Riot Gear, Chemical Agents, Flash/Bang Grenades, Rubber Bullets, Zip Ties and beatings that would give flashbacks to Freedom Riders. And, just in case that is a little too hard hitting, let’s look at another odd parallel, that I’m rather certain you didn’t consider: the charges against Mr. Chauvin’s fellow responders. Now, while Mr. Chauvin’s charges have risen to Murder 2 (for the Murder of George Floyd) and his cohorts are looking at charges of Aiding and Abetting Murder 2, I will remind you that Minnesota jumped onto the “Felony Murder” bandwagon, a while back, meaning that Minnesota has a stipulation in its statutes (at least, when last I checked) that decrees that anyone involved in a felonious act, allied with the offender(s), in which a person dies (especially if the death could be considered a case of Murder 2 or Murder 3), all involved parties are liable for murder charges. This legal label was created to dissuade criminals from the use of violence, especially lethal force, and to persuade them to stop one another should such look like it is about to arise. Why have Mr. Chauvin’s associates not been charged with Felony Murder? They participated in the response, and did nothing (didn’t even call it in) to curb the unnecessary violence offered by one of their own, given plenty of time to do so. If this had been a bank robbery, and the leader of the crew (or any other member, for that matter), knelt on a man’s neck for nearly 10 minutes, trying to keep him under control, and that man died, the others involved would certainly have pulled a charge of Felony Murder, along with the leader’s Murder 2 charge. Another example of injustice.
A Drop in the Bucket - Environmental Injustice towards Communities of Color
Closing out the witnessing, before we start celebrating solutions, we’ll see how a few, rather well known, environmental issues are fraught with structural racial injustice, and how it mixes with our present moment to devastating effects. First, we all recall the still unremedied matters of the waters and schools in Michigan. From Flint to Detroit, wherever communities of color existed, in cities, the state government sought to disenfranchise the citizens and their elected officials, sacrificing democracy for profit. The problem got so bad that half of the black folk in the state were subject to this, until finally one of their cost saving measures poisoned an entire American city. Realize that the governor responsible left office without ever dealing with the issue. The repercussions of that atrocity will be felt for a generation, at least. And, for a moment of local flare, let us not forget the Hennepin County Energy Reclamation Center (HERC), for thirty years this structure has loomed over North Minneapolis. It sits in the heart of the intersection of most of the communities of color in the City of Minneapolis, and the toxins it puts out combine with the exhaust of the vehicles from the highways (you’ll note the plural form, HIGHWAYS) that crisscross the community (remind you of anything, by the way?), causing most households to report at least one respiratory ailment, apiece, amongst the residents and the state reports that the highest incidence of asthma and lung cancer (if I’m recalling correctly) in the state are within two miles of the HERC. Lo and behold, when a respiratory pandemic hits, is it surprising that communities of color, run through by highways and forced to live with polluters exploiting a lack of economic and political power, are the ones hardest hit, with infection and death rates two and three times their parity in the population?
So, as we can see from the murder of George Floyd, from our travels through history and the present, when it comes to racism, its pervasiveness and intersectionality, it is clear that there is no Rubicon to keep the enemy from crossing, there are no palisades to protect us, no door to slam in its face. The villain, the monster, the evil was invited in long, long ago. It has defiled and corrupted every room, and is rapidly rotting the foundations. In the end, whether we are talking about the MPD or the more commonplace ways in which we address our differences, we must all reach the realization that this is not a house we can fix, it is a circumstance we must hope, work and strive to survive, escape and leave (s)moldering in our wake. We must seek to pour a new foundation, and then to build a new structure, a new home for our ideals and our children’s futures, one where we are no longer weighed down by the shackles of our ugly past, not just removed from the wrists and ankles of the oppressed, but from the hearts, minds and spirits of the privileged. Where, most importantly, we will remain ever vigilant, so that none can ever apply them, again.
Part 3: PROPOSALS FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Safety in our Communities & a Just Justice System
With that promise in mind, let’s take a look at a few solutions that I have in mind, from strategies regarding law enforcement restructuring to energy and environmental justice. The first solution is already underway, so log support for the City Council to disband the MPD, for the betterment of all involved and to create instead mechanisms and relationships for resilient and safe communities. The transitional contract, with whatever agency (probably the state police) is selected, should create a partnership in the selection of officers, especially should hiring be required to fulfill the contract, and the structure of duties, the governed should always have a say and some oversight. The contract should be set up with a mind to the timeframes necessary to effectively build the new system, implementing long-term solutions like:
(Re-)Hiring Parameters (for both the interim step and the long haul)
Consider that any combination of than 3 or more total, individual instances of the following types of behaviors (in private, civilian life, and/or in this or any law enforcement, military or paramilitary capacity, occurring in any locality) should disqualify a potential (re-)hire:
- Complaints of Excessive Use of Force
- Unresolved or Irregular Discharge of a Firearm
- Domestic Abuse
- Child Abuse
- Involvement in the Killing of an Unarmed Suspect
- Failure to report an incident or falsifying an incident report
- Failure to activate, or improper use of body cameras
- Disorderly Conduct
- Assault (or greater violent criminal offenses)
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Harassment
- Abuse of Power
- Evidence Tampering
- Verbal, Physical, Sexual or Emotional Abuse
- Racial Profiling
- Human Resources “Red Flags”
- Suspensions or other Punishments for Misconduct
- Complaints or Pending Accusations of Misconduct
- Criminal Behavior or Charges Filed
- Consider that any combination of than 3 or more total, individual instances of the following types of behaviors (in private, civilian life, and/or in this or any law enforcement, military or paramilitary capacity, occurring in any locality) should disqualify a potential (re-)hire:
- Mental Health intervention and rapid response
- Social Services
- Community Policing (Community members, Peace Officers other specialists in partnership serving community needs, in the moment, the short-term and the long-term)
- Nonviolent De-escalation (both ubiquitous training amongst officers and trained specialists)
- Reporting (like car accidents, etc.)
Community and Neighborhood Interface Design Features
- Hiring Women and POC at far higher rates (especially to serve own neighborhood)
- Residency requirements (in neighborhood(s) patrolled or interfaced with…)
- De-escalation training
- Implicit Bias Training
- Peace Officers should consider the community they serve as their protectors from management, rather than a Union. Management should be not only considering community favor/disfavor in evaluation, but also in matters of intervention, community favor/disfavor should reflect on the supervisors and managers, too.
- “911 Call” Working Group Output/Recommendation implementation
- Codes of conduct stating that if an officer of law enforcement is not following proper, organizationally approved procedures, then their criminal and civil liabilities revert to those of a citizen, rather than those endorsed by the “qualified immunity” doctrine, and without the protection of union representation or support.
- Racial and Ethnic Community representatives and specialists from the communities regularly brought in for exposure and empathy trainings and dialogues with New Hires and Watch Commanders. Building bridges and making connections, eliminating the “war” mentality many police have towards communities of color.
A second consideration, along these lines, but stemming from farther upstream, would be implementing a doctrine of benevolent prosecutorial decision-making, in the vein of Larry Krasner and Chesa Boudin (the new district attorneys of Philadelphia and San Francisco, respectively), placing premiums on restorative justice, drug & mental health treatment and a general anti-incarceral footing devoted to rooting offenders in and employing them (potentially eliminating future employment difficulties) towards improving the very lives and communities they transgressed against. This would prove a boon to communities of color and the convicted by improving ties to the community and instead of robbing the community of another worker, earner, parent and learner, we instead ground the offender in community (as an aspect of their sentence) and build bridges of service, contrition and trust (immediately making of each convicted individual, a productive member of society, with a path towards a better life, as a part of their sentence) that will enrich all involved for years to come. The effect of these kinds of policies in dropping rates of recidivism is staggering, because, as we’ve seen time and time, again, the results of the societal rejection embodied by our incarceral system is the eventual rejection of society and its well-being by the incarcerated. This strategy short-circuits the cycle.
Steps Toward Energy & Environmental Justice
Energy Justice and Energy Democracy create energy systems and a future here in Minnesota that allows and centers community-ownership, community-decision-making, and community-benefits instead of a profit-centered, corporate-owned, extractive system. We believe that anything other than a clean energy and a clean environmental future, where the community leads is not energy or environmental justice, and a system where profits accrue to the few at the expense of the whole is not justice, at all.
Community Power would like to offer several suggestions for solutions in the realms of energy, environmental, economic and racial justice, some of which are well known and well understood, while others might require a bit more explanation.
To begin with, we’ll mention a few easily recognizable strategies for improving racial justice in the medium to long-term, such as the return of school integrational zoning and busing, neighborhood and housing integrational programs and zoning, along with diverse/evenly distributed low-cost housing built throughout the city. The implementation of such programs will begin to limit and, in time, begin to eliminate some of the surface appearance and racially-based hindrances to opportunity caused by and evidenced by the persistent geographical seggregation still maintained by apartheid politics and its legacies, all across the country. If done correctly and with an eye towards holistic racial, economic and environmental justice, these solutions could not only begin to diminish some of the effects of redlining, but simultaneously curb gentrification, itself, as well as its harms (existing and potential), by increasing and updating the value of homes, schools and other infrastructure in neighborhoods classically, historically and currently populated by those folks and communities discriminated against by the original policies of redlining, while releasing some of the pressure constantly inflating those same values in historically white neighborhoods.
Now, the energy justice and environmental justice solutions we champion are the implementation of Inclusive Energy Financing (by our energy regulators) and the passage of a piece of legislation we call the CLEAR Bill:
- Inclusive Energy Financing is a tool that ensures people of every background and level of means have access to the benefits of ownership of our new clean energy future - from home insulation and rooftop solar, to wind power and solar garden subscriptions. The problem: Right now, most individuals, households and even landlords lack the upfront capital to achieve these improvements on their own, and fewer still could qualify for a loan to do so. Simultaneously, the vast majority of people do not qualify for weatherization assistance (WAP - or free energy upgrades) and the funding is woefully small to meet the volume of people who need the program. Enter Inclusive Financing - a system that uses the money saved by the upgrades to pay for the upgrades each month on the utility bill, over a portion of the natural lifespan of the improvement. The savings exceed the monthly charge, and the charge stays with the building rather than following the individual. Access to the small, yet potent economic boost of the energy savings off of one’s energy bill, combined with the increased comfort and health brought by the improvements contribute to the same kind of adjustments to economic equity as the aforementioned housing policy proposals. This is because our systems have systematically sidelined households with low-incomes into "naturally occurring affordable housing" (a.k.a. aged, draft structures). We need increased Weatherization Assistance, rebates, community-owned energy, housing policies that support dignity, cumulative impacts assessments, de-commodified energy, a transformed community-centered outreach process, and so much more. And, while, this is by NO means a cure-all. tools like Inclusive Financing are a critically important piece of the solution - addressing the gaping space between who can pay upfront for energy efficiency and who pays high energy bills while they wait for the political will to serve our residents.
The CLEAR Bill is a legislative package designed to be passed in the context. The bill (not yet authored or introduced), is captured well by the acronym C.L.E.A.R. below, is designed to:
1) To promote and require, of all utilities, the sole deployment and operation of CLEAR (Clean, Local, Equitable, Affordable, Reliable) energy systems in the state of Minnesota by 2030, with no new construction nor continued operation of existing non-CLEAR conforming infrastructure, of any kind.
- By Clean, we mean: We promote energy that is fossil fuel-free, nuclear-free, carbon-free and renewable, with solar and wind-generated energy prioritized.
- By Local, we mean: We locate solar and wind-generated energy near the communities it serves. We promote policies that advance community ownership, community decision-making, and community employment opportunities.
- By Equitable, we mean: We prioritize policies that eliminate and repair historical racial, class, and wealth gaps in energy generation, distribution, and ownership, as well as processes that promote clean energy job training programs in underserved communities and economic democracy for all.
- By Affordable, we mean: We ensure the cost of energy generation/procurement, and distribution will not exceed 4% of people’s annual gross income, reducing utility shut-offs and promoting an Energy User’s Bill of Rights for Minnesotans. When procuring and regulating energy deployment and adoption, our affordability indices will consider avoided costs of dirty energy, including avoided medical, environmental and downstream economic costs (e.g. lost work hours due to increased respiratory health risks/effects), alongside the simple costs to ratepayers.
- By Reliable, we mean: We promote uninterrupted access to clean power through policies that decentralize energy production through distributed energy, including smart grids, micro grids and energy storage systems.
- 2) To allow local governments and smaller communities to swiftly move to procure sources of 100% CLEAR energy and energy systems, without artificial and external impediments imposed by reluctant utility providers.
- 3) To amend the charge of the state regulator to reflect CLEAR principles.
- 4) To create systems and funds for the economic support (including transition planning, skill-optimized workforce transition training and community education) of communities and local governments in transition from nuclear or fossil fuel energy generation infrastructure (such as fracked gas energy generation plants, garbage incinerators or even nuclear waste storage facilities) to a CLEAR energy system.
- 5) To prioritize Electrification and Beneficial Electrification in the entire transportation, building, commercial and housing sectors including the infrastructure necessary to support new energy demand.
- 6) To adjust the parameters of existing medical diagnostic codes (e.g. Z55 - Z65.9 Persons with potential health hazards related to socioeconomic and psychosocial circumstances), to grant medical professionals the authority to prescribe substance abatements and energy efficiency (e.g. insulation) installations as curative and preventative treatments to chronic environmentally caused illnesses (like respiratory ailments caused by black mold in a household, or health damage caused by lead in the water or soil) that must, then, be covered under medical insurance, as a requirement for an insurer to operate in the state of Minnesota.
- 7) To fund climate justice work through upon a “Polluter Pays” model.
- 1) To promote and require, of all utilities, the sole deployment and operation of CLEAR (Clean, Local, Equitable, Affordable, Reliable) energy systems in the state of Minnesota by 2030, with no new construction nor continued operation of existing non-CLEAR conforming infrastructure, of any kind.
We appreciate your willingness to join us on this tour of some of the intersectionality of racism, from the legacies of the distant past through the atrocities of recent weeks, on to the solutions of tomorrow. Thank you for your presence on the journey, your interest in justice and your conviction to move forward.
Be well, Take care and Good luck!