COMMUNITY VOICES | I am not Terrance Franklin

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Terrance Franklin is dead and the officer who killed him is unlikely to even face discipline. These are the profound realities that carry different, often divergent, meaning for different people in our society.

Many people in my acquaintance can calmly characterize this death as just another chapter, albeit tragic, of the age old tale of law and order. Yes, some can calmly presume that it was necessary to shoot an unarmed man in the back ofthe skull multiple times. An unavoidable killing despite the presence of overwhelming numbers of armed police officers and a police dog actively restraining the suspect. Upon further review, the calm, trusting perspective of this incident seems a bit untenable.

So, why do so many people trust the dutifully reported, but detail-deficient, explanations offered by the police department? Perhaps I should not throw stones, because long ago a younger me was one of that population that would answer the above question with, “Why not?” It is an easy answer, an easy reaction, if you live in Mendota Heights. Militant police task forces do not break down doors on my street. In my neighborhood, vehicles are not stopped on pretense and young men are not harassed.

But, the real difference is that police will recognize me as a middle aged, overweight, white guy with a trusting demeanor and the remnant of a quaint northern Minnesota accent. Upon recently hearing the chants of protesters, I have been struck by the obvious – I am not Trayvon Martin, or Terrance Franklin, or Fong Lee. 

Psychologists say that people naturally tend to more readily trust those who are part of their perceived social group and distrust those who are not. Itmight seem that I am at least loosely tied to those who run our economy and govern. Guess that means people like me might be more willing to trust authorities, including police officers who shoot suspects in the back of the head. Yet, somehow, I have managed to imagine that the officer, who was proven a liar about the circumstances of a previous excessive force incident (see StarTribune, 6/30/13) , might also be lying about the details of Franklin’s killing. Sadly, too many people are suspending disbelief and clinging to a comfortable trust in the police department that killed Franklin. At this point, it is a willful ignorance.

At times like this the public’s most base instincts are bound to be exploited by those who benefit from dividing us. But, the spell can be broken and, if we choose it, communities can unite. God bless those who are fighting to do this. They might indeed win justice, but the real and fitting memorial will be unity.

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