In memory of Thurman Blevins
It has been reported that I am the first openly Transgender woman to run for the U.S. House of Representatives back in 2014. I am the first openly transgender woman in the state of Minnesota to be endorsed by a major party. This weekend I marched in the Minneapolis Pride Parade in celebration of the LGBTQ community. I am proud of the progress we have made. Yet, I remain conflicted about the enormousness separation of wealth and privilege that continues to plague our society. I can readily reflect on my own experiences of isolation, threats, prejudice, and persecution from police and the courts. I do so, not to compare my own experience with that of other marginalized communities but to emphasize a need to understand the cause of individual communities: to understand the intersection and find common purpose.
There is a hazard in trying to build coalition by erasing individual identities for the appearance of common purpose. That is the fallacy of nation-building: assimilating communities and deciding who shall be part of the protected community and who represents a disadvantage or threat to that community. The LGBTQ community struggles with the same gender equity issues that plague our society at large. The issues of the gay men are not the same for the lesbian community and neither is the same for the transgender community which intersects both genders. The issues of sexuality are not the same as the issues of gender.
It is equally hazardous to erase the individual struggles of other marginalized communities under the banner of People of Color. The issues of Mexican border immigration are not the same for descendants of the Atlantic slave trade. They are not the same for immigrants and war refugees of other nations torn by American imperialism. They are not the same for Jewish populations conflicted by a government that supports both Zionism and anti-antisemitism. They are not the same for Muslim populations persecuted primarily for their religious beliefs. This list is not exhaustive. It is only the communities where I have had significant engagement.
So I return to the issue of common purpose. I ran my first campaign in 2014 on the heels of the historic Minnesota Vote No campaign: the struggle for same-sex marriage. Even as I worked hard for it and celebrated its passage, I remained conflicted about the true significance of a reform that granted a great privilege to some but failed to address the enormous injustice of a government ordinance over family values. At the time of the marriage debate, I myself was engaged in a struggle with the family court to protect the rights of my son to be with a transgender parent. I am fully cognizant of the abuses of our foster care system, foreign adoptions, and the separation of indigenous families and immigrants at our southern border. I am fully aware of the abuses of the Violence Against Women Act, claiming to protect women while failing to protect the most vulnerable, fully protect the rights of children, and address the fundamental causes of sexual violence and domestic abuse. We have empowered, police, prosecutors, judges, and lawyers; even ICE, the DEA, and border patrol, but we have not empowered the people who are supposedly served by these institutions. As a nation, we have given up our humanity in favor of the rule of law. We have forgotten who makes the laws and how indiscriminately those laws are enforced. That issue of indiscriminate enforcement is exactly why “All Lives Matter” is an irrelevant retort to the issue of “Black Lives Matter”. Without equal protection under the law, there is no law. Without proper review of the law, there is no order. Therein lies the common purpose of all marginalized communities. It is meaningless to have equal rights if we do not have equal protection under the law and the institutions that enforce the law.
Police have become the focus for the failures of our criminal justice system. Police are on the front lines, enforcing that system of racial and ethnic disparity. They do have a role to play in addressing the bias within their own community and ensuring their own integrity. They can not be held blameless by any measure of quality for the services they do provide. Still, they are only the face of a much deeper issue.
On Saturday, I was in Winona to speak at a protest against the separation of children from their families at the Mexican border. There is no justification for this blatant display of inhumanity. We are a nation of immigrants and many of our ancestors came here for the same reasons: to escape war, persecution, and famine. The cause of this immigration can easily be traced to American drug enforcement policies and the global inequality of wealth. It is again reflective of a governing class that seeks wealth and power over social accountability. It is not an issue of law; it is a failure of leadership.
In the evening of Saturday, June 23rd, 2018, I received reports of another police shooting of a young black man in the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thirty-year-old Thurman Blevins was shot and killed by Minneapolis police. Whatever “the law” decides, there is absolutely no justification for this blatant display of inhumanity. Sunday morning I am at the staging area for the Pride parade. The parade is delayed for over an hour because of a protest against police brutality. I reflect on the first pride parade nearly 40 years ago with 50 people, half of whom marched and the other half who remained behind to support the marchers and bail them out of jail. I am reminded that Pride originated as a protest against police brutality and I am recognizing what it has become: a corporate sponsored celebration of individual expression. I am realizing how little we have impacted the systemic systems of oppression and wealth inequality.
After the Pride Parade, at 4 PM, I am at the Minneapolis fourth Police precinct examining just how little progress we’ve made on major social justice issues. At 7 PM, I am at the vigil in North Minneapolis where the shooting occurred. I cannot begin to relate to you the depth of human emotion surrounding family and friends and community brought together by such an event: the anger, the emotional pain, and the fear.
There are many politicians there. I have heard the promises they have made to this community. I understand the lack of credibility. The solutions exist. The cost of mass incarceration far exceeds the cost of early intervention and prevention. When police exist primarily to enforce criminal prosecution, they have no role in social intervention and reform. We need entirely new agencies to deal with public health issues of poverty, mental health, drug addition and issues which are not considered victimless: domestic violence, child abuse, sexual violence, and gun violence. What is lacking is the will to implement them. It is evidenced in the promise that they will fix the problem once they are elected. It is a promise this community has heard too many times.
It is a fundamental fallacy, that one must win in order to create change. For the people, we must find common purpose and change the political dialogue. That’s how we win. I am proud to stand against the establishment of wealth and power. I am proud to see myself as a member of all marginalized communities, even as we have yet to realize our common purpose and stand together for a shared vision of liberty and justice for all.