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Protesters cheer as the Third Police Precinct burns behind them on Thursday in Minneapolis. As unrest continues after the death of George Floyd, police abandoned the precinct building, allowing protesters to set fire to it. (Photo: STEPHEN MATUREN/GETTY)

Protesters cheer as the Third Police Precinct burns behind them on Thursday in Minneapolis. As unrest continues after the death of George Floyd, police abandoned the precinct building, allowing protesters to set fire to it. (Photo: STEPHEN MATUREN/GETTY)

It’s Bigger Than Buildings. America Is Burning

We didn’t start the fire. America was founded by firestarters. The thieves of land who also stole people and raped and killed and brutalized their way into power. This country was built on the backs of Black folk it didn’t perceive as human and even today it tries to pillage our souls.

Update: Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd before he died, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

A Minneapolis police precinct was on fire. But I saw my people in the flames.

“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Donald Trump threatened. He meant it.

George Floyd was killed and no one was arrested. And they want me to care about that burning building with not one officer in it. You can rebuild a station. There is no resurrection for the dead Black bodies.

George Floyd’s killing was on camera. We only cared because we saw him beg for his life and cry for his mama as Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. He knelt on his neck, while having a record as a police officer littered with nearly 20 complaints, with the conviction of someone determined to put Floyd in his place, beneath him.

And no one arrested that man. That precinct represented his house. It’s gone now. Everyone says it’s a rare sight. I wish dead Black bodies were the shocker. Now, Trump is saying the National Guard will “get the job done right.” All I can think about is whether Black people will be safe?

In 2018, Philadelphia Eagles fans tore up their city, looting, flipping cars, and starting fires after a Super Bowl win. Trump didn’t threaten them.

Guns instead of grace is an attitude reserved for Black folk.

Friday morning, live on CNN, we saw how state patrol controlled the crowd. We watched Omar Jimenez, an Afro-Latino journalist, be arrested despite identifying himself. They surrounded him, hands on his arms as he spoke. The same did not happen to a white broadcaster. This is America.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev blew up the Boston Marathon. James Holmes shot up a Colorado theater. Dylann Roof committed a terrorist attack at a Charleston church, coldly executing nine Black people as they worshiped. Each of these killers was safely taken into custody.

Everyone keeps talking about the empty police station blazing and the looting. But the lives lost matter. George Floyd is one of many.

In Kentucky, Breonna Taylor was killed by police in March. You don’t say her name because you didn’t see it on camera. You didn’t see it on camera like you saw the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and the names of so many others. The examples are so plentiful it pains my spirit.

You don’t hear enough about Breonna Taylor, an EMT who was killed after police executed a no-knock warrant at her home in search of a suspect who was already in custody. So protesters are ensuring the world knows her name right now. Remember when a cop killed Atatiana Jefferson in her Texas home last October? What about Botham Jean, do you remember how he died in his home at the hands of a confused cop? We aren’t safe at home and the violence is normalized under the guise of a few bad apples.

We didn’t start the fire. America was founded by firestarters. The thieves of land who also stole people and raped and killed and brutalized their way into power. This country was built on the backs of Black folk it didn’t perceive as human and even today it tries to pillage our souls.

The country had to go to war with itself for us to get free, but it wasn’t liberation. There were still lynchings. Pieces of our bodies were used as souvenirs. Freedom came with Jim Crow laws to keep us fighting for equality. There was redlining and segregation and all kinds of legal ways to limit our lives that still affect us today. The March on Selma was only 55 years ago. The Civil Rights Movement is not yet a senior citizen. They say we’ve come so far, but our people in Flint still don’t have clean water.

They say we’re free while waging the War on Drugs that fueled mass incarceration and building the school-to-prison pipeline to profit off us. Look closely at welfare programs of the Johnson and Nixon era — marriage was discouraged if you needed help. And in that time, we were still fighting for basic rights. This country helped destroy Black families — first by selling them away from one another and then by making their split essential to economic survival.

Sometimes, I think you hate us, America. You always did. Yet we’re expected to be in perfect peace. They say vote, march, turn the other cheek.

So yeah, buildings are burning in Minneapolis. Just like when y’all burned Tulsa and Rosewood, except — wait a minute — those were massacres. Our deaths never meant a thing to this system. Brutality never subsided. We just have smartphones now.

I hate that the livelihood of business owners is burning. But so are Black lives. And we know America’s love language is money.

So when lost profits mount, maybe leaders will look at the hate they give us and reconsider. Maybe they’ll understand what Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey meant when he said, though the destruction is unacceptable, “the symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the importance of life.”

Or maybe they’ll try to pacify us with a Martin Luther King Jr. quote and remind us about his dedication to nonviolence and his anti-rioting stance. They’ll forget about the time he said this:

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?

King understood the root cause of the rage we see. But they will forget that he was radical like that. They’ll also forget that he was killed.

Colin Kaepernick can’t play football anymore because he took a knee to protest brutality. But we haven’t arrested the guy who took a knee on a Black man’s neck. How is that not a recipe for unrest? You know what Floyd said as he clung to his last breaths?


© 2021 Boston Globe

Jeneé Osterheldt

Jeneé Osterheldt is a culture writer who covers identity and social justice through the lens of culture and the arts. Sometimes this means writing about Cardi B. and black womanhood. Sometimes this means expounding on the importance of athletes taking a knee.

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