Real change will take commitment, patience

Dear Black Lives Matter,

In case you’re interested, here’s where you lost my support.  Brief bio — I’m a native North-sider, graduate of Patrick Henry HS and grew up on and around W. Broadway.  I eat at Breaking Bread more than I should.  I sell homes for a living and proudly promote the amenities of NOMI.  I care deeply about the neighborhood and want to lend support towards halting the decay and despair moving faster than ever.

Jamar Clark did NOT deserve to die at the hands of the police — period.  He may or may not have been intending to hurt someone but perhaps wasn’t a lethal threat. Let’s agree that we don’t know if the officer felt his life was in danger.  We do know Jamar was making life miserable for at least one young woman and there’s little evidence he was known for contributing in positive ways to his neighbors and community.  It seems those around him felt threatened since they requested the police and medical assistance that led to his death. For you to elevate him as your “cause” does injustice to so many in the community who ARE ignored while working for positive change.  Simply scapegoating the Minneapolis Police Department as the enemy does nothing to stem the seemingly endless violence that occurs. The shooting of Jamar Clark by a police officer is a symptom, not the real problem.

BLM leaders and participants seem willing to overlook the ongoing violence in the community, mostly perpetrated by young black men targeting other young black men. The “gangsters and players” seem to have one thing in common, lack of employment. Simply calling for more jobs overlooks that many “bad actors” come from dysfunctional households that have gone for generations without a wage earner. Often times they lack the academic skills necessary to gain employment having dropped out or not participating in schooling. Obviously, centuries of racial discrimination have left scars.

BLM ignores the toughest problems in favor of vilifying those they see as oppressors. Only reinforcing mistrust of outside authority and overlooking dysfunctional troublemakers within the community allows them to continue to offend and drag others down with them. Instead, BLM could partner with Latinos, Muslims and others who are overcoming similar oppression to find common ground and potential solutions.  I’m an old dope fiend and drunk, I know a little about redemption and it can only begin when the real problem is identified.  Understand this — even if the offending police officers and any others identified by BLM as villains all go to jail tomorrow it’s not likely to increase employment and stability while decreasing crime in NOMI.  BLM needs to admit this and determine a different course of action than melodramatic protests.

Hope comes in the form of community and business leaders who share a social mission aimed at preventing at risk youth from beginning the downward spiral. Organizations like Breaking Bread – Appetite for Change, Cookie Cart and others are working hard to teach job skills that provide an advantage and provide a path for achieving success. The time and effort necessary to intervene, teach, coach and support success is enormous and requires a lengthy and often anonymous involvement.          

There are rarely news cameras rolling, no sound bites being reported and no chanting crowd stressing the leader’s importance.  These programs are staffed by employees and volunteers who recognize and confront the very real obstacles faced by their charges, they endeavor to direct participants through the process and mourn those who stumble but are ready to pick them up repeatedly as long as there’s hope.  I’ve watched BLM and other flamboyant groups disappear when the lights go off and the heavy lifting begins and they seem to be heading that way again.  I think of the progress that could be made if EVERY one of the marchers, protesters and those encamped in front of the 4th precinct instead spent their time mentoring someone at risk of dropping out or taught someone how to resolve problems peacefully. This is where you lost me BLM. I’m going in the direction of assisting individuals make small, day-by-day changes in their lives rather than demanding unrealistic and unsustainable changes from others.

Kevin Smith
Loring Park