Beyond Dreaming

On Monday–Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday–people from Minneapolis and St. Paul braved sub-zero temperatures to come together to continue Dr. King’s unfinished work.

Mel Reeves, organizer with the Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar and longtime activist, helps lead the Minneapolis side of the march.

In the spirit of the holiday, marchers demanded solutions to the ongoing problem of police brutality against people of color. They called for St. Paul authorities to reopen the case of Marcus Golden, who St. Paul police fatally shot in the back of the head last year. The cops changed their stories multiple times following the incident and ultimately faced no charges.

They also called for charges against the officers who shot Jamar Clark last year in Minneapolis rather than a grand jury. No grand jury has ever indicted a cop in Minnesota.

Minneapolis and St. Paul marchers gather between the two cities on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue bridge. Note the breath clouds. Minnesotans are hardcore.

The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, which helped organize the march, is calling on everyone (yes, you too!) to call Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s office to voice support for the second demand. His number is 612-348-2146

Sample message: “My name is ___________, (I am a resident of Hennepin County), and I want justice for Jamar Clark, who was killed by Minneapolis police. This means no grand jury. I want Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze to be brought to trial, just like anyone else would be if they killed someone.”

You can also email Freeman’s office at

Protesters warm up inside the French Hen in St. Paul after the march.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a great opportunity to reflect on the histories that continue to shape today’s injustices. Unfortunately, it’s more widely used to uncritically celebrate racial “progress” in America. In the [words of comedian Hari Kondabolu], “When did Martin Luther King get transformed from revolutionary civil rights leader that the FBI feared into a teddy bear that only says ‘I Have A Dream’ when you pull the string?”

Dr. King’s legacy is far deeper than the pithy quotes and dream-having that get paraded around once a year. I want to share [just one piece of it]. Skip to 1:30 for the most relevant part.

I couldn’t find a transcript for this speech anywhere online, so I did my best with the audio:

“Negroes are denied the right to vote. But not only that. This denial of the right to vote, the glaring denial of civil rights in other areas, is blocked (?) so often by the tragic abuse of police power. We’ve known the long knife of police brutality. We’ve known the shared (?) Jim Clarks of the south. We’ve known the Colonel Al Lingos of the South. They have beat us. They have bloodied our heads. They’ve used billy clubs and horses and teargas and vicious dogs to block our advance. All of these designs have been used to reduce us to a level of nobody. We are tired of this now. We must let it be known all over the world that we will not take it any longer. Now they have been slow to do anything about it. They have been slow even through the federal government, they always find ways to get over to you that it can’t be done. Still strange to us though. How millions of dollars can be spent every day to hold troops in South Vietnam and our country cannot protect the rights of negroes in Selma, Alabama. So we have no alternative but to keep going. The other thing is the denial of first amendment privileges laid down in our constitution. We read these words: ‘The right of people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances shall not be abridged.’ But Alabama doesn’t believe in that right. Alabama is determined to make the first amendment of the constitution merely something written on thin paper never transformed into thick action. We have a job to do. We have a great, divine imperative facing us today. We must let the nation know and we must let the world know that it is necessary to protest this threefold evil. The problem of the denial of the right to vote, the police brutality, that we continue to face and faced in its most vicious form last Sunday.”

“Still strange to us though. How millions of dollars can be spent every day to hold troops in South Vietnam and our country cannot protect the rights of negroes in Selma, Alabama.”

Still strange to us though. How billions of dollars can be spent every day to wage illegal drone war globally and our country cannot protect the rights of people of color in Detroit, Michigan. Ferguson, Missouri. Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“We are tired of this now. We must let it be known all over the world that we will not take it any longer.”

We are still tired. We must let it be known all over the world that this has been going on, and on, and on, and on. And we will not take it any longer.

“We have no alternative but to keep going.”

We have no alternative but to keep going.

Winter Retreat

The day after Christmas, my partner and I began the 17 hour drive from Minneapolis to Austin, where we’d spend the next two weeks. We spent the first half of our trip at a yogic meditation retreat, and the second half visiting friends my partner had made during his time at UT Austin.

The trip was a perfect way to start 2016 – eating tons of incredible home-cooked food, deepening my commitment to my spiritual path, meeting people and places that mean a lot to someone I love very much, and reminding myself of what’s most important in life. What more could I ask for?

I’m Dreaming of a Black Xmas

Yesterday, December 23rd, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis joined five other BLM chapters across the country in coordinated actions to put a halt to one of the busiest shopping and travel days of the year. They called it #BlackXmas.

According to a [Black Lives Matter press release], “Black Xmas is here and there will be no business as usual until we get accountability for our dead, and justice for the living. Instead of buying gifts to fuel this system, Black Xmas is a day of action to reject the degradation of Black families and communities by police, politicians, and predatory companies, and declare our inherent worth. We will disrupt business as usual until city, state, and federal budgets stop funding Black death and start funding Black futures.”

The Minneapolis action began at the Mall of America, where all but the BLM inner circle expected it would stay.

At 1:30pm, the demonstration’s scheduled start time, ushers began leading protesters out of the rotunda to the exits, directing them to get on the Light Rail back towards Minneapolis. We weren’t told where to get off the train, only that we would know when we got there.

Some people took it as an adventure, eagerly guessing among themselves where the train could be headed. Others wondered out loud whether mall security disguised as organizers had tricked them into dispersing. One white guy standing next to me complained that leaving the mall defeated the point of having a protest on such a big shopping day. I was annoyed at how quickly he assumed Black Lives Matter was acting incompetently rather than strategically.

The packed train stopped at 28th Ave, then Bloomington Central, then American Blvd. Before each stop I felt a collective rush of anticipation, then the doors would open to mostly empty platforms and we’d be on our way again. “We’re probably going downtown,” someone speculated.

Protesters pour of of the Light Rail into MSP airport.

We were not, in fact, going downtown.

The organizers’ ultimate goal was to move protesters from the Mall of America to the roads leading to the airport, where they would join 20 other demonstrators to block traffic. Although I was on one of the first trains leaving the mall, the cops had already arrived to keep us from exiting the Light Rail stairwell.

What do a bunch of protesters do when a line of irritated cops trap them in a stairwell? [They sing, obviously!]

ain’t no party like a stuck-in-a-stairwell party cause a stuck-in-a-stairwell party don’t stop

[until the cops move aside]

The only place we could go was back down to the Light Rail station because all other exits were blocked, so down we went.

Between 30-50 riot cops followed us down the escalator and stood between the protesters and the airport entrances. They informed us that anyone who did not board the next train out of the airport would be arrested.

When I was taking pictures while waiting for the train, one of the cops (not pictured) tried bonding with me. “Hey!” he said, smiling. “Sony A7, that’s a nice camera.” It was a baffling moment considering I was pointing my “nice camera” directly in his colleague’s face. A black person taking pictures so confrontationally would definitely have elicited a much different reaction.

After almost everyone had boarded the train and only media people and a few (calm, nonviolent) protesters remained on the platform, the cops pulled out clubs the size of yardsticks and stood at the ready. “Oh my god!” I heard people on the train gasp. “What are they doing?”

A cop arrests someone who came to the airport to catch a flight, which you can tell because he’s grabbing her suitcase. Um.

I saw the police arrest a few people before the train left, including Black Lives Matter organizer Nicque Mabrey (not pictured).

The Light Rail dropped us off one stop short of the Mall of America. I and many others decided to walk back to the mall to see if the protest had moved back to its starting point.

At least thirty cop cars and other emergency vehicles drove past us as we walked back to the Mall.

Tons of mall security guards met us outside the east entrance and told us we would be arrested if we didn’t leave mall property immediately. I put on my best Minnesota accent and asked one of the guards, “What if we aren’t part of these black matters demonstrations? I just want to get my Christmas shopping done JEEZ.

They didn’t buy it. I think my combat boots and the bandanna tied around my neck might have tipped them off.

When I finally put down my camera and checked my phone, I saw that the protests had successfully shut down part of the mall and the Light Rail, and caused major delays for both airport terminals.

Many well-intentioned people who believe they support racial justice are frustrated with that outcome. Some of you find it unfair that your life and the lives of others were temporarily put on hold in the name of this cause that you might otherwise support.

But if a few hours of nonviolent protest that delayed flights and temporarily closed stores is enough to make you care less about racial justice, you never cared that much to begin with. And if you think the protest was a disproportionate response to what black people in this country are facing, you don’t really understand what black people in this country are facing. You don’t know the daily terror of realizing your son or daughter could be shot dead while handcuffed, or playing with a toy gun, or walking down the street, with absolutely no recourse. You can’t possibly. If you did, you’d find anguished mothers and sons and wives justified in burning this whole city to the ground if that’s what they thought would get their message across.

If you’re frustrated about this protest, I only ask that you set aside your judgment and try to learn why many find this cause urgent enough to force people to stop what they’re doing and listen.

Justice 4 Jamar Unity March

On Saturday, the newly formed [Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar] held its first big action: a unity march for organizations, students, activists, concerned community members, etc. to come together and show support for the coalition’s demands, which are as follows:

Hundreds showed up to march despite below freezing temperatures, starting at the Fourth Precinct in North Minneapolis and ending at the Hennepin County Government Center downtown, with several symbolic stops along the way. At every stop in the march, speakers addressed that site’s relationship to broader systems of racism in Minneapolis.

The Southwest Journal published some of these photos [here].

Wishful thinking outside the Fourth Precinct.

Jacob Ladda leads the marchers in chants.

Police Sgt. Steve Mosey talks to a man from inside the Fourth Precinct vestibule.

Protesters including 11 year-old Taye Clinton gather at the site of Jamar Clark’s death for a moment of silence. Clinton was maced by Minneapolis police in May when peacefully protesting with the Black Liberation Project.

The crowd marches from the HERC Incinerator, where speakers talked about environmental racism in Minneapolis, towards the Juvenile Justice Center downtown. That stop represented mass incarceration as well as the youth voice in the movement for racial justice.

Protesters stop on Nicollet Mall to highlight connections between racism and corporate capitalism and to call for workers’ rights.

The almost five-mile march ends outside the Hennepin County Government Center downtown.

A woman holds a  cloth as part of a performance art piece organized by the Million Artist Movement. As Jayanthi Kyle with the Movement explains, “The red cloth represents all of the grief that we especially as African Americans and black people have to hold for the continuation of all of these deaths. Everyone put it to the earth…they put it to the sky first for the ancestors and to God, and then they put it to ground, and then they [bore] it on their shoulders, eventually leaving it on the ground.”

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