Rejected Star Tribune BLM Op-Ed
On December 22, 2015, in the midst of several racial justice demonstrations in the Twin Cities, the Star Tribune editorial board published an opinion piece about Black Lives Matter protests that had taken place at the Mall of America. I submitted a response to the Tribune, though it was not published. I just rediscovered it, and thought I’d put it on this blog. It is below.
For context, you can read the original staff editorial here.
As I read the Star Tribune’s staff editorial from December 22nd – about the Black Lives Matter protests of the 23rd – two lines struck me. The last line, which criticized the protestors’ tactics and referenced the planned mall protest over the death of Jamar Clark and structural racism in Minnesota, argued that “holiday shoppers, retail workers and security guards should not become unwilling pawns in this larger contest of wills.” Another line argued that racial justice protestors are not “entitled to every means necessary.” These two thoughts reminded me how important empathy is in our reactions to these events.
The Tribune, by positioning holiday shoppers as the ones wronged by this situation, ignored the “contest of wills” which people of color are subjected to in Minnesota every day. In criticizing Black Lives Matter the Tribune failed to have empathy for the injustices people of color face. Sure we live in a “nation of laws,” and private property should be respected. Those two things are true. But I pose this question to the Star Tribune editorial board: if you had to worry every day about you and your loved ones being murdered by police or affected by racism and poverty, would you so quickly dismiss the acts of the protestors? Imagine you lived in a world where you feared for the lives of your children – a world where instead of merely sitting your children down to talk about puberty and the birds and the bees, you had to also teach them how to avoid being murdered when pulled over by a police officer.
Whether the editorial board knew this or not, their use of the words “every means necessary” echoed a phrase popularized by Malcolm X in 1965. He argued that he would work to seek justice “by any means necessary.” The Tribune’s criticism indicates a failure to drum up the empathy necessary to understand these words, and to understand the urgency that underlies recent Black Lives Matter protests. We would do well as a state to question the racial inequalities and injustices we have created rather than the actions of protestors seeking to bring those things to light. It says a lot about us if we value the security and comfort of “holiday shoppers” and even those traveling through MSP over the lives of black people in MN and across the country. I challenge the Tribune editorial board to more actively engage with empathy. Doing so will reveal why “by any means necessary” makes a lot of sense.