Province of St. Albert the Great, USA

The Morning After Riots

The last week has been gut-wrenching for us all, to say the least. Most of us saw the video of George Floyd’s murder (calling it what it is) sometime on Tuesday.  It is infuriating and grotesque but sadly not surprising. 

Almost immediately afterward, demonstrations began. Given the pandemic and the vulnerability of several of our friars, none of us has participated physically. Each of our ministry sites co-sponsored an interfaith prayer service and call to action on Facebook, led by the United Church of Christ, which took place on Thursday. Our pastors have preached admirably on the theme of racial justice. 

George Floyd was killed at the intersection of 38th St. and Chicago Ave., near the bottom of the map. The Lake St. commercial corridor is shown in red, with the most severe property destruction is shown in orange. The destroyed Third Precinct station is marked, as well as St. Albert Parish and Priory (further east) and Holy Rosary Parish (further west). For scale, the distance from our priory to the police station is about half a mile.

Walking along Lake Street is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It looks more like our images of Baghdad or Aleppo than Minneapolis. Buildings I’ve personally entered are unrecognizable. Graffiti covers every flat surface and ranges from the admirable (“RIP George Floyd”) to condemnable (“Kill All Cops”). 

Mr. Rogers has an oft-shared line that’s stuck with me this week: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” 

So it was. Alongside shattered windows and burned storefronts were the dozens and dozens of people I saw cleaning up sidewalks and parking lots. These weren’t store employees, mind you. They were people who came out to help even though nobody told them to. 

It would be a shame and a mistake for our prevailing memory of this week to be the destruction that followed the murder and not the murder itself. We can’t let a minority of destructive actors tarnish our understanding of what has been mainly a movement of peaceful demonstration. Turning a blind eye to the need for police reform out of contempt for looting and property destruction would simply perpetuate the cycle of violence and division. It’s on us white people to stop this. This is true of white Catholics especially, given our disproportionate role in white flight and urban policing during the 20th Century. 

For those of you who are concerned about the friars’ personal safety, know that we’re doing just fine. Nobody has any interest in invading homes or churches, and we are certainly staying inside at night, mainly watching the news like the rest of you. We’ve gotten used to helicopters flying overhead at all times. In the meantime, we appreciate your prayer and action on behalf of our city. We need the Dominican charism now more than ever.

Br. Peter

(top photo by Br. Peter Lewitzke, OP)