On George Floyd and justice: Where do we go from here?

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George Floyd was murdered. It’s an outrage and an injustice. But we need to do more than just make this declaration. He was murdered by the staff of a Minnesota city. By police that were hired, trained and retained under the laws of our land, empowered with our collective tax dollars. And this isn’t the first such event. Yet similar past incidents have not resulted in our laws, institutions and operations being reformed to prevent such reoccurrences. This needs to change.

We are complicit in George Floyd’s death. Collectively, we have allowed this failure of our society to continue; this failure to afford basic rights, equal protections and quality of life for all Minnesotan’s. It was less than a year ago that the Minnesota Environmental Partnership adopted a new vision statement to reflect our understanding that the health of our natural systems are inextricably linked to the well-being of the people who depend on them. We called for putting people and planet first to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for every Minnesotan. But we simply cannot attain this goal when whole communities of our state face structural bias and discrimination. We can and must do better. We look forward to not only standing with friends and allies to call out such injustices, but to move forward together to correct them.

The events of this last week have been gut wrenching for us all, as an organization and for our staff personally. Below are some personal reflections from MEP staff members as we all work to process what this means for us, our work, our communities and our state.

From Andrew Slade, Great Lakes Program Director:

Maybe in this time of darkness and destruction, I shouldn’t be thinking about nature and privilege. But I am. I live by Lake Superior, and the 70% of my body that is water came mostly out of that great lake. So please bear with me. To the family of George Floyd and my hometown St. Paul, all love.

When the lake is stormy, when the strong winds blow, physics and fate combine to throw wave after wave of lake power against the shores, sometimes wrecking walls, sometimes destroying homes, sometimes flooding the land. After the storm passes, society will rally to fix the damage it can. We will struggle a little more to understand what we cannot fix. And new treasures of wave-tossed beach glass glimmer on the beach. And the coastal wetlands, flooded during the storm, soak up the nutrients that high water brought. The mightiest cliffs, the most mysterious sea caves and even summer’s gorgeous beaches, are all carved by these storms.

It sucks to live in a world of storms. George Floyd should never have died, protestors should not have to riot. I can only hope that, if things do settle down, we can find some little bit of beauty, like that worn shard of beach glass, in the new world left behind by the storm. Just a little joy before the next storm comes.

From Stephan Witherspoon, Northeast Minnesota Organizer:

In addition to my position with MEP, I currently serve as president of the Duluth NAACP chapter. While I reflect on the horrors of this past week, I also want to look forward to how we can work together to drive the change we need to see. Here are five priorities that I developed earlier this year.

In these times, allies to people of color, this is what you can do to ignite that change: 

Get Involved: Whether it is NAACP or other like organizations, join and use your set of skills to forward the movement.

Invest in social change: If you really want to see a more equitable society, put your money where your mouth is. Invest in organizations and people who promote it.

Call out hate speech: If you hear family, friends, and or people use hate speech call it out and let them know that it is highly unacceptable anytime, anywhere.

Show up: Go to cultural events other than yours. Participate and get your family involved. 

Vote: In this election year, show up to the polls, take your ballot, and utilize your right to vote!!

The effects of our synergy today will create the blueprint for tomorrow!! Which side of history will you be on?

From Matt Doll, Operations Coordinator:

As a small drop in the ocean of grief and anguish in our community in the Twin Cities, I’ve had a lot of feelings over the past few days since the murder of George Floyd. Sadness. Confusion. Anger. Frustration. My heart goes out to George’s loved ones, and to all those who are venting their outrage over police violence against black folks that has gone unchecked for so long.

What I keep landing on is the same, dull ache of a feeling that has stuck hard with me since the murder of Philando Castile: I feel ashamed. I’m a resident of the Twin Cities who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. These two areas have some of the best quality-of-life indicators of any in the United States – if you’re white, as I am. For my black neighbors, they’re some of the most unequal places in the country. I have watched for years as white Minnesotans have sung the praises of a beautiful state that seems to do everything right except offer justice to people who don’t look like me, often blind to the reality that racism is equally – if not more – insidious here as it is anywhere else in America. It has taken the shape of redlining, of pollution, of the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, and of white Minnesotans using the police as our blunt instrument. My heart breaks due to George Floyd’s murder, and I hate to see us lie to ourselves by thinking of it as an aberration from our history.

Shame can be a useful tool, if it leads to action, rather than lazy, empty gestures of guilt. I’ve seen many calls for justice from Minnesota politicians in the last few days, but less apparent is what they’re committed to doing after the arrests of the murderers, after the trial, and after the verdict. I’m hoping – I’m demanding – that they listen to the protesters, and start acting on their demands: demilitarizing black neighborhoods, raising standards to hold police accountable, ending the violence against peaceful protestors, making Minnesota more equitable. I will continue to love the state of Minnesota, but I will not let go of my sense of shame for the place I call home until we confront the disease of racism at our core.

From Sara Wolff, Advocacy Director

With all of the heartache of these dark days, I find myself going to the recent words and thoughts of Brittany Packet Cunningham: there can be no justice for George Floyd. He should be alive. Everything else is accountability. 

If we want justice going forward, we have to be part of making it ourselves. 

Our state’s environment and conservation community is broad, strong and active, but we have a long way to go to reflect the diversity of people and priorities necessary to create the prosperous and sustainable future for all that we envision. MEP looks forward to working with friends and allies to move forward together.

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