One night during the late hours in my late 20’s, I was driving down Snelling Ave in St Paul. I then noticed a cop car that was driving on the opposite side of the street quickly made a U-turn and got behind my car. Seconds later their lights went on and I was instructed to pull over. I sat in my car waiting for the cop(s) to approach me; fear, concern and anxiety took over my body. I had no idea why was I being pulled over, but also wondering if the officer would be one of the “good cops.” As I rolled down my window, he asked if I was Raynardo Williams. I replied yes. He then asked me to step out of the car. To my surprise two more cops cars were pulling up. Still confused by all of this, I was asked to turn around and he proceeded to place handcuffs on me. When asked what this was about he told me to hold tight and he would explain. That night I wasn’t taken to jail, but I was pulled over and put in hand-cuffs, because “I fit the description.” So often black and brown folks “fit the description.”
As I share this memory with you, I also shed tears while the words “I can’t breathe” permeate my mind.
The death of Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Sandra Bland and George Floyd, (along with many others) is a consistent reminder that the lives of black and brown people are too often ended by the hands of police officers throughout the United States.
My own fear and safety has always been a concern. I don’t have the privilege of forgetting that I am a Black Male in the United States. I’ve been conditioned to keep this as the reality at the forefront of my mind. As with so many other of our black and brown co-workers, friends, neighbors and community members this fear occupies so much of our conscious space. It is not fair. When we see a police officer or blue lights in the rear view mirror, we do not see help or feel relief. We think that we could die in the hands of those that are paid to protect me and my community.
The “structural” systems throughout the United States are a double edge sword. I have personally advanced in a system that allows for racism, inequitable treatment and dehumanization of people who look like me. Yet I am not an exception. I am a survivor. I work in a business that has the values of democracy, equity and inclusion at its core. Yet it is a struggle within co-op spaces to find a place of solace.
Despite our best efforts, there is more work to do at our co-op. We must provide safe conditions for staff and community. We must feed our community. There are so many mandates, but no perfect road map or plan to address them.
As I reflect on the pathway forward, I believe there is a need for deeper community action and cooperation. Now more than ever we need to work together and show support for one another. We can all do this by:
- Checking in with our co-workers, friends, neighbors- especially those in black and brown bodies
- Check and acknowledge your own privilege
- Ask what support is needed instead of assuming
- Practice self-care
- Take more responsibility and find a role that ensures our community’s access to food. Our community needs us – we are essential.
The pain our communities have felt over this past week due to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) has impacted each of us in different ways. These events have caused me to reflect on interactions that I have had with police officers in the past. I hope that my transparency and vulnerability will shed further light on how myself and other black and brown staff may be feeling during this time.
We are Seward Co-op Strong!
Black Lives Matter!
Raynardo Williams, Seward Community Co-op, Operations Manager