Column: ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an expression of shared humanity

Black Lives Matter has often been unfairly characterized as a radical or divisive movement, but its demands for equal justice are something all Americans can, and should, get behind.

Protesters hold a banner advocating for justice for George Floyd during a Black Lives Matter gathering at the Hennepin County Government Center on Thursday, June 11. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

MINNEAPOLIS — While the riots may have fizzled out, peaceful protests in all 50 states and more than 18 countries continue to mount, only gaining strength and numbers across the globe as the rallying cry of George Floyd’s death continues to echo.

If you asked many of those participating, they might say it’s only natural that a nation’s desire for justice reaches such a fever pitch when it’s been written off and swept aside, over and over again, for decades — or, for our African American communities, more than four centuries.

This same animus could be seen on every face among thousands that gathered before the Hennepin County Government Center on Thursday, June 11. They gathered to denounce hundreds of unlawful killings of black people by law enforcement and a commitment to the American birthright that we all, irrespective of community, color or creed, stand equal under the eyes of God.


Thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters march down Marquette Avenue in the heart of Minneapolis on Thursday, June 11. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

“The most important thing we can ever do in a movement is showing up,” Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of Minnesota’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, addressed the gathering. “Showing up and continuously showing up and demanding justice, demanding real change now. Minnesota, we have an opportunity to lead this nation for true change.”

Leslie Redmond, the president of the Minnesota NAACP, pointed to the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin as a microcosm of toxic race relations between black communities and the state of Minnesota, particularly in law enforcement interactions.

“Officer Chauvin, he was the one who had his knee on the neck of George Floyd, just like Minnesota has had their knees on the neck of black bodies for far too long,” Redmond said in her speech. “And Officer Chauvin, he failed those other three officers who were in training. And those other three officers, they failed George Floyd, because at any moment, any of them could have stood up and stood on the moral authority that we all have and said, ‘Enough is enough.’ Brother George might still be alive today.”

Black Lives Matter protesters march through central Minneapolis in a peaceful demonstration against police brutality and for equal justice under the law. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

Sumuya Aden — the younger sister of Isak Aden, an engineering student who was killed by police officers in Eagan last year — said law enforcement agencies often engage in character assassinations as cover for extrajudicial killings, noting they painted her brother as a criminal for a record of paid parking tickets. The character of black people killed by police with impunity is immaterial, she said, as it isn’t law enforcement’s role to bypass due process and dole out verdicts of their own.


“Stop this selective rage. There is no crime in the state of Minnesota that warrants a death penalty. We do not have the death penalty,” Aden said in her address. “Cops do not need to be judge, jury and executioner.”

Hussein, Redmond and Aden were among a host of speakers who addressed the crowd — people who arrived in Minneapolis from all walks of life and backgrounds. Make no mistake, these aren’t the opportunistic looters so many are wrongfully fixated upon, nor is this an isolated group of people who have an ax to grind with local cops — this is a multiracial, multigenerational, multi-class coalition, it’s coalescing in numbers unseen since the 1960s, and it’s here to stay.

Activists Sametta Hill and Michael Nelson pose with a sign for George Floyd at a Black Lives Matter protest before the Hennepin County Government Center on Thursday, June 11. Hill said there will be no true progress for African Americans until black people are able to own and operate more businesses of their own, while Nelson extolled the values of mental health care for law enforcement officers. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

“This has never happened before,” activist Sametta Hill told me. “This is a new Civil Rights movement.”

When this iteration of Black Lives Matter poured into Marquette Avenue to peacefully demonstrate for justice, it manifested in every conceivable human form by the thousands. Walking through the crowd, talking with them, as I did, it was readily apparent.

There were people of all races and colors. Men. Women. Christians. Muslims. Buddhists. Atheists. Hindus. Jews. There were fresh-faced children and old folks with crinkled smiles. There were straight people, gay people, nonbinary people, transgender people and every facet of the rainbow. There were liberals, socialists, anarchists, apoliticals and conservatives. There were working-class union stiffs, white-collar business moguls and members of the academic intelligentsia. There were optimists, pessimists, realists and hopeless romantics.

And, with one voice, their demands for justice rang from every panel of glass, every beam of steel and every brick of stone in the heart of Minneapolis.


And when I tripped and fell — apparently, I need some practice when it comes to filming while walking backward — you can bet five or six of them immediately dropped what they were doing, rushed over, and helped me up, saying, “Woah there, brother!” or “Are you OK?”

Throngs of Black Lives Matter protesters file down Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis on Thursday, June 11. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

That isn’t to say this was all sunshine and roses. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of anger and justifiably so. I’ve often seen the Black Lives Matter movement demonized as something “radical” and “anti-American.” I’ll admit this has always perplexed me. What is more American than to say all Americans should be treated equally and fairly by the law? And in what universe is it radical to demand our law enforcement officers be held to the same standard they enforce upon us?

For all the dangerous cultural stereotypes of being loud and angry, I’ve been impressed throughout my life by how serene, patient and long-suffering these black communities can be. This, even during moments when it’s clear that, no, often society does not listen to their concerns and, no, when push comes to shove, their lives often do not matter. I saw this again in the heart of the Twin Cities metro.

Even while hearts were heavy, with the names of Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, George Floyd and other victims on their lips, protesters like Michael Nelson were looking at the issue through a lens of compassion and understanding. Prosecute the officers involved to the highest level, yes, he told me, but there should be more done to ensure the mental well-being of law enforcement officers and that burdens aren’t needlessly being dumped upon them.

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson speaks out during a Black Lives Matter protest and march before the Hennepin County Government Center on Thursday, June 11. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch


“As police officers, they’re humans just like us,” Nelson told me. “They might be of the law, but they go through things just like us. … Before they come out into society to protect and serve, they need to be examined, helped, so they don’t take a bad day, a lot of pain and suffering they’re going through, out on somebody else.”

And there’s a great deal of truth in that, isn’t there? When we lose sight of it, that is when society falls short. That for all the trappings of black lives and blue lives, cops and people of color alike, at the end of the day, we are all merely human.

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .

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