I am not qualified to tell the story of what is happening in Minneapolis right now. So what if I’ve lived here for over twenty years? So what if I’ve witnesses police brutality firsthand? So what if I’ve heard accounts from all over the city? So what if some of my fondest memories take place in buildings that are now rubble? So what if I have eyes on the ground? I am a storyteller AND I am not qualified to tell this story.
No one is. Sure we can share our experiences. Our anecdotes can give you a window into what is happening, but a story, a plot driven tale, functions differently.
Writers have a tendency to depict historical events in three acts. Act 1 – George Floyd is murdered by the police and everyone’s routine is broken. Act 2 –People want justice and demonstration spread from Minneapolis to throughout the nation. There are lootings, fires. Outside agents take advantage of the chaos. Peaceful demonstrators get caught up in violent skirmishes with the militarized police forces. Act 3- The murderous police officers are jailed. Sane and sober minded citizens volunteer to sweep the streets, they run food drives, and crowdfund their local businesses. They dismantle systems of oppression and rebuild something stronger. Something that includes everyone.
Isn’t that a lovely story? It’s easy to follow. It has clear good guys and bad guys. And best of all it has an ENDING.
Don’t be swayed by this narrative. It’s false. Why? Because it follows a narrative structure. Like a movie it starts late, has a narrow scope, and ends far too early.
Minneapolis is not Gotham City and Commissioner Gordon is not going to quote Charles Dickens over sweeping shots of panoramic skylines.
Things were not. Are not. And will not be that simple.
Comedian Hannah Gadsby once said comedy is the business of creating then puncturing tension. A joke ends as soon as the comedian can relieve tension and get a laugh, not when the actual events in the joke end. Stories function in much the same way. Act 1 creates the tension. Act 2 tips the scales from hope to dread. And Act 3 relieves the tension.
This is not a story. Even after the smoke clears the tension will remain. For some that tension will turn malignant. It will take roots in their soul and they will learn the wrong lessons. For some that tension will turn to introspection. They may resent it, at first, but the contemplation will lead to gradual changes from within.
Far too many people will lose the plot completely. The emotional baggage will become too much to bear and when another injustice happens they will turn away, because they have the luxury of choosing where they place their attention.
When people say, “I thought we were past this.” It’s because they thought the Eric Garner story was over and they stopped paying attention. The Michael Brown story isn’t over. The Sandra Bland story isn’t over. The Philando Castile story isn’t over.
And the George Floyd story doesn’t end with the prosecution of Derek Chauvin, or Thomas K. Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng. It doesn’t end with convictions or with the ousting of MPD Federation President Bob Kroll. It doesn’t end with governmental aid, sweeping police reforms, and policies that reduce income equality. It doesn’t end with a blue wave across the country or with democrat in the White House.
Because it’s not a story. It. Doesn’t. End.
A lifetime of consuming stories has wired us to think in threes, but reality doesn’t work like that. Real change requires us to think outside of the narrative. It requires us to reject premature resolutions. It won’t be long before the news distills all this down to a thirty second montage of George Floyd’s murder, heated demonstrations, and community cleanup. Three neat little acts. A relief of tension. A happy ending. An easy out for anyone who wants to stop paying attention.
Don’t fall for it.