Cut Down This Tree.
On Saturday, July 14th, a family in our community gathered to mourn and place a loved one to rest. Today we face a moment triggering a ritual we all know too well. Another Black man killed at the hands of police. We’ve shouted his name in a cry for justice and outrage as the narrative was shaped behind yellow caution tape barring the sidewalks meant for jumping rope and riding tricycles. The statement came, as it always has, with an indisputable justification, “I feared for my life”. We fight for scraps of evidence that might allow a glimmer of truth, a sliver of transparency or drop of justice. One that never comes.
So we press against this system we call the police. Which is here, they say, to keep us safe. Which is, if ever thought to be wrong, always right and never held to account. Which is accepted as intrinsically good and pure and holy. A great and mighty tree protecting us all, only ever sometimes guilty of perhaps a few bad apples. However, today we will not participate in this ritual. Today we begin a new tradition. A tradition of truth. One that ends with a reckoning. An ax, a saw.
It is time, to tell the truth of this diseased and decrepit tree. A tree born from a bad seed. A seed carried from our country's original sin. A system created to catch runaway slaves, redressed as one to catch rampant criminals that according to our most recent statistics, no longer exist. A system legitimized by propaganda lifting its poisonous fruit up as a necessary nutrient for a civilized society. One tightly woven to the greatest terrorist organization in our country’s history, a terrorist organization responsible for the lynchings of thousands of Black and Brown people, a terrorist organization that has never been tried for its crimes by any government security agency on earth.
We will no longer accept the lie that good apples grow on a diseased tree.
We are no longer intimidated by a sheriff who lobbied to remove a residency requirement allowing our town to be treated as a fish bowl for suburban-dwelling officers who commute into our city each day, then return to their homogeneous cul-de-sacs relying on stereotypes and willful ignorance to justify denying the humanity of communities that don’t look or feel like their own.
We are no longer afraid of the backlash of speaking out against police. As activists, we have seen and withstood the consequences of such and bore the brunt our criticism earned. We got the message that speaking out against police violence meant being ignored and intimidated. When we faced real danger in your community, including serial offenders who have targeted activists and police sympathizing nazis who perform drive-by shootings on peaceful protestors right in front of a police station, our call for help was not answered.
We refuse to continue to allow lopsided glorification of self-proclaimed self-sacrificing police officers as heroes and protectors of our city when our paramedics, our firefighters and our EMT’s risk their lives in the face of certain danger every day and manage not to kill us. When my carbon monoxide alarm rang late one night and firemen filled my home, my then five-year-old son peered up at them asking “Are you the police?”, to which the Minneapolis fireman responded, “No, we’re the good guys”. We will no longer stand silently intimidated as police grace themselves with an unearned badge of honor with one hand while killing our neighbors with the other.
This system is sick with unchecked power, stunted by cowardice and lack of discipline, drunk with the ignorant misery of its own making. The police system is complicit in every stain marking inequity in our city. Where do we go for public safety when our communities live in fear of this system? Who do we call when we are afraid of the police? When will our leaders finally admit that as our communities change, so should our systems, especially if they are detrimental to our health? This isn't about bad apples, this is about a diseased tree. A diseased and decrepit tree luring well-meaning, would-be valiant community servants into its branches, poisoning them with a deadly, dysfunctional separatist culture.
A diseased tree isn't changed, it is cut down. Changes in the culture of police are pointless if the culture comes from the root.
We need a new way. Our community knows what it takes to feel safe if only we listen, support, fund and implement the planting of new seeds of change. First, we must be willing to reveal and remove the rotting root of a racist system we’ve allowed to persist for too long.
Who will protect and serve us? Who will cut down this tree?