Ballots Not Bullets in Minneapolis

Common Cause Minnesota Executive Director Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera offers a first-person perspective after two nights on the streets of Minneapolis reaching out to communities she has worked in for years and offering people watching around the country a different perspective than cable news.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m no Pollyanna.

I am an activist, a longtime civil rights and defense attorney, and a Latina woman with deep roots in communities of color in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota.

For the last two nights I’ve pitched in helping to board up windows trying to help some of our POCI small business owners protect themselves, their employees and businesses. I found myself in the midst of raw emotion, understandable anger, and the palpable rage of our African American and POCI youth and the broader communities of color by extension, at seeing the police murder George Floyd in broad daylight, unarmed, not resisting arrest, pleading with the last moments of his life, “please, I can’t breathe” and calling out for his mother – his last primal attempt at getting help.

“NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!” was the battle cry of young black brothers and sisters fist raised as they pushed past me.

“Brother,” I shouted back to one keeping pace with them, “Can we agree to turn this energy toward equal activism come election time.” I lifted my clipboard and shouted, “Are you registered to vote?” We MUST find a way to show our POCI youth that there is another way to drive our anger and our fears toward permanent change – through our collective vote. Through strategic boycotting of businesses and our economic power.

At first, he laughed, mocking me, but like I said, I’m no Pollyanna, I persisted hoping to divert them away from loitering and joining others; sometimes it worked, and I convinced some to keep walking and not go into stores. Others laughed and shouted “no justice, no peace” even louder as they pushed past me.

Tragically yesterday, another member of the black community died.

A total of three young people lost their lives as of last night, one stabbed, two shot. I do not know their names yet, but as I watched and walked the streets last night I saw many young people, some I’ve watched grow-up, knowing and working in community with their parents. It was staring me in the face. Our youth didn’t feel seen, heard or valued. I saw many peacefully showed up to try and convince others not to loot and destroy property. Many times, I saw them aggressively pushed and mocked. I saw them threatened BUT I saw them alone; where were the trusted older voices? Those of us old enough to have created some relationships with some of the younger community leaders, came together and formed peace champions to make sure we surrounded some of the young people talking and protect them from bottles being thrown and aggressive instigators who would incite the crowd. We locked arms and encircled as many of them as we could to protect them from harm.

That is something the world watching this on cable news needs to understand – we are a tight knit community here. I would not claim George Floyd as a close friend, but we were very friendly, and I considered him a familiar acquaintance. I first met George at Conga Latin Bistro when he worked as security. I also ran into him at a local well known Latino entertainment venue called EL Nuevo Rodeo. Last night it was set on fire.

Ironically, the former policeman who was charged today with third degree murder and manslaughter, Derek Chauvin, worked security outside of El Nuevo Rodeo. He and George actually may have been acquainted with one another because they both worked at El Nuevo Rodeo during the same timeframe. George worked security inside and Chauvin outside. It is the closeness of our community that compounds the pain ripping through our hearts now.

There are many people in the streets because, like me, our hearts are hurt, and we want the culture of racism that’s been engrained into the Minneapolis Police Department throughout the years to stop. This horrible pattern of police brutality and murder of black and brown people by police must end. But there are others here too who are outsiders; not, people from our community, people here to provoke us, to take advantage of this raw emotion and pain we feel, and I’m sad to say they are just as well organized.

At some point last night things turned from community protest to anarchy, lawlessness, and the police and fire department seemed to pull back and let it happen. They were not there to “protect and serve” our community. They were not there to distinguish the legitimate, peaceful protesters from those whose intent was to provoke, commit crime, an enflame buildings, not passions.

This is the problem with police who are not trusted because historically they have been hostile, hurtful, and harassing to black and brown people – when a gentle giant like George Floyd is murdered in the manner that it happened there is a level of deep bigotry and bias that runs through the policing culture of the MPD that must be uprooted. We must rethink policing from beginning to end, from the academies to what and how we allow police to operate, especially cops who have a history of using unnecessary force, or racist behavior, like Chauvin and at least one of the other four officers have.

As a community, state, and nation we must go into the election of 2020 committed to electing people ready to confront these problems head on – unafraid to make the change required to address generations of systemic oppression that lead to decades of frustration, anger, and fear for too many of our colleagues, friends, neighbors, and communities.

It’s going to take more than four cops being fired, at least one now charged, and the consistent convictions in these situations to turn hearts and permanently dismantle racist oppressive systems – and that is where we must start. But regardless of what it will take to end police brutality and murder of people of color, we must begin, now.