(CW: police violence)
This morning, I saw a man get tased.
I saw a Black man get tased.
I saw a Black man wearing red get tased.
I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police Department.
I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police department for shoplifting groceries.
I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police Department for shoplifting groceries during a global pandemic.
I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police Department for shoplifting groceries during a global pandemic, during which the government has only provided $1,200 in 6 months.
I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police Department for shoplifting groceries during a global pandemic, during which the government has only provided $1,200 in 6 months, which amounts to less than $7 per day.
This happened next door to my 3-month-old son’s daycare.
I am one block away, I see a Black man get up from sitting on the curb, surrounded by police. He pulls away. I hear a pop. He crumples. Then 5 or 6 officers are on him, cuffing him. Kneeling and pressing on limbs, putting him on a gurney, strapping him down, pressing his head down. I don’t hear him make a sound. I see the wires from the taser. I know the pop was too quiet to be a gunshot, but the visual is jarringly similar.
I only film a minute of it, after the tasing, after he is already on the gurney. Because I don’t press record correctly in my hurry to get my phone out.
I hold my son in my arms while I film. I say we live in a police state to him. I say we need other people, not police to respond when someone is having a mental health crisis. When someone is unarmed and has committed a nonviolent crime. When someone is trying to feed themselves.
I count the squad cars. It takes me too long, because I am shaking. I stop at 5. Pause. There are 6.
They put him in an ambulance. I stop filming. I put my son in his stroller. He cries. I say, now we will pray. I wish I knew the man’s name. I walk to the grocery store.
The employees are talking about the man. He pretends to be crazy they say, to get away with it. He got tased they say in grimly satisfied tones. The white store managers had been standing at the end of the block where he got tased. When I leave the store, they are standing by the entrance, talking to another white store manager.
No one making decisions about any of this is Black. This man probably had white teachers in school. And now, when he’s trying to figure out how to feed himself, it’s white store managers and white cops. And his community can’t build social, political, or economic power, such that, when he’s out of food, someone sees him and sees his humanity, and says, what do you need to be able to eat with dignity?
I find somewhere to sit and nurse my son before daycare, across from an apartment building. Several tenants go in and out while he eats. They are all Black. Why aren’t the store managers Black? Do they live within a block of the store? A mile? Two miles? I don’t think so.
My son is done eating. I walk us back to the daycare. All the squad cars are gone. On the stoop, there are two packages of fish from the grocery store. They tased a man and didn’t return the stolen goods to the store. They left them to spoil in the sun.
In this police state, nobody wins.
I drop my son off at daycare. I walk home. I see the man wearing red seize and crumple over and over in my mind. I cry. Seize. Crumple. Cry. Seize. Crumple. Cry.
My rage starts to boil. We’re lucky it’s only protests and looting.
A few weeks ago, my city council member, Lisa Goodman, sent out a newsletter saying that people feel unsafe downtown, condemning the looting that occurred after a man’s public suicide was mistaken for another police killing, and not condemning the MPD for eroding trust to the point that it was reasonable to believe they had shot and killed another Black man.
The only violence I saw today was perpetrated by the police. One of the only times I feel unsafe downtown is when I see the police interacting with citizens. I don’t like all my neighbors. Some of them are rude and stinky and sexist. Some of them walk three-wide on the sidewalk and don’t make room for anyone else. It’s annoying, but not unsafe.
Cars that don’t yield for pedestrians are unsafe. Cyclists and scooterists who use the sidewalk are unsafe. Police are unsafe.
A friend encouraged me to write down how I imagine this should have gone differently. So here are my what ifs:
What if the store manager had a conversation with the man and said, ”I know it’s tough. I know you need food. How can I help you get the food you need and not steal it?”
What if the city had unarmed civil servants and social workers who could be called, instead of armed police, who would connect this man with services to get his needs met?
What if the store managers were Black and lived in the community, so that they recognized that they were investing in the whole community, not just paying customers?
What if food was a public good and decommodified?
What if this was a production of Les Miserables? What if this man was Jean Valjean?
What if society took its metaphorical and physical boot off of the necks of Black people?