Monday, July 11, 2016
I sit looking at the spot Philando Castile was fatally shot to take my shift. I still haven’t watched the full video of his last moments. I’m terrified it would break my heart. The last few days have been rough for me… for most of us. I’m afraid in this spot. Less than five minutes and I’ve already seen three different police cruisers. One with North St. Paul stenciled on its side which is over ten miles away. I assume they’re patrolling but I wonder if they are doing the same thing as me. Paying homage to the event, to the man, but they don’t have as much freedom as I do to stop and read the sidewalk chalk and signs. To smell the flowers and hear the flapping of the balloons in the pre-storm wind.
Across the street, another shrine. Three Native Americans take vigil there. I wonder if they are thinking about their people’s history of genocide and how it ended like I am thinking about mine. After the Civil War the South needed workers. The US needed workers. Our economy was failing. Because of the mass exodus of unpaid labor they needed people fast. So they taught law enforcement to arrest black people wherever they could find them and for whatever reason. Strong black men were forced into peonage (or as the documentary calls it Slavery by Another Name) to work the fields and mines to save this country from financial ruin. The rest of the country only heard the staggering numbers of black people being arrested and thought, “Oh, they really can’t control themselves on their own.” Ever since then cops have stopped blacks for being black and the rest of the country expects it. Most of them don’t know that this tradition of incarceration comes from a financial report 140 years ago.
A white man just stopped to talk to me. He tells me he’s surprised. He thought that all this would stop when Obama was elected president. I told him I never thought that and I wasn’t surprised at all. We are still a largely segregated country. One does not represent all. I should know, I spent my life being the one. A friend once told me that before meeting me he thought all black people were rude. I asked him why. He said his neighbors stop their car in the middle of street to talk without a care to the traffic they’re blocking. Clearly, he hadn’t met enough black people. If you haven’t met enough of a people to love some, despise some, and think of most of acquaintances you’d hang with you are segregated. I don’t tell him this but immediately wish I did because he says something I’m not expecting.
He says we need to get a fire and brimstone preacher on this spot and air it on TV. He tells me this is part of the end of days according to the Bible. “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” he quips. I challenge him saying what if God is in all of us and wants us to help each other. What if God wants us to know what to do by the history those that are living can remember? What if we don’t wait for God to solve this by pushing the reset button? What if today is not the beginning of the end but just the beginning?
I tell him I went to church on Sunday after a long hiatus because I needed company. I needed a place to share my anxiety and despair. I needed to know what to do. My spiritual leader knew this. She knew it’s what we all needed. She asked, “What’s your shift? What is the talent, the insight, the resources that God has given you to make a difference in this world?” I tell him mine is writing so that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking my shift today. I ask him, “What’s his shift.”
What’s your shift?