Dan Crapo took his sons, Zeke and Nate, to help clean up the mess from a riot that took place the night before in southern Minneapolis.
On the way there, they drove by buildings still smoldering from fires and showing gaps where walls had caved in and windows had been smashed. Graffiti scarred some structures; people milled about in places.
It was a solemn ride as Crapo, a CRC hospice chaplain, tried to explain to his sons why their city had erupted in violence after a white police officer — on the night of May 25, Memorial Day — had knelt on the neck of a black man named George Floyd.
The police officer, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee planted for nearly nine minutes, and in the process, according to a criminal complaint charging Chauvin with third-degree murder, killed Floyd. Three other Minneapolis police officers were also on the scene.
Wearing masks to protect themselves from the COVID-19 virus, Crapo and his sons arrived near the area where Floyd had been killed and began, along with many others, sweeping up debris.
Police say they sought to talk to Floyd because they believed he had tried to pass counterfeit money in a nearby store. Today, a large memorial of flowers encircles the area where Floyd died — a death chronicled on cell-phone and security cameras and now shown countless times to people around the world.
“What happened there is just awful,” said Crapo, who works for the Mayo Clinic health system, visiting hospice patients in rural areas outside Minneapolis.
“The video footage showing what happened is horrific. The brutality perpetuated on black men is real,” he said, and watching the police officer kneel on the neck of Floyd is a stark, unrelenting example of that brutality.
That video footage and the unmistakably metaphorical image of a white police officer impassively kneeling on the neck of a black man have been so powerful that they have led to riots and violence and protests in cities across the U.S. and Canada in recent days.
“We hope this will be a moment in which those who feel that someone has his foot on their neck can scream out, ‘Please lift it off — so I can breathe and participate in the full democracy of the U.S.,’” said Rev. Reggie Smith, the CRC’s director of diversity.
Smith attended a protest march on Saturday evening in Grand Rapids, Mich., that grew violent in the hours after he and his family and others left for home.
“This is a moment in which our souls need to be redeemed,” said Smith. “This is a time when the church needs to be the church — a time when the church needs to be about courageous participation in freeing us from the stuff that is killing us.”
In a blog post on The Network and shared with CRCNA employees, Colin Watson, Sr., acting executive director of the CRC in North America, addressed this issue, explaining that it is a problem that has simmered and boiled, simmered again and then boiled again for hundreds of years in the United States.
“The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by four police officers sparked many days of unrest and outrage, not only in Minneapolis but in cities around the country. Though some are shocked by this reaction, none of us should be surprised. As Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us more than 50 years ago, ‘a riot is the language of the unheard,’” he wrote.
Watson went on: “America is a society suffering from the infliction of a major head wound. It is a wound that was self-inflicted four hundred years ago through the institution of slavery, and has never healed. It is an issue foundational to America. The black/white, slave/free legacy and current mindset must be dealt with before any peoples can be free in this nation.”
As Dan Crapo cleaned the streets with his sons, he reflected on why people would burn down stores, a police precinct, and libraries in their own neighborhood. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, riots are the result of pain that has no voice or outlet. Even so, explaining this to his sons was not easy, said Crapo.
“Why would people ransack the local Target where their mother goes to get diapers and their grandmother goes to get her medications?” he asked. “Someone told me it is like someone who cuts off his nose to spite his face. Your nose is already broken; you might as well cut off the rest.”
You turn inward; you destroy yourself out of a rage that runs so deep that it is hard to place and even harder to express.
But the issue of racism and its ramifications is not an alien topic for discussion in their home, said Crapo.
He is married to Ruthanne Crapo Kim, who teaches philosophy at Minneapolis Community College and is a member of a racial equity training team that works both in the community college and other settings as well. Kim grew up in Busan, South Korea, and knows firsthand what it feels like to be a person of color in a country run largely by people of one race. Living in the U.S., she has felt the brunt of white privilege — that sense of being empowered simply because you are white — turned against her.
On Saturday, the day Crapo and his sons cleaned up after the riot of the previous night, Kim was taking part in a protest elsewhere in the city.
As a white man, Crapo said he has little firsthand experience of being shunned or mistreated because of his skin color.
And while his wife has shared her own experiences, it is what she has told him about what has happened to her students at the Minneapolis Community College that saddens him the most.
It also makes him angry.
“My wife tells me about students of color who have been stopped dozens of times by the police simply because they are persons of color,” he said. “They are targeted with the crime of driving while black.”
Crapo laments the reality that he failed to join his black friends in calling last week for the city of Minneapolis to arrest Chauvin for murder. But he planned to remedy that this week by joining the chorus of calls for the arrests of the other three officers who were there as Floyd died.
Before becoming a CRC chaplain, Crapo worked as a youth pastor in Indiana and then as a residential coordinator at a high school.
After he and his sons helped clean the streets, they ventured over to the nearby Hope Academy, the Minneapolis Christian school where Zeke and Nate attend classes when the school is open. Crapo and Kim send their sons there because it has a large, multiracial student population.
The school is located in a former hospital; a Christian organization for substance-abuse rehab uses the top floor. Near the school is the Little Earth Native American community, which includes many homeless people and has been the site of protest actions to draw attention to the needs of Native Americans.
After Floyd was killed, the Mayo Clinic held a Zoom meeting at which minority physicians and scientists and others spoke about the challenges they face working in the health system. Among other things, they spoke of the pain they have felt recently as a disproportionate amount of the population contracting and dying from COVID-19 are people of color — perhaps, said Crapo, an underlying reason for the pent-up anger that exploded following the death of Floyd.
But particularly galling for him was to hear participant after participant speak of the many ways in which they have been shoved aside, repressed, and oppressed by the health system for which they work.
Here is a health system, he said, that bills itself as doing a lot of good for a lot of people — and it does. But there are flaws in the system.
“It was eye-opening for me to be reminded how the white power leadership structure doesn’t pay much attention to [people of color]. We heard real stories of how people have experienced racism, and that really choked me up,” said Crapo.
As a Christian, Crapo keeps asking what he can do to help dismantle racism and ease the civil unrest that has swept across his city.
“Certainly we can pray, but we need to learn more about racism and why it exists” — and we need to take non-violent actions in which we stand shoulder to shoulder with black friends, he said. “During this time, we also need to think about the grief that George Floyd’s family is going through — those who will be carrying memories of him” — and especially of what happened to him on that street on Memorial Day 2020 .
At this moment, added Reggie Smith, it is imperative that we realize that police brutality focused on minorities, and especially blacks, will continue unless those in power take a hard, honest look at themselves, and become aware of their own racism and the unwillingness to share the power that they have. Voices of the oppressed will only grow in intensity unless they begin to sense that they are heard and that change is occurring.
"This will continue to happen until America finds the courage to acknowledge its deep-rooted racism and deal with it to dismantle a culture that perpetuates what happened to George Floyd," said Smith.