People think I’m so tough, but I cried at work on Thursday.
I didn’t break into the ugly cry, thankfully, but a few tears fell. I was in West Mount Airy, visiting a neighborhood where for the last year, residents have been coming out each night and standing in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, marking how long a murderous Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
Dozens participated each night during the summer of 2020, in the aftermath of the killing of the unarmed Black man. Lately the numbers have been down. Still, at least a handful of residents emerge from their homes just before 8 each evening and walk to the corners at the intersection of Emlen Street and West Mount Airy Avenue for the observance.
The evening I was there last week, something else was afoot that led to even more participants: Twice in less than a week, a Black family had been the target of vandalism. First, someone smashed the windshield of their parked car with a rock. Days later, another rock came crashing through a window on their enclosed front porch.
“An incident like this is unusual in Mt. Airy and is a reminder that there are still people who are unfriendly to anti-racism and that even our peaceful, diverse neighborhood is not insulated from divisiveness, fear and hatred,” Keely McCarthy wrote me in an email.
When I arrived shortly before 8 that night last week, Renell Dupree was standing on a corner just outside her home, where vandals had struck twice over several days.
“I can’t say that we’re afraid,” Dupree, a medical doctor, told me. “Even more, we want to stand and continue the vigil because clearly it is getting a message across. But I have to say I’m definitely shaken up.”
Soon, McCarthy arrived. Others joined us as doors up and down the street began opening and residents emerged, carrying Black Lives Matter signs. Quietly, they assembled at each corner of the intersection, holding their signs aloft. I also spotted people on an outdoor deck near the intersection.
Dupree set a timer and the vigil began. As we stood there, I started thinking about things I hadn’t in a while — like the sight of Derek Chauvin’s defiant expression as he knelt on Floyd’s neck and the protests against police brutality that ensued around the world. Closer to home, I also thought about how shaken the Dupree family were after seeing their car and home vandalized.
I was buoyed, though, by the flood of mostly white residents who streamed out of their homes as a show of force and to push back against what had taken place. They were silent, but it was as if they were saying: “No, not here. We’re not going to stand for this, not in this community.”
It was a simple but also a deeply moving gesture. At a time when so much is dividing us, turning out as they did — and as they keep doing, night after night — was a poignant example of how people need to come together and support each other during difficult times. We need more of this kind of solidarity on all kinds of issues. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t moved. I was.
Thankfully, it was dark, so they couldn’t see my eyes well up.
The 8 minutes and 46 seconds went by quickly. Next, the residents gathered in front of the Duprees’ house to exchange a few words before disappearing back inside their own homes. They had made their point. Some would return the next day and the day after, to take their posts once again and declare with their silent presence that Black lives matter, including those of the African American family that had been targeted by vandals.
If we had more neighborhoods taking stands like this, it would be something worth shedding happy tears about.