Before moving to Philadelphia to attend Temple University two summers ago, I spent my life in the Twin Cities, where protests this week erupted to demand justice after the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes.
Prior to studying at Temple, I went to a small performing arts high school in the suburbs west of Minneapolis where I practiced theater. I remember walking into school in May 2017 on the day after news broke that Khaleel Thompson, an 18-year-old black man, was shot more than 18 times by local police after an incident in a park. Khaleel wasn’t another name to me — just months before, he’d been my acting partner in class at school, playing Stanley opposite me as Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.
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That day at school, most of our student body of fewer than 300 sat in the hallways holding “Justice for Khaleel” signs and didn’t attend class. Our teachers and the administration did not punish us — instead, they took pictures and stood with us. Later that week, they marched in suburban streets to protest the shooting alongside us.
The officers involved in Khaleel’s shooting were never charged, and his story and protests never made national news. But even before George Floyd’s death, other protests and incidents of Twin Cities police brutality against black men drew widespread attention. I was in the Twin Cities for the protests after Jamar Clark was shot by police in 2015, after Philando Castile was shot by police in 2016, and after the officers involved in their shootings were announced to face no charges.
But as I watch from Philadelphia this week, as another black man in the Twin Cities is dead after an incident with local police, I see the same high school classmates and teachers who I mourned with after Khaleel, Jamar, and Philando’s shootings. This time, though, the protests have been days long and more intense. The Twin Cities police have been teargassing and shooting rubber bullets at protesters, the governor has deployed the National Guard, many neighborhoods and buildings are burned down, and stores everywhere have been looted. As I write this, I’m seeing video of my favorite bar and music venue on fire.
Even watching from more than 1,000 miles away, things feel different. I didn’t return to my hometown after leaving my dorm at Temple when it closed because of COVID-19 concerns, but instead stayed in Philadelphia with family friends who are from the Twin Cities. We’ve been watching live streams of protest events this week. From the looks of it — the emotional and economic stress of the pandemic, combined with the history of unchecked police brutality against black communities in the city and the indisputable visualizations of this instance — has pushed the city over the edge.
As a white person not currently living in the Twin Cities, I cannot speak for everyone hurting or those most affected by this. But, today, I wish I could be on the ground there to show support.
Watching the neighborhoods I’ve grown up in turn to ashes and be covered in graffiti, I empathize, and remember writing Khaleel’s name along the walls in my old high school building. And in the same way I’m mourning for local Philadelphia stores hurt by COVID-19 city business restrictions, I feel for the local Twin Cities businesses dealing with it too, who now also may be damaged by the protests.
Today, a first step toward justice was announced in Derek Chauvin being arrested and charged with murder. And today, I’m proud of the Twin Cities for not keeping quiet. We can construct new buildings, but we can’t bring people back to life.