Letter from Rev. Meg Riley, Sr. Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship

TRUU Members and Friends –

This Sunday will be my last time in the TRUU pulpit. I will write one more newsletter article next week. In the meantime, I want to share the words below, from my colleague, the Rev. Meg Riley. She is the Sr. Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, a congregation without walls that serves UU’s all over the world and those who are incarcerated. She, too, lives in Minneapolis and shares her perspective below on racism in America.

-Rev. Laurie

Hi Friends,

It’s been quite a week in my hometown of Minneapolis, and indeed in every city in the US. Last week, when it was time to write this column, I was too stunned and horrified about George Floyd’s murder on a street corner, I know well, to find words. I shared instead (with permission, always!) the words of Dr. Elias Ortega.

Unity Church in St. Paul sells bumper stickers that say, “It’s complicated.” What I want to say today is complicated, and I hope you will bear with me as I fumble through it.

Many people have said many things much wiser than I will. I hope you are following the posts of Black leaders wherever you are, and nationally. More to the point, if you are white, I hope you believe what Black people say about what is happening and what needs to happen. I understand all too well, because those white supremacy systems are deep within me also, how easy it is to discount Black and brown voices as if they are somehow biased and we, the white people, are objective and can see more clearly. That’s what we’ve been taught. Undoing that lie, which affects everything we think we see and know, is a profoundly liberating experience. Still, it’s one we have to work at every single day. May the truth set us free.

In Minneapolis, it’s complicated. While most of the arrests are of local people, some of the fires that were set were done by people well trained in destruction, not random community activists. Footage shows that the first windows broken were by a white man, rumored to be a police officer, despite being told by Black people not to do it.

The city has been crawling with large black trucks with tinted windows and no license plates, driven by white men, some of whom have shot at Black people. People of color own many of the places that are destroyed, immigrants, queer people. White supremacist influences, both within the police and not, are definitely at play. And yet the rage of the community is also palpable and has been expressed physically. Years and years of abuse, injury, and murder, live within people’s bodies and psyches.

One painful gift of the time we are in now is that, with the Oval Office Occupant declaring war on the media, his footsoldiers have been assaulting every kind of reporter on national TVMuch of it has been photographed live.

This experience of violence, I hope, may lead reporters to conclude that Black people and other protestors have been telling the truth all this time when they said the police assaulted them without provocation. In the past, the white media has been incredibly complicit in white supremacy culture, quoting police as if they always tell the truth and protestors as if they are biased. In Minneapolis, they have repeatedly cited the expertise of the police union leader, Bob Kroll, without naming his very radical white supremacist biases. Perhaps this personal experience of irresponsible violence at the hands of police will lead to a change in the story we are telling as a country about who are the ‘good guys’ and who are the ‘bad guys.’

And of course, it’s never that simple: Good guys and bad guys. Our police chief in Minneapolis, for instance, I would put in the category of ‘good guys.’ It’s the system, not the individuals, that is rotten. It’s not bad apples; it is a rotten orchard. The soil, the seeds that planted the trees, thee trees. The whole damn system is guilty as hell, as the street activists chant.

What I can see that gives me the heart to continue around here is that things are moving. Local activism has been incredible, reminding me why I love this city with all its problems. The Minneapolis School System voted to stop having cops in them, something youth has been advocating for years.

The University of Minnesota has said they won’t use the MPD for sporting events anymore.

The State of Minnesota has filed civil rights charges against the MPD.

And the on-the-ground activism has been incredible, reminding me why I love this city with all its problems. Activists turned an abandoned hotel into housing for homeless people.

People have been feeding those left without access to grocery stores and restaurants.

Street patrols by the American Indian Movement led to the protection of businesses and people.

As you discern steps to take where you are, ways to move forward, may the complexities of the situation not cause you to give up. Believe and support leadership by Black people, Indigenous people, people of color. Do what you can where you are.