This Is Not the Minneapolis of My Youth: Larry Fitzgerald’s Moving New York Times Essay on Racial Injustice and Minneapolis Riots

Larry Fitzgerald Jr., in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, where he learned to catch a football.
Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times

The city of Minneapolis taught me about love.

I was baptized at New Beginnings Baptist Tabernacle Church, learned to catch a football at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and instilled with values by a loving family and a supportive community.

My mother and father raised us in this beautiful city full of life and diversity. Minneapolis is home to diverse people from all over the world; Somali and Ethiopian refugees forging new lives, Hmong families building successful businesses, and a thriving arts community that attracts talented performers from around the globe.

What you’re seeing on the news is not the hometown of my youth. The businesses you see ablaze used to receive the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the newspaper my father writes for, on their front steps. He’s been a journalist in the city for over 40 years. The streets you see in chaos now are the same streets I walked with my mother as she taught me about being active in the community. We would spend hours downtown and in nearby neighborhoods passing out educational materials on family planning and healthy lifestyles. Those same neighborhoods have literally been on fire the last few days — fires that in some ways symbolize decades of disappointment, anger and frustration.

For as long as I have known it, Minneapolis has been a city of peace, family and contentment.

But not right now.

The events of the last several days have turned Minneapolis, and our nation, upside down. Injustice, death, destruction, pain, violence, protests, and riots have made it clear — we as a nation are not OK. We are not healthy. The violent death of George Floyd in police custody is yet another example of a systemic problem we have yet to solve. A cancer we are failing to cut out. People and communities are suffering, lives are being lost and futures are being destroyed.

Growing up, I never personally experienced harassment from the police, but I knew there were issues and I saw situations where people of color were not given the same benefit of the doubt and the same respect that was afforded to others.

When will this terrible cycle end? When will love and respect for our fellow man replace hatred and injustice? When will healing come?

Sadly, this is not new territory for our America. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. resonate as clearly today as when he first uttered them in a speech titled “The Other America,” given over 50 years ago.

So I will continue to condemn riots and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”

“ … And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”

We are not listening to one another. Our winter of delay continues to result in cold hearts and lifeless bodies. The language of the unheard has broken the silence and our willful deafness has led to death and destruction. While our nation has struggled under the weight of a biological pandemic we also find our communities ravaged by the insidious disease of injustice.

People of color across this nation are screaming to be heard.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Larry Fitzgerald Jr