The Rev. Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, a Collegeville Institute alumna, wrote the following reflection this week after Daunte Wright was killed by police during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, a northern suburb of Minneapolis. Wright’s mother told the press that her son was pulled over for having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror. Andrea joined a group of interfaith clergy in front of the Brooklyn Center police station on the evening of Thursday, April 15. This reflection was originally posted on Facebook.
I was in Brooklyn Center last night, in front of the police department.
The entire block smells like air fresheners.
They’re dangling from the chain link fence on top of the cement barriers that the Brooklyn Center police put up around their precinct building. You know, to protect the people’s property from the people they’re paid to protect. If that sounds backwards to you, well. Here we are.
Soldiers from the National Guard stand behind that fence, feet planted, chests out. They wear bullet-proof vests and helmets and combat boots. They have complicated, military-grade weapons – guns and canisters and plexiglass shields. Also, they have big sticks.
Big sticks are not complicated at all.
These soldiers are dressed for war. They literally arrive in tanks. And if you stand at the fence facing them, you could be forgiven for thinking that on the other side of the fence, behind you, must be real danger, but listen.
On the other side of the fence are the people. The people are armed with carboard signs and bullhorns and words and songs and grief and rage, and those little milk cartons you get with school lunch, to rinse the tear gas out of their eyes.
Someone is handing out umbrellas.
Milk and umbrellas, against a military-grade weapon that has been banned for use in warfare by the U.N. since the Geneva Protocol of 1925.
Protect and Serve is a nice motto, isn’t it?
Someone else walks through the crowd with a cooler, offering hot burritos wrapped in tinfoil to anyone who puts their hand out. (You always bring food to the grieving, you know this, yes? Food, always. Milk and umbrellas, only sometimes.)
Music is playing on the lawn in the back. Tables are set up with more food in big trays, and diapers and groceries for the taking. The balconies above are filled with plastic chairs and children’s toys.
There is no tear gas in the air yet, and so it smells like air fresheners. The soldiers look ridiculous. They are overdressed for this funeral, for this community gathered to grieve and rage and speak the name of Daunte Wright. They are overdressed for the words from these community leaders. They are overdressed for this level of raw emotion. They are overdressed for all the singing. They are overdressed for burritos wrapped in tinfoil.
I cannot even begin to express how overdressed they are for little cartons of milk.
They look as if they got their costumes wrong, like they wanted to play a game of cops and robbers but they took on both roles at once, which I suppose is true – they’re the cops, and they’re the ones who rob the people of one of their own, over and over and over again.
There is not enough room left on the cardboard signs for all the names, y’all. And we have never, ever made enough space for all this grief.