Violence, White Supremacy and the Value of the Black Body

Many people may be surprised by not only the police violence in Minneapolis, but also by the protests that are ravaging the city. Isn’t that a “white” state? It’s not in the south? Why are Black people there so angry that they are burning their own city? We heard the same questions when Freddy Gray was murdered in Baltimore, when Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson, when Laquan MacDonald was murdered in Chicago, when Trayvon Martin was murdered in Sanford, Florida.

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On May 25, 2020 an African American man named George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the proximity of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South, Minneapolis. 

On May 28th protesters clashed with police and several people were hurt and the 3rd precinct police station was burned to the ground.

On May 29th at about 1pm (est) police officer Derek Chauvin, the officer who placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck was taken into custody.

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The violence in Minneapolis that is flooding our television and social media news feeds is both born of and in response to the most basic tenets on which the United States is founded. White supremacy. So, we should not be surprised that they co-exist, nor would we be surprised that they are present in every community in the United States.

George Floyd was murdered by police because he could be. Because the system of white supremacy on which the United States was built defined his body as less than fully human. Once people of African descent were no longer enslaved, their bodies actually had less value, as they could not be exploited, and thus their bodies were expendable. 

People who are protesting in the streets of Minneapolis are protesting not just the murder of George Floyd, but the social inequalities that arise directly from this system of racial domination.

While the facts of the murder of George Floyd stated above help tell the story of how he died as an individual Black man in Minneapolis, we argue that it is the same song, only a different note. From Fong Lee to Thurman Blevins Jr., to Philando Castile and George Floyd, Minnesota (and Minneapolis) has a police problem when it comes to killing unarmed Black men.  But, it’s not just Minneapolis, and it never has been just Minneapolis, that has a problem with police violence.

Emmett Till was shot, bludgeoned and thrown in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi in 1955. 

Breonna Taylor, 26, was killed (March 2020) during a police raid of her Kentucky apartment.

We could go on and on and on but our argument/analysis of these senseless killings is that it isn’t just in Minneapolis. It isn’t a Minneapolis “problem” any more than it is a Ferguson “problem.” In fact, it isn’t a “problem,” it’s the logical outcome of founding a nation on principles of white supremacy.

Minneapolis and Minnesota by extension is one of the whitest places in the United States and yet racism is as deep and enduring as any state in the Deep South. Slavery may not have existed in the territory that became Minnesota, but genocide did as homesteaders and missionaries murdered native people both literally and figuratively as they destroyed native cultures and religion all in the name of “taming” the west.

In 2019, the Twin Cities was ranked as the 4th worst place for Black people to live. Among the findings: 

  • “Black households in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington) earned $34,174 a year which is 43.4% of the median income of a typical white household in the metro, which is $78,706.”
  • “95.9% of white adults in the metro area have a high school diploma (the largest share of any city in the country according to the study), just 82.2% of black adults in the metro area do. That’s below the national black high school attainment rate of 84.9%”.
  • “10.3% of black Americans are unemployed in the Twin Cities, compared to 3.6% of white Americans.” [*Note this is a pre-COVID figure. It is likely significantly higher today.]

“While white residents of the Twin Cities metro area are better off than white Americans nationwide in a number of measures, the area’s black population is worse off by several metrics compared to the black population nationwide,” the study said.

The racial inequality that Minneapolis faces now isn’t new. In 1910, when fewer than 3000 Black people lived in Minneapolis, white citizens enacted more than 30,000 racial covenants that restricted the streets and neighborhoods where Blacks could live, setting in place a system of racial housing segregation as deep as Baltimore. 

One of the key outcomes of racial housing segregation is segregation in education, one of the few ladders available for accessing better opportunities. For example, according to the New York Times, citing the work of Myron Orfield, in 2000 eleven schools in the Twin Cities were considered “deeply segregated” having student bodies that were 90% non-white. By 2019 that number had risen to 170 schools….in a set of cities that is between 15 and 20% Black (Minneapolis is 19% Black and St. Paul is 14% Black).

Hattery grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, a 90 minute drive down highway 52 from the Twin Cities. She has many many friends who live in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Hattery’s heart hurts…not because the city is burning, but because the city didn’t understand that racial equity is a necessary pre-condition to safety and security.

Minneapolis and Baltimore and Ferguson will continue to burn until white people are willing to see that their safety and security is ultimately bound up in the freedom of Black people. As long as white people have their knees on the necks of Black people, Black people will continue to fight to breathe. Just as George Floyd did, at the corner of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South on May 25, 2020.

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