I was there when it started.
On the morning of July 7th, 2016, I stepped out onto the street below my apartment in St. Paul Minnesota and saw blue lights flashing a couple of blocks away. I briefly wondered if there had been a traffic accident.
I soon found out that it was much worse.
Philando Castille was my neighbor. He worked across the street from where I lived. He had been shot to death the night before during a routine traffic stop. For the rest of the summer protestors camped out on the street in front of the governors mansion, just a couple blocks away.
It was a summer I’ll never forget. It was hot. The air conditioner in my third floor apartment went out, and I had to leave the windows open. A chopper hovered overhead, keeping an eye on the crowd, and my apartment was filled the noise.
In case you were wondering, sleeping in a 90 degree apartment with a helicopter idling above it is not the most pleasant experience.
There was a tension you could feel in the air. I remember one night when it felt like everything was going to blow wide open. I walked down to the protest, curious to see what was happening. Only a few people were there. They were complaining that the police who were supposed to be guarding them had inexplicably left. I later learned that the police, and most of the protestors, were on the freeway a mile or so away.
By todays standards what happened that night was pretty mild. I’ve heard that there were chunks of concrete thrown at police officers, and I saw a video of a firework being thrown into the group of policemen. At the time it seemed crazy that American citizens would use force, however mild, against the police.
After that summer I left St. Paul. There was a lull, but it didn’t seem safe anymore. I wasn’t surprised, this spring, when St. Paul and Minneapolis erupted in flames after another black man was killed by a police officer.
I wasn’t surprised. But that didn’t make it any easier. It hit me in the gut.
I thought about that this past week as I drove into the Twin Cities for the first time since the riots this past spring. I was right in thinking that it wasn’t safe, but that’s a very narrow way of seeing things.
I graduated from college, started a career, fell in love, worked in countless theatre productions, learned how to write and grew into the person that I am in this city. This is where I started my life. In some ways this will always be home.
It may be dangerous, but it’s also so much more. For me, the Twin Cities are intertwined with the American dream: the idea that if you work hard and apply yourself you can rise above your past. It’s not safe. It’s scary. But it’s worth it.
Living in this country today feels a lot like living in St. Paul did back in 2016. There’s a tension in the air, a feeling that the dam is about to break and that violence and chaos could be right around the corner.
However many riots erupt on the streets, whether Joe Biden, or Donald Trump or Kanye West becomes the next President, it doesn’t matter. This is still my country.
And it will always be my country.
On the corner of Lexington and University in St. Paul is an AutoZone I used to go to fairly often. It was burned in the riots. I drove past it a few days ago. Behind a cyclone fence the bricks for a new store have already been laid.
Goddammit, I love this country.
Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com<