By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A high-rise building appeared in national news footage of rioting in the Midway area of St. Paul, Minnesota, and I immediately thought of my two long-deceased grandmas. They lived in a newly constructed high-rise in Midway in the late 1970s. Could that have been their home? A landmark towering above previously unimaginable violence?
Rioting erupted and spread in the days following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police, according to news reports and video played repeatedly of Floyd’s excruciating death.
Justified outrage over his death led protesters of all ages and races to the streets of south Minneapolis and across the Mississippi River to St. Paul’s Midway area, where both of my parents grew up. Protestors wanted and demanded justice. Rioters sidled into the crowds with the aim of looting and destroying property.
My parents, who live in a Minneapolis suburb, have strong feelings for the Midway area, which they called home in their formative years and early marriage. Their first two children (my brother Tim and I) were baptized at St. Columba, the church where mom and dad married. One of my mom’s siblings still lives in the Midway area.
Many businesses along Midway’s University Avenue were damaged or destroyed, my mom told me during one of our nightly phone calls. She expressed shock at the breadth and vehemence of the rioting. Destruction of Lloyd’s Pharmacy, a business my mom and her siblings knew well, shattered some fond memories.
My mom and dad understand why Floyd’s brutal death provoked protesters but object to the rioters’ destructiveness, which hijacked the protesters’ cause. Two of my brothers shared similar thoughts in phone calls with me. “It’s hard to see my hometown being destroyed,” one of them said.
On May 29, I attended a “Better Angels” event in Clinton where people from different political spectrums discussed the politicization of the coronavirus pandemic and how to get to the heart of addressing that crisis. After that discussion, someone mentioned the death of Floyd and the protests and riots that followed.
The protesters did the right thing by demanding justice for Floyd and bringing attention to the unresolved issue of racism in our country, I said. However, I felt that rioters’ violent behavior detracted from the protesters’ message. Their vindictiveness would not benefit the cause of people working to overcome injustice.
Another woman at the Better Angels gathering said that sometimes violence is required to bring attention to the issue. I disagree. Violence begets violence. In fact, the rioting has spread from Minnesota to metropolitan areas across the country, including Des Moines and Davenport!
A peaceful protest took place in downtown Davenport on May 30, but a vandal temporarily disrupted the gathering outside the Scott County Courthouse when he threw rocks that damaged several courthouse windows. An altercation also broke out. A heartbroken organizer said that destructive action had no place in a protest focused on justice and peace.
A statement released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) two days before Pentecost calls upon all Catholics “to pray for a supernatural desire to rid ourselves of the harm that bias and prejudice cause.” The bishops ask us “to pray to the Holy Spirit for the Spirit of truth to touch the hearts of all in the United States and to come down upon our criminal justice and law enforcement systems.” Regardless of our ethnicity, we should “beg God to heal our deeply broken view of each other, as well as our deeply broken society” (www.usccb.org).
In the memory of George Floyd and of my grandmothers, I pray to be a channel of God’s peace and to be part of a dialogue on racism.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)