Now I am complicit. There’s no other way to describe it. I should have done more, filed a report, said something out loud. It’s my neighborhood, my city, my responsibility.
I recognized two policemen in the video this week. The white one — the one with his knee on the man’s neck — sent chills down my spine the last time I saw him. He patrols our block and the intersection of 38th and Chicago where, the other day, his partner stood in front of him unmoved. If you are white like me and you have not watched the video, you are complicit too.
There was another incident last summer. I could see flashing lights from our front lawn. If you are reading this from the suburbs or out state or from a corner of Minneapolis that seems far away and different let me describe our neighborhood.
It is mostly white. Many, many, young families push strollers and walk their dogs past our house every hour. There are black people too, they push strollers and walk dogs and are kind to us. My friend Tracey watches the church that’s kitty-corner from our house and helps the kids at the local park collect money for church camp. He raked our lawn last fall when I couldn’t get to it. He’s black. I’m white. I’m embarrassed that I have to say that.
But I grew up in the suburbs and I spent my childhood visiting grandparents in southwest Minneapolis and I get it. The temptation to write off an area as “rough” or “bad” or “dangerous.” Our neighborhood is none of those things. It used to get me off the hook, though, let me think there must have been a reason. The police were just doing their job.
And often the police are doing a good job. I am old and white and it is easy for me to trust the police — generally. But this guy was different.
So when I saw the flashing lights at the end of the block at Chicago Avenue near the corner of Phelps Park last summer, I remembered Philando Castile. I thought, I can be a witness if need be. So I walked the two blocks and stood, exactly two blocks from where a man died yesterday. There were three black boys around 10 years old. They looked a little confused. They were quiet. There were three police cars surrounding them and stopping traffic on Chicago Avenue. It was broad daylight.
I didn’t get it. Four policemen were standing around cars. One was shielding a white policeman who was interrogating the boys. They were quiet and calm and didn’t have much to say. A white woman was asking the cops what the boys have done. She was very respectful. The police ignored her.
By then I was within sight of the police and another white woman came out of her house and watched with me. There was something about this white policeman that scared me. He kept the boys for another five minutes or more without saying or doing anything. It was clear he was the powerful one, the one in charge. The other police clearly would do nothing without his cue.
Finally he let the boys go. There is no connection between him and the boys, no kindly, be-careful-out-there moment. Instead there is something chilling about his attitude and the subservience the other officers exhibit.
The two other white neighbors who have been witness share a look with me. One of them tells me there was evidently a call from the park building about the boys. What could they have done to elicit three police cars and six officers, we wondered.
This morning’s video looked very much the same. Watch it. The same white officer now has his knee shoved onto the neck of a black man and holds it there until he passes out. Another officer shields him. Minutes tick by. You need to watch it to believe it. There is a moment where the man with his neck under the knee looks dead and the bystanders demand the police take a pulse. They know what they are seeing. It is chilling.
But there is a moment that is particularly awful, the moment where the police officer standing as a shield clearly becomes complicit and he knows it. It is taking too long, any jury will see that, he should turn and talk to the white man, suggest that he move his knee. But he doesn’t.
The ambulance arrives and takes a pulse. Did he find one? Will he become complicit? Will you?
David Leussler lives in Minneapolis.