When I answered the phone, north Minneapolis activist KG Wilson warned me before our conversation started.
"Anybody knows," he said, "don't call me unless you want the truth!"
I could hear the emotion in his voice as he listed the killings he'd protested over the years in his effort to end Black-on-Black crime in the Twin Cities. He said he's stood alone on quiet street corners to draw attention to the heinous acts that have robbed young Black men and women of their lives. He's also questioned the support for mass protests against police killings of unarmed minorities, an energy that's often missing at his rallies.
"Many people will say, Black Lives Matter only comes out when there is a police-involved shooting," he told me. "But I tell them that's because that's what they do. That's their focus and mission. That's not what I do. I deal with what we don't want to talk about."
That's a discussion that's percolated in the Black community for ages. Have we devoted enough energy toward the always-pressing issue of violence? I respect Wilson's position. He's devoted his time to change.
But I also refuse to engage another element that's grown louder since the protests over the killing of George Floyd: the "What about Black-on-Black crime?" crowd. Recently, a video on the Star Tribune's website featured a conversation between a Minneapolis police officer and a protester at the site of Dolal Idd's deadly encounter with officers, reportedly during an attempted gun sting. "How many homicides?" the officer asked. "You don't protest that. Your city is burning and you don't care about that."
I question the intent of those who employ that rhetoric in these moments.
After each Sunday column, I get e-mails from white readers who prefer I opine about violence in Black communities, absentee fathers, educational challenges and their other long-held talking points to support their negative views of minorities. I ignore them because they're not worth my time or yours. Let me explain.
A real conversation involves two people — or parties — acting in good faith to discuss a comprehensive issue. In these scenarios, however, the individuals are bad actors who prefer to ignore systemic inequities and their effect on communities of color. Their "What about Black-on-Black violence?" mantra isn't a concern. It's a shield. In their collective opinion, Black folks encourage, uphold and commit to values that lead to violence. But they won't converse about the lack of resources and limited opportunities that have a pronounced effect on the acts of violence in Minnesota's Black neighborhoods. It's an impossible and fruitless dialogue.
"We've got to look at the reason why there is a lot of Black-on-Black violence," said DJ Hooker, an organizer with the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, formed after Jamar Clark's killing by Minneapolis police in 2014. "We have to look at the structure that's built so Black people don't get the same opportunities. You haven't provided them with resources to help get them out of this cycle."
I've attended multiple funerals of young Black men felled by gang violence or disputes involving guns. I've seen their families and friends wail from church pews. There is a chorus — a chorus that exists for those entangled in the ongoing violence — of Black people who've done their best to steer them toward more prosperous life choices. Black folks in those communities don't teach those actions. They pray against them.
But a young man or woman with a gun and an intent to use it is 1,000 feet tall in any neighborhood. That's not cultural. That's humanity.
When I was a child in Milwaukee, my parents moved my family north of the city after a neighbor nearly lost his life in a violent assault over a Starter jacket. A family friend got killed for his Jordans. A few years later, it was a 15-year-old cousin. Then, family friends Reggie and Phil. And I remember when my father took my friends and me to Nate's funeral. He didn't live to see his 20th birthday.
The complexities of this issue may never change. But surrendering to attempts to guilt-trip Black people about violence in pockets of the Twin Cities as a deterrent to having larger conversations about systemic problems won't help anyone. The individuals who highlight those hurdles, within that specific context, do not want a resolution, change or progress. Only a fight.
I discussed this with Hooker, who made an important point. Yes, more protests against violence in Black communities can happen, he said, but only with caution, knowing it's imperative to avoid any suggestion that this is an "inherent" or "cultural" problem.
"George Floyd, police brutality — all of this is interconnected," he said. "These are the result of the same system, coming out in different ways."
It's a vital conversation but one that demands honest investors, not those who simply want to deflect.
Toward the end of my discussion with Wilson, the north Minneapolis activist, I asked him a question: "Do I have to choose between protesting murders and shootings and protesting George Floyd's death and other police killings?"
He paused for a moment.
"If you want to do both," he said, "do both."