The Black Midwest Initiative, which is based in Minneapolis, joins the chorus of people and organizations who are demanding justice for George Floyd and accountability for the police officers who caused and enabled his death, and we recognize that “justice” and “accountability” operate on different registers for differently situated people. We are simultaneously concerned with advocating for the felt needs of black people that stretch far beyond holding any one police officer or group of officers responsible for George Floyd’s death. This is to say, we understand that policing is a strategy of social control that emerges out of and is fortified by the kinds of racist logics that continue to structure black communities, and that ending policing as we know it also mandates working toward the destruction of all the intersecting forms of oppression that make black people especially vulnerable to physical, emotional, psychological, psychic, and economic violence and premature death. In the current context, this means that we also understand the death of George Floyd at the hands of the state to be tethered to the disastrous state response to the coronavirus pandemic that continues to disproportionately affect and kill black people and is part of the contextual framework of this moment.
In 2019, U.S. News & World Report listed the Twin Cities--Minneapolis and St. Paul--sixth on its list of the “125 Best Places to Live in the U.S.” Heralded for their robust amenities and eclectic architecture, the Cities were ultimately given kudos for their “approachable Midwestern feel.” Yet, that very same year the Twin Cities landed fourth on another national list. Compiled annually by the financial news site 24/7 Wall St., the ranking of “The Worst Cities for Black Americans” takes into account disparities among black and white residents across a number of measures, including household income, homeownership, rates of incarceration, and educational attainment. While neither of these lists is definitive, what this disjuncture between “best” and “worst” effectively conveys is how normative accountings of civic life and its supposed successes fail, time and again, to account for the realities of black lived experience.
The death of 46-year-old George Floyd is the latest and most urgent example of the stark disconnect so many black people and communities have to the Midwestern ideal that is alleged to characterize the Twin Cities and other Midwestern locales. The death of George Floyd follows in the wake of the deaths of thirty-two-year-old Philando Castile and twenty-four-year-old Jamar Clark, unarmed black men who were both shot to death by police officers in separate incidents in the Twin Cities area within the past five years. The palpable rage and sorrow that is currently surging through the streets of Minneapolis is a reflection of this recent history as well as a longer history of black political, economic, and social disenfranchisement that has been reinforced by the Minneapolis Police Department over the course of its more than150-year history (for more on this history visit mpd150.com). As black people, this is a history that we not only witness and experience, but one that we often feel viscerally. Wherever we shop, eat, work, or gather, whether we are simply jogging through the neighborhood or birdwatching in the park or sitting in our own homes, we know--we feel--that at any moment our perceived threat and attendant socioeconomic positioning can become the condition of our containment, expulsion, incarceration, or death. And if not us, then someone we love dearly.
Most of the places that make up the list of “worst” cities for black Americans each year are located within the Midwest and larger industrial sectors of the country. Here, in the so-called “heartland,” where most states have average black populations that are larger than any region outside of the South, black people have been struggling and fighting and organizing for generations primarily outside of the national spotlight. Except, that is, when a crisis--think Detroit, Ferguson, Flint, Chicago, and now Minneapolis--forces that spotlight to hone in just long enough to use us for the expediencies of political outrage. But as the media now trains its attention on the impact of what it has largely termed “looting” and “rioting” in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we are determined to continue using our collective organizing, teaching, writing, and art-making to disrupt the ongoing plunder of black lives and communities in our region and beyond. So much depends on it.