I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
— The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By Dale Mischke

We saw the best of the Twin Cities and the worst of the Twin Cities in the days following George Floyd’s death while in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers. The best was the universal outrage and peaceful protests over the killing of a black man who was arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill but appeared to be cooperating with the police. The worst was the widespread vandalism, arson and looting that came on the heels of the initial peaceful protests.

Minnesota has been down this road before with the questionable killing of black men by police: Jamar Clark in North Minneapolis in 2015 and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights in 2016. The protests of Floyd’s killing were larger and more vociferous than the protests following those other killings, due perhaps to the graphic video recorded by a bystander that left little doubt about the injustice and cold-bloodedness of Floyd’s death.

A peaceful protest against police brutality and the prejudicial treatment of black people marches past the governor’s mansion on Summit Avenue on June 1—the one-week anniversary of the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers. photo by Casey Ek

The rioting was also much worse than anything the Twin Cities has seen before. It began in South Minneapolis on May 27 and spread to St. Paul and other nearby cities on May 28 and 29. The Villager posted a story on the destruction in St. Paul on its website on May 29. We followed that up with a front-page story in our June 10 print edition.

The story in the June 10 issue has been criticized by readers for promoting racism by focusing on the vandalism and looting and not “the dominant reality” of the peaceful protests (see Villager Letters to the Editor for the June 24 issue). The headline over the story erred, according to one reader, by associating the “protests” with “widespread rioting.” Another reader objected to the photo of the peaceful protest in front of the governor’s mansion with its image of a passionate black man directly beneath the headline about widespread rioting.

Another reader objected to the photo on page 4 where the story continued. The photo shows two neighbors who turned out on University Avenue on the day after the riots with brooms to help clean up the destruction. The neighbors were white. Why didn’t the Villager include any photos of the black neighbors who turned out to help clean up the destruction? the reader asks. Our choice of photos and their placement beside certain headlines, the reader maintains, suggests that black protesters were largely responsible for the rioting and white people for cleaning up after it.

We thank readers for expressing their opinions and we take them to heart, but we respectfully disagree with their conclusions. Our coverage was nothing but honest journalism. What some readers may not appreciate is the editorial focus of the Villager. We are devoted almost exclusively to covering the southwest quarter of St. Paul, the adjacent Longfellow and Nokomis neighborhoods of Minneapolis, Mendota, Mendota Heights and Lilydale. Floyd’s death at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis was senseless and a grave injustice, but the big story in our area was the senseless vandalism, arson and looting that followed.

 We as a nation are mired in problems stemming from our racist past. Our police departments are in need of reform. Without it, black people will continue to suffer the injustice of prejudice. In addition to that reform, we look forward to the day when the impassioned protester pictured on page 1 of the last Villager and the two neighbors with brooms pictured on page 4 are valued not for the blackness or whiteness of their skin but for the content of their character.

The June 10 story by Villager reporter Jane McClure on the widespread destruction of commercial property was remarkable for its breadth. The story didn’t dig deeply into the suffering caused by that destruction. Nor did it elaborate on the ardent feelings of those who were protesting Floyd’s death. It did include photos of peaceful protesters in front of the governor’s mansion and on the state Capitol mall.

We chose the front-page photo of the peaceful protest for how it illustrated the feelings of those who took part in the protest. The black man in the foreground may look angry to some people. He certainly is passionate. And why wouldn’t he be, considering the injustice of George Floyd’s death? According to our photographer, the man is shown leading fellow protesters in a chant: “Hands up!” he is shouting. “Don’t shoot!” they respond as they march past the governor’s mansion.

We as a nation are mired in problems stemming from our racist past. Our police departments are in need of reform. Without it, black people will continue to suffer the injustice of prejudice. In addition to that reform, we look forward to the day when the impassioned protester pictured on page 1 of the last Villager and the two neighbors with brooms pictured on page 4 are valued not for the blackness or whiteness of their skin but for the content of their character.

Dale Mischke is co-editor of the Villager.

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