Looking at the things that are happening in Minneapolis, and other places around the country makes my heart sick. While I have always been a strong supporter of law enforcement, that does not mean I turn a blind eye to injustice. There can be no question in anybody’s mind that George Floyd was murdered. At any time, Derek Chauvin could have let him up, but he chose not to. At any time, as Mr. Floyd lay there, begging Chauvin to get off his neck so he could breathe, he could have. He chose not to, and a man is dead. The other three officers there could have intervened. But they chose not to, and a man is dead.
But the reactions of some people in the community, who are looting and burning down businesses, are just as criminal.
I have seen both sides of this issue firsthand. When I was in high school in Toledo, Ohio, one of my best friends was a young man named Raymond, who happened to be African-American. I probably spent almost as much time at his house as I did my own during my teen years, and if I wasn’t at his house, Raymond was at mine.
He came from a middle-class family who had done well for themselves and lived in a better house than I did, in the same neighborhood where they had lived for at least four generations. His father owned a grocery store in the neighborhood, which was almost entirely Black, and even though they didn’t need the money, he insisted that his son and daughter, both, work in the store after school because he wanted to instill a work ethic in them. And he did it very well. While I was driving old beater cars that I bought for $50 or $75, Raymond was driving a new Mustang. But neither the financial or racial differences between our lives mattered to either of us. He was my friend, and I was his friend.
I also helped bag groceries there for a while, and more than once I saw him pat customers on the shoulder who were down and out, and tell them to get whatever they needed to feed their families, and they’d settle up when times were better. I remember Ray asking his father once if those people ever paid him, and his dad saying some did and some didn’t, but it didn’t matter. At least their children did not go to bed hungry.
Before he got his car, I think we were about 15 at the time, Raymond was at my house, and his father came to pick him up. It was in the winter and got dark early, and when he pulled up and honked the horn, Raymond came outside and said he needed to grab his books and coat, and he would be right there. So his father, Raymond Senior, was sitting at the curb in a brand-new car when two white police officers pulled up. Ray and I were walking out the door and saw the whole thing.
They got out and demanded he get out of his car, and when he did, they wanted to know what he was doing in this neighborhood. He explained that his son was visiting a friend there, and he was there to pick him up. The man, who I had never heard raise his voice to anyone, was wearing a three-piece suit, but these clowns put him down in the dirty street and handcuffed him while they “ran a check” on him.
My mother saw what was happening and came outside, telling them who he was and to leave him alone. When they ignored her, she went back in and called my father at work. He happened to be a cop at the time. He came and immediately put an end to that nonsense. The two gorillas in uniform left after telling Dad that his kid needed to find a better class of friends. I know that my dad reported it, but as far as I know, no action was ever taken.
Again, Raymond Senior was doing nothing except sitting in the car, waiting for his son to come out. He did not resist. He did not mouth off. He complied every step of the way. But because they could, based on the color of his skin, they decided he was a suspicious individual and treated him that way. My parents both apologized to him for the way he had been treated, but being the gentle man of integrity that he was, he just told them it was not their fault and that we had no problem.
This was in the mid-1960s. A couple of years later, racial tensions erupted into violence in Toledo, and there was a lot of rioting. And just as we are seeing in Minneapolis now, much of it was directed at stores in the African-American part of town. Raymond’s father stood in front of his grocery store as looters smashed through the windows and started carrying everything out. What they could not carry, they destroyed. I remember news footage of it all. He kept asking them, “Why are you doing this to me? When your families don’t have money for food, I let them run a tab. You, Joseph, I gave your family food when you were a baby, and I’m still giving your grandparents food. Why would you do this to me?” One of the looters was actually a stock boy who worked at the grocery store. My friend’s family had to stand and watch their business being looted and burned to the ground. Not by white racists, but by their own people.
When things like this happen, nobody wins. The person abused in the first place doesn’t win, the people who see their businesses and lives destroyed don’t win. And while looters may make off with a TV or computer or whatever, in the long run, they don’t win either. Because, unfortunately, all they have done is reinforce in the minds of those who see what is happening that maybe the cops were right after all.
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Thought For The Day – Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame. – Benjamin Franklin
Amen, Nick. I couldn’t agree more! In some simple and famous words…. “why can’t we all just get along?” It was horrible what happened to the black man, but it doesn’t excuse the rioting and looting.
Excellent blog Nick!
One of your saddest posts ever. Will we ever learn?
Well said, Nick. As a Minnesotan, this is all deeply disturbing and sad.
Thugs are thugs…in uniform or throwing the brick through a store window. It does look easier to be a thug when you carry a badge but none of this in really new.
What is new is seeing it on video. Since the Rodney King beat down in LA way back when I’ve seen thugs in uniform doing their thing more than once.
This does nothing to help with what your friends father went thru or the countless others that this has happened to over the years. It’s not just the color your skin either, just being different has been enough if the thugs figured they could get away with it.
What hasn’t helped was allowing the different law enforcement to seize your property (usually cash) because they wanted to and then forcing you to hire a lawyer to try & get it back without charging you with a crime. When I read about the thousands of seizures in Washington DC of $20 OR LESS I realized it’s legalized armed robbery by the state.
Justice delayed, is justice denied.
I’m Jewish. During my lifetime I have experienced antisemitism, both the overt and covert (sneaky) kind. Just as young black men are warned by their fathers about dealing with the authorities, i was taught in religious school how to deal with antisemitism.
I like ro say that my people wrote the book on survival as a minority (the Bible). Along the way we have learned a few things.
Bigotry will never go away. During certain periods of history in various locations, it goes underground because the government in power is just and discourages it. But it is not gone; it is just not public.
No matter how many hundred years you have lived somewhere peacefully, the poison can rear its ugly head again. It doesn’t matter how much your people have contributed financially or intellectually, you can still be the victims of riots, expulsion, or murder.
Don’t count on help, although there will always be some righteous people who do.. Even the United States turned Jewish refugees away during the Holocaust.
To survive as a people, you have to have a Plan B. That means accepting the reality of these lessons and not wasting time and energy on tantrums. It means learning how to fight for justice in a way that is effective for the particular situation you are dealing with.
It also means finding and using your strengths as a people. In our case some of them have been our emphasis on education and intellectual achievement, our own brand of humor, our religion and its rituals, and our willingness to pack up and move.
You will be amazed at what can be accomplished if you stop blaming and channel your anger into practical action. We Jews got our own country only a few years after being decimated in the Holocaust. It is a haven for those fleeing from oppression and an insurance policy for the rest of us, who love our countries but know our history.
Because the United States is a government of laws, not men, minorities have a better chance. There are some evil, bigoted people here, but Amercan history shows that eventually justice will win out. But you can’t expect others to fight yourself battles for you, and rioting and destruction won’t get you anything but trouble.
Take it from a people with 5000 years of experience. Read our book, the Bible.
When we had race riots in Minneapolis in the 1960s I also wondered why they were attacking and looting businesses in a black neighborhood. I still can’t make sense of that. Perhaps that was the only place where they felt safe to express their anger? Although that turned out to not be a safe place to do so either.