This is a terribly horrific and sad week in America. Once again, a young black man has been killed on our streets — this time in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, as the trial of the police officer who killed George Floyd goes on just 11 miles away. This time, Daunte Wright’s death is portrayed as a tragic accident, since the police officer involved apparently believed she was discharging her taser not her gun. Though that may be true, at the very least it is a case of wrongful death and negligent manslaughter or even homicide. At the very least, it begs the question, why taser a young man over an expired tag, even if you believe he had an outstanding warrant — or was it just a summons? Why pull him over for an expired tag? Why not let him go if he tries to drive away? Why taser him? How can you not feel the difference between a taser and a pistol? Why kill a man over something so inconsequential?
We all know the answers — or we should — that it all has to do with the race of the person driving the car. We’re told it all has to do with fear, but isn’t it true that fear is the result of racism, is the result of hatred? The hatred may not even be conscious, but what else can explain the impulse to use a weapon (taser, pistol, pepper spray, baton, police dog — does it really matter?) on an unarmed young man who poses no threat? What else can explain the belief that you’re justified to keep your knee on a man’s neck for over 9 minutes, long after he has stopped breathing and has lost a pulse? What else than deep-seated hatred that is so ingrained in our society that it’s possible to live with it every day and be unaware that you even feel it, and yet feel empowered to tase or to kill an unarmed black man. It is tragic. That much we ought to agree on. But is it really just an accident? Or was it an accident waiting to happen? Was it an accident made possible because the officer didn’t care enough to think twice before pulling the trigger, didn’t care enough to be sure what weapon she held in her hand?
I am not the judge or the jury. I am a small part of the hand that pulled that trigger unless and until I am ready to think twice, to think more than twice, to rethink the assumptions I make every day about power, about fear, about hatred, about race, about gender, about whose voice matters, about whose life matters. My life only matters when Daunte Wright’s life matters, when George Floyd’s or Breonna Taylor’s and so many other lives matter: Black lives, Asian lives, Native American lives, trans lives…
I’ve interrupted my series, “How A Writer’s Craft can be a (more) Anti-Racist Textbook,” not only because the events of this week make it impossible to write about anything else, but because they remind me just how necessary it is to see and to value someone else’s story, someone else’s way of telling their story, someone else’s life embodied in their way of telling their story. None of it is disconnected. As a teacher, I don’t think that creative writing has all of the answers or is more important than any other way of looking at the issues. I simply believe that it is my responsibility to teach what I know in a way that can make the world somewhat better. It is my responsibility to teach what I know and to reevaluate what I teach and what I know while facing the tragic loss of Daunte Wright, a loss that never should have happened, yet that happens or could happen every single day.