We need to talk about Derek Chauvin.
We need to talk about the life he stole and the people he terrorized and the institutions that trained him and armed him and sent him out on our streets.
We need to talk about Black Lives Matter. About Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirits. About Minneapolis children gunned down as they bounce on trampolines or ride to grandma's house. We need to talk about the bigots who punch elderly Asian Americans on the sidewalks and the lawmakers who bully transgender kids in the middle of Pride month.
On Friday, a judge sentenced Chauvin to 22½ years behind bars for the agonizing on-camera murder of George Floyd. That sentence could be the start of the conversation.
Just not at your public library.
Not in Anoka County.
Library management spelled it out in a memo to the staff in May.
"County guidance is that we will not have public messaging around Pride and Black Lives Matter," the memo said. "If you would like to do a display celebrating diversity in our community in honor of one or both of these themes, you may do so through a lens celebrating diversity on a broader spectrum."
Celebrate our diversity if you must, the memo seemed to say, but do it without calling attention to our differences.
Anoka County was weary of differences.
Our differences have left us fractured and furious. Unable to unite against injustice. Unwilling to stay apart to fight the spread of a deadly pandemic.
We can't agree that one plus one plus 81 million more votes equals Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. We can't figure out whether Minneapolis is a vibrant city of 429,606 living humans or, as one New York Times columnist claimed from a thousand miles away, a "dangerous and dystopian ghost city."
We can't agree whose lives matter.
Anoka County wanted peace. A space where people could agree to agree. A quiet refuge, not a source of angry e-mails to county commissioners about rainbow flags. Silence in the library.
"We believe libraries are meant to be content neutral spaces where the public can access materials to further their own education and personal enjoyment and that it's important to be a civic group, not a political group," a county spokesman clarified in an e-mail.
The libraries will continue to offer recommended reading displays for various heritage celebrations, he added. Instead of a Pride display, June was Rainbow Book Month, with LGBTQ+ authors stacked tidily in their place.
If this [Redacted] Lives Matter approach appeals to the voters, the Anoka board might draw up similar guidelines for all "symbolic resolutions and proclamations," the spokesman noted.
"We want to ensure everyone who enters any Anoka County facility feels welcome and safe by maintaining a neutral environment," the county's explanation continued.
No more weighing in on controversies. No siding with any cause associated with or opposed by any political party.
Neutrals over rainbows.
But not choosing sides is a choice.
Our neighbors face discrimination every day of their lives, and the very least we can do — the lowest possible bar for basic decency we can clear — is stand shoulder to shoulder and take some of the heat.
There are worse things than hate mail, trust me. There's giving up and giving in and letting all that hate fly out and hit vulnerable targets instead of you.
Sometimes there's no neutral ground. You stand with your neighbors or you stand against them.
The opposite of Black Lives Matter isn't "all lives matter" — it's Black Lives Don't Matter.
The opposite of Pride is shame.
The opposite of Blue Lives Matter is bludgeoning Capitol Hill police with blue line flags during a violent attempt to overturn an American election.
That's what I'd say, anyway, if we were having a conversation.
Let Derek Chauvin's sentence be the start of the conversation.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-4008 Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks