First things first, I am a bi-racial American. I am half white, half black, and I am from Minneapolis. Many people have asked how I feel about everything that has transpired within the past month, and I am finally ready to write this out. Not all cops are bad cops, just as not all people are bad people, but with that being said, this is what I have to say. It’s time for a change.
Minneapolis, the 612, that is my home. I have always loved being in the cities and being downtown, almost as much as I loved spending the weekend at Mall of America. I even lived in the city of Minneapolis until I was about 15-years-old. I may have gone to school in the Hopkins School District, a decent suburban city, before I graduated from St. Louis Park Senior High in 2012, but I was raised in the city of Minneapolis. It has always been the only home I've ever known. But on May 25, 2020, my world changed when I saw the video that broke my heart. The death of Mr. George Floyd shattered my heart. I couldn’t believe what I saw, and what hurt even more was that it was in my city. Hearing him cry, ‘I can’t breathe’ and begging for his mother made me choke up with emotions.
The days that followed were a blur to me now; I don’t remember a lot of days at work. But I remember a lot of people asking me questions, ‘How do you feel about this?’ and ‘Is Minneapolis really like this?’ and ‘What’s your family doing?’ I didn’t really know how to answer those questions, because I was asking myself the same questions. But although many saw the video, it didn’t take long before the questions went from Mr. Floyd to the Minneapolis riots.
After I moved to a suburban city called St. Louis Park, the same city in which Mr. Floyd lived in, I still called Minneapolis home. Even now, when people in North Dakota ask me where I'm from, it's simple, Minneapolis. Not going to lie, there's times where it hurts not being home, but being eight hours away from my family, friends and home during the riots hurt more than anything. I couldn’t sleep or rest my mind, not even for a second. Some people may just think we are just “nice guys” that have a big mall and a decent state fair, but we’re much more than that. We’ll speak up, and we’re not afraid to do so. I knew the death of Mr. Floyd was not going to be forgotten, but I also knew Minneapolis was never going to be the same; it was time for us to speak up and change the world and end this curse once and for all. We weren’t going to be held back any more.
The anger that I felt after watching the incident burned just as hot and bright like the later nights throughout the city. However, although I understood the riots and the need of showing the world the anger and anguish that has been pushed to the edge, all I could do was just sit and stare at the television. As much as I wanted to avoid it, I couldn’t. This was it.
Personally, I have been a victim of racism and police discrimination. I learned what racism was in second grade when a group of white boys told me I was not welcomed into their group because my father was a black man. I watched my father get pulled over with my mother, myself and my younger sister in the car, for no reason, but the officer was eager to find a reason, even demanding my father to answer why my sister and I didn’t have our seat belts on, when the gray strap shined brightly across my chest like his bright light shined into my eyes.
I remember soon after, my father got a ticket for running a stop sign, when in reality he did stop. But instead of protesting on the street, 'on their turf' he took me, a young kid, to court to teach me how to stand up for myself, the right way, when it came to law enforcement. He may have lost the case, but he taught me how to not be afraid of anyone. I will never forget that day.
As I got older, the discrimination only continued. My father always asked me if I had my updated proof of insurance, and registration in the car. Every day. As crazy as it was, I understood why. He always told me, 'you never want to battle them on their turf, or give them any reasons whatsoever.'
Even in college I had officers tail me to my house in the suburbs, just to see if I actually knew where I lived; some would not leave until I got out the car and walked to the front door. The entire time I just hoped they didn’t put on the lights in my neighborhood. But as much as I hated seeing those bright head lights trailing behind me, nothing compared to when the bright red and blue lights lit up. From there, the only question in my mind was, “Am I going to go home?” That’s fear.
I will never forget the scariest police encounter I've ever had. I was pulled over one evening on my way home from college, thinking about getting Taco Bell and going home before I saw the lights come on behind me. The fear instantly set in, but what seemed to be a casual traffic stop, in which I was pulled over for, as he stated, “swerving lanes” when in reality, I put my blinker on and got off the highway, and even after I asked if I could get my license and registration, my hands firmly grasping the wheel so hard my knuckles were turning white, he threatened, “Do it, slowly.” I was shaken with fear. This was the moment I was taught about and it was right across the street from the Olive Garden I served at. Philando Castile’s death was only a couple years prior in 2016. I thought, ‘Am I next?’ But when I was slowly reaching for my license, the cop said, “Easy...easy!” and I stopped dead in my tracks, sweat coming to my face. I felt like I was playing a real life game of Operation, but I didn’t want to know what happened if I saw the red button. But the officer shined the light on my hoodie, and he asked me what purple hoodie I was wearing. I said, “It’s the University of St. Thomas, sir, I go to school there.” UST, by the way, is one of the most well-known, respected and top-notch private institutions in the state, and even the country. He wanted proof so I showed him my school ID with my lisence. From that point on, the mood changed. The intimidation was gone; it was as if we were best friends. “Man, that’s such a great school!” he said. “Great pick!” I was let off with a warning and a compliment of “Thanks for being different.”
I’ve had Caucasian friends mouth off to cops in front of their faces, and me in the passenger seat with tears of fear in my eyes, wishing they’d shut up. “You don’t get it!” I’d yell at them. “You have that privilege; you can do that and get let off with a warning. I do that, and I don’t make it home.” That is an example of what is known as white privilege.
These are some of the things I felt when I saw Minneapolis in flames. As I watched on television, I knew I had to go home to see for myself. When I did, the emotions hit me harder than any punch or anything ever could. I was in ground zero of change.
The burned down buildings, ash covering the streets, buildings that weren’t shown on television like Popeye’s, Arby’s, the Minneapolis Post Office, Wendy’s, all flattened. Even next door houses with signs saying, “Children live here, please don’t burn.” It hurt me to my core. We as a people need change, but I wasn’t sure if that was the way to do it.
Did I give funds to Black Lives Matter and to help clean the city? Yes. Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes. Absolutely. But would I loot and riot? No, absolutely not. My parents always taught me to never take what I didn't work for, or purchase, and never destroy what I didn't buy. But they did teach me to stand up and support what's right.
We as a people are just tired of being called accidents, or police being able to escape justice due to limited evidence, or validating their actions because they say the sentence, "they were resisting arrest," or, "I feared for my life." The cycle keeps going. It's time to end it, George Floyd's death proved that.
The time for change is now. I can’t sit back any more and hide and say change is going to come, the time is now. I am proud to be black, I am proud to be white, I am proud to be an American citizen. But just as I saw the ashes of the buildings, I saw the location of which George Floyd spent his last minutes on this earth. In that emotional moment, I knew it was time to speak up and say it loud, I am black and I am proud!
Did I protest when I was in Minneapolis? Yes. However, was it peaceful? Yes. I didn’t just do it for me, I did it for my children’s kids, and their grand-kids, so that one day when I am six feet under and with the man upstairs, I can be happy watching them live their life in peace and happiness. Keep in mind, not all the protests were bad. There were tons of positive protests that happened.
What happened to Mr. Floyd was such a tragedy and a disappointment. It shouldn’t have happened. As I stated before, not all cops are bad cops, but it’s time to make sure we never have to say this statement ever again. I was taught to respect and trust police officers growing up, it’s time we get back to that.
I love my friends, I love my family, I love my city, and I love my country. But I will end it by saying this, not all lives will matter, until black lives do. God bless.
Matthew Curry is a reporter for The Dickinson Press.