Black Lives Matter (BLM), among other things, has been categorized both locally and nationally by some as weakening policing, especially in high crime neighborhoods. The MSR in separate interviews spoke to both a BLM critic and a BLM member. Following is excerpts of the two conversations.
Solution: BLM continues history of Black protest
Lena Gardner, like her parents, is a Twin Cities native. She has also been a Black Lives Matter (BLM) Minneapolis member almost from its inception.
“People say a lot of things about us that are just wrong,” explained Gardner as she talked with the MSR at a local North Minneapolis eatery. “We have 23 guiding principles. They are really important things and they have grounded me. You can find them on the [national] website [blacklivesmatter.com].”
Those principles include dignity; respecting the differences and commonality of others; working for “freedom of Black people and, by extension, all people”; being “unapologetically Black” in demands; and having respect for all people of all ages, genders and lifestyles. Gardner admits that she often refers back to these principles for guidance whenever dealing with an issue.
“We’re working on issues that are not new to the Black community,” explained Gardner. “We’re working in collaboration with a lot of different groups formed under the umbrella ‘The Movement for Black Lives,’” she said, adding that BLM Minneapolis is a continuation of past protest movements by Blacks.
“I have always appreciated my elders,” said Gardner. “I appreciated hearing stories in my family on how they fought.” She also said she has “a gift of defiance” from her late father.
“We have been at it for nearly two years in Minneapolis,” she said of BLM. “We are not brainwashing folk. I really challenge folk to [read] our guiding principles to see how deeply we value Black life. That is not to say we don’t value other people’s lives.”
When asked to comment on Katherine Kersten of The Center of the American Experiment’s last August commentary on BLM, Gardner noted that she didn’t take it too seriously after reading it, but flatly denied that she and BLM are anti-police.
“We are pro-Black people, pro-Black life and the sanctity of Black life. To cast us in that light [against the police], when people say that, that lets me know two things: one, they don’t understand what we are about, and [two] that they don’t fully understand that there is something wrong with the police… We know as a society, we know that police don’t harass [Whites] in the same way they do Black people.”
In response to the “Black-on-Black crime” reference that Kersten and others often use: “It came from White folk and not out of the Black community. We know that it is not unique to Black culture — all races commit crimes against each other. That tendency is intensified when you are struggling for education and jobs and health care.
“If you’re Black in America, it’s a struggle every day. I consistently try to keep encouraging people to keep looking at what is underneath that and where is that focus in trying to fix those problems rather than focus on the cause of the problem.”
Gardner added that criticism of BLM, especially from some Black folk, concerns her as well: “Yes, sometimes it bothers me and sometimes it hurts. There are way too many Black folk in the community that haven’t reached out to us and found out what we are really about. They are trusting the word of this White media, who almost always get it wrong rather than getting to know us.”
Calling BLM “a terrorist group” is flatly wrong, she said. Such arguments only “illegalize what we are doing and [are] mislabeling to keep us from what we are doing,” stressed Gardner. “Terrorists take life and do not value life. They are inherently not calling for a de-escalation of policing or stopping it. Since the inception of the Black Lives Matter network there only has been a call to end ‘in-state’ violence, and we remain committed to that cause.”
Gardner, however, won’t apologize for BLM protests. “The fact that people see our tactics as inconveniencing people and interrupting capital flow [to be] terrorism, I think those things are done to get attention. People have been doing this work for many, many years through the ‘right’ way, and where has that gotten us?
“Disrupting capital and traffic, attacking systems and not an attack on life, we are in fact standing up for life, for Black life in particular. You have to be creative and go outside the normal channels if you want to be heard. No, we are not terrorists. We are affirmers of life, Black life. I would say this movement is life-giving.”
Gardner is fully aware that BLM unfortunately has widened a generation gap in the Black community. “I was raised to respect our elders, and sometimes I am challenged by them,” she pointed out, adding that she also is concerned especially when older churchgoing Blacks express their feelings that younger Blacks don’t know the history of activism by the Black church.
“I will say that here in Minneapolis there are some Black church leaders who have stepped up and [are] willing to grapple with this,” while some young Blacks aren’t willing to accept the same old ways, she noted.
Gardner would rather focus on what is hurting Blacks than what some in the Black church feel about the young people and their protesting. “There is something wrong, and that has to change.”
But when asked what she would do if she had the opportunity to work with civic leaders such as Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Police Chief Janee Harteau to change things in Minneapolis, Gardner replied, “A lot of their proposals are too little, too late, and [they] don’t have real accountability in place. We will continue to advocate for policies and solutions.”
Gardner said that despite criticism and false claims by some, she is committed to change both locally and nationally. “We are not waiting for permission. If you’re with us, you’re with us. If you are not with us, don’t stand in our way. How do we wrestle with all of that — trying to explain differences of opinion within the Black community [without pitting] them against each other?
“We are such a small [Black] community in the Twin Cities. I’d like us to come together in a new way.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Related content: Black Lives Matter: problem or solution? A critic sounds off
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org