Dear Editor -
The past week the things happening in Minneapolis have, for the first time ever, made me ashamed of being both a Minnesotan and a former Minneapolitan. I lived in that city for something over thirty-five years. Anyone who wants to believe that the killing of George Floyd was the act of one rouge cop can believe that if they want. Having worked most of my laboring life for utility systems, electrical and telephone, I spent a great deal of time working in rich and poor neighborhoods and nearly daily in what some standards, would be called the ghetto.
By Minneapolis standards, anywhere the majority of the residents were African American or Native American was considered the ghetto. Mixed bag communities, like Northeast, where I lived, had residents of many nationalities and were considered to be your typical white-trash neighborhoods with a bunch of minorities thrown in. It just happened to be one of the safest areas of the city. City areas like Northeast should not be compared with white-trash suburbs which are similar to a dog of mixed breeding in that you never know what European ancestry your next-door neighbor will be.
The ritzy areas of Minneapolis held very few minority members and the minority residents of those areas were usually sports figures.
I want to mention the first time I saw the cruelty of a Minneapolis Police Officer firsthand and it had nothing to do with minorities. It was December of 1968, just before Christmas. My first wife and I had been married two months and lived in a duplex very near downtown Minneapolis and one evening the snow was falling gently covering the filth of the city in a shroud of white. We decided that we’d go for a walk in the fresh blanket of snow. Since we were near downtown and we knew the streets would be empty that late in the evening we decided to venture down the vacant streets. We had walked for something over a half hour when we met the first other pedestrian we saw. That person was a mildly intoxicated man smiling at some pleasant thought or other and he called out “Merry Christmas”
As we approached, my wife asked if he had a place to stay. “Just on the way to Sally’s place (the Salvation Army) now.” We chatted with him for several minutes when two of Minneapolis’ finest came sauntering by. They asked my wife and I if we were being bothered by the vagrant, he was a scrawny little guy, not the type that would pose a threat. We told the officers “No, we’re just talking.” I’m quite sure they didn’t believe us and told both us and the vagrant to be on our separate ways. We complied. As we were walking away one of the police officers took out his baton and hit the vagrant across the rear pocket of his trousers where he had slipped the bottle of hooch he’d been nursing. The bottle may have been the man’s only friend. He started to cry and both the officers laughed at him. My wife, ever the saint, told the cops they were assholes. The two of them told her to shut up and move along.
We stood there in disbelief as the two of them walked away leaving the drunk shedding tears. We returned to the drunk and I gave two or three dollars so he could get another bottle or perhaps a meal. Still in tears he thanked us and wished us a Merry Christmas one more time. It seemed to me that his wish for us was from his heart and not just an empty wish.
Through my working career I saw many times that the Minneapolis Police were something other than gentle with people of all colors and shapes, including women and kids. There were also other times when members of that force showed genuine compassion for people. It wasn’t an even balance, but there were some very good people involved in law enforcement in the city of Minneapolis. I don’t think most of them were or are prone to cruelty, but when it happens all of us suffer for that one individual’s lack of being a decent human being.
George Floyd deserved to be treated as a human being. It was a right denied him and for the lack of that we all have become less civilized. Minneapolis and Minnesota in general have always seemed to be a place where a person would love to live. I guess that isn’t so anymore, maybe it never was. Perhaps I’m a fool to think any place could be idyllic.
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