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Nine minutes matters

Nine minutes. Eight minutes and 46 seconds to be more precise. That’s how long it took for a policeman to take a life. That’s how long three others who had sworn to protect and serve turned a blind eye to what was happening even as George Floyd gasped for air saying, “I can’t breathe,” and asking for his mother.

I can’t pretend to know how George Floyd felt on that day or on any other day that he interacted with those who were supposed to protect him and us.

George Floyd may not have been a good guy. He may have been guilty of a crime that day and we know that he had served time in jail before this. But nothing he did that day raised the level of threat to those officers to the point where they needed to use deadly force.

Some days, officers of the law have to make a decision in the blink of an eye whether or not to fire their weapon at a suspect. Those days, they do not have nine minutes to make up their minds how much danger is present. On May 25, those four officers did.

Nine minutes. Nine minutes to divide a nation into us and them. We can let it be blacks vs. whites, cops vs. citizens, Democrats vs. Republicans, racists vs. allies or any other segment we can divide ourselves into. Or we can choose this moment to heal.

There are deep wounds in our country. Racism may not seem as overt to us here in small town Iowa, but we only have to watch our televisions to see that it still exists. I imagine that the minorities among us would say it exists here too.

You may be wondering why I didn’t name my column “Black lives matter” this week. That would have been the obvious choice. But I must confess, I’ve always been a proponent of “All lives matter,” thinking that BLM divides us unneededly, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was just jumping on the bandwagon.

If you know me at all, you know I don’t jump on anything. In fact I often take an agonizingly long time to make up my mind (drives my husband crazy, btw) researching, verifying, going back and forth until I am finally sure.

I still believe that all lives matter, but I’ve realized in recent days that, while true, it is irrelevant to this discussion. The best metaphor I’ve seen for this is a fire truck speeding past houses to get to the one that is on fire. It’s not that those homes don’t matter. They house lives, families, children, but THEY ARE NOT ON FIRE. There is no need for the fire department to stop there while the house that is on fire burns to the ground.

There are important issues surrounding all lives, but right now, the question of racism especially in our police force is on fire. Figuratively and, in some cases, literally.

I will say that I cannot get behind the idea of burning your neighborhood to the ground to make a point, but then again, I’ve never been in a place where the only language left is the language of violence.

I’ve seen comments about children who act out, throwing and breaking things, when they have no words for their anger and how teachers are trained to stand by them and respond with love even in the face of that behavior. But they are also trained to protect the other students. More trauma will not solve the problems caused by the trauma of the past.

I don’t know what the answer is. Somehow we have to find a way to listen before the frustration becomes so intense it leads to violence.

If the citizens of Minneapolis had thought they would be heard, there would be no rioting and looting —

I’m going to pause here for a minute to address the fact that it’s becoming clear some of those rioters are being paid to cause problems. True protesters have stepped in the path to prevent the destruction from overshadowing their message. That is one of the brightest spots I’ve seen out of all of this. But... those trouble makers would have no opportunity if there wasn’t unrest to begin with.

— if there had been a certainty that the officers who committed and watched murder happen would have been charged, if there had been a certainty that other officers would have stepped up to condemn these four, if the color of George Floyd’s skin had not determined his fate that day ... there would be no need to take to the streets.

For the record, I believe that blue lives matter, too. I believe that the majority of our law enforcement care for their communities regardless of color. Some of them have come perilously close to burning their own house down, but others are standing in the gap, risking their lives to help put out the fire. Another bright spot in these demonstrations is the connection good cops are making with those who are just asking for fairness and the trust they are building with each other.

So, what can we do in small town Iowa to help our whole country heal?

First, we have to show that we see and hear those among us who have been pressed down and silenced. We have had a small group of demonstrators standing on the corner near Walmart and on Adams Street. I’ve heard the comment, “They don’t even know what they are protesting for.”

Maybe they don’t. So what. They are willing to stand out in the first heat of the summer to show us they hear the cries of the oppressed. We can stand with them. We can honk as we drive by to let them know we hear them as well. That’s how you grow a generation who cares.

We can speak up when hate is spoken in our presence. That is how we teach a generation to speak up.

We can listen to that generation when they teach us by befriending those who are different from them.

We can celebrate diversity when we see it. Black skin is beautiful, white skin is beautiful, black hair, red hair, purple hair, straight hair, curly hair, large lips, small lips, large hips, small hips. That is how you form a generation who believes differences are a positive thing.

We can be mindful of how we spend our precious time. Several prominent media sources have paused for eight minutes and 46 seconds to say that they stand with those affected by racism.

What can we do with our eight minutes and 46 seconds? It matters.

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