31. Who Killed George Floyd? (with Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, Tasha Green Cruzat, T. Mychael Rambo, Roderick Ferguson, Pamela Alexander and Dr. George Woods)

With Guests:

  • Judge Pamela Alexander, a Fourth Judicial District judge for Hennepin County, Minnesota. She began her legal career as a criminal defense attorney with the Legal Rights Center and then moved to the Hennepin County attorney’s office as a prosecutor in the criminal division. Since 1983, she has been a Hennepin County district court judge where she presided over the juvenile division and served as assistant chief judge for the court as a whole.
  • Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, a licensed clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience as a clinician and administrator of mental health programs. Jones Blessman is the founder and former president of the Institute for Psychodiagnostic Interventions and Services—one of only a few minority-owned, private sector psychological service corporations nationwide.
  • Tasha R. Green Cruzat, executive director of Voices for Illinois Children, an independent child advocacy group that champions strong public policies and investments for all Illinois children and their families. A U.S. Navy veteran, she brings more than 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors of education, business and government. Prior to joining Voices, Cruzat first served as deputy chief of staff then chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
  • Dr. Roderick A. Ferguson, professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Yale University. An interdisciplinary scholar, his work traverses such fields as American studies, gender studies, queer studies, cultural studies, African American Studies, sociology, literature and education. Most recently, he is the author of One-Dimensional Queer (Polity, 2019). He is currently working on two monographs—In View of the Tradition: Art and Black Radicalism and The Bookshop of Black Queer Diaspora. Ferguson is the 2020 recipient of the Kessler Award from the Center for LGBTQ Studies.
  • T. Mychael Rambo, a regional Emmy Award-winning actor, vocalist, arts educator and community organizer. He also an accomplished residency artist and professor in the College of Liberal Arts, Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.
  • Dr. George Woods, a practicing physician, specializing in neuropsychiatry. His private practice focuses on neurodevelopmental disorders, acquired neurocognitive disorders, cognitive impairments secondary to neuropsychiatric disorders, traumatic brain injury, ethnopsychopharmacology and workplace safety. In addition to his clinical practice, Woods consults with legal teams dealing with complex criminal and civil litigation.

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In this Episode:

In this episode, we confront the question at the center of Derek Chauvin’s trial: Who killed George Floyd? Our guests unpack that question as an issue central to police and societal violence. Examining who killed George Floyd means taking stock of legacies of racism in the Twin Cities, including redlining, school segregation, policies that undermine equality, and disparate rates of policing and mass incarceration.

As attention has turned to the horrors of the old South, has racism of the new North been overlooked? And at what cost to Black lives? Have liberal allies made a difference or exacerbated harms in the Twin Cities?

We also explore the trauma associated with George Floyd’s death and other officer-involved killings. Experts on our show explain how racism produce physical and psychological health harms.

Have a topic you’d like us to delve into, a guest recommendationor just want to say hi? Drop us a line at ontheissues@msmagazine.com.

Background Reading:


Michele Goodwin

Welcome to “On The Issues With Michele Goodwin” at Ms. magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show history matters—we examine the past as we pivot to the future.

31. Who Killed George Floyd? (with Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, Tasha Green Cruzat, T. Mychael Rambo, Roderick Ferguson, Pamela Alexander and Dr. George Woods)
George Floyd Memorial, South Minneapolis, May 2020. (Chad Davis / Flickr)

We planned this episode months ago. Before the killings of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo. We wanted to look at police violence as symptomatic of broader social and cultural injustice, racism and anti-Blackness, including in one of America’s most liberal communities. What can we learn from officer involved killings, which on their own can appear isolated and disconnected from larger social conditions and cultural dynamics?

Historically, American racism is depicted by the images of the American South. The pastoral South’s open secret—a racial hierarchy—transformed time and again, over and over from slavery, through Jim Crow.  Law enforcement wielding heavy batons, unleashing snarling dogs, and blasting powerful water hoses, attacking peaceful protesters mark our American past. Unchecked, brutal power and violence indiscriminately landed on the unprotected bodies of Black children, women and men. 

I can’t shake those images.  How about you? They leave an indelible mark—hard to ever unsee or forget. The image of Emmett Till comes to mind. Lynched shortly after his 14th birthday in Money, Mississippi, his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on an open casket at his funeral so that people in the United States as well as around the world might learn what could happen to a Black child in America.  Emmett’s battered face and skull caved inward under the weight of continuous torture before his body was tossed in the Tallahatchie River—with a cotton gin roped around his neck.

But, follow the Mississippi River northward and one will arrive in the Twin Cities—or what some Black residents call, “Northern Mississippi.”  In Northern Mississippi, racism in policing, housing, employment and resistance to integration is a problem that extends up the liberal, socio-economic ladder. 

In this episode, I’m speaking with Black Minnesotans as well as mental health experts who can help us understand trauma and race in America.  

I start with the breaking story about Adam Toledo’s killing—unarmed, hands up.

I ask Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, a nationally noted psychologist who has been on our show: What’s happening in the United States?

Patricia Jones Blessman 

Well first of all, Michele, I think that people are just re-triggered, traumatized. You know, we have the trial of, for George Floyd going on right now. And then in the midst of that, the murder of Daunte Wright. And then to top it all off, the murder of Adam Toledo. I think we are in the midst of some excruciating pain and grief and trauma right now. It’s a reminder, particularly for people of color, that we live in an America that cannot treat all of its citizens equitably. And that is got to be incredibly painful at this moment, especially when there has been so much hope for a much different future. So that’s what’s going on right now. You know, I mean, yeah, we can get into the statistics.

Michele Goodwin

So I’m also joined by Tasha Green Cruzat. She’s the executive director of Voices for Illinois Children. So even before the death of Adam Toledo, Black and Brown parents have been saying, are saying, they fear for their children to even go outside. Why?

Tasha Green Cruzat

I think what would be a great place to start with that is to really talk about the community in which Adam came from, right? And so Adam was from Little Village, which is a larger community of South Lawndale. It’s 82 percent Hispanic, 70 percent speak Spanish, 48 percent have less than a high school degree, 35 percent of the Lawndale community earns less than $25,000, and a third are below the federal poverty level, about 200 percent. And so these are the circumstances in his neighborhood.

If you also think about the school where Adam is from—it’s under-resourced, right? So we’ve got under-resourced schools, we’re in the time of COVID, children are at home, and when we think about these underserved communities, it’s—we’re always referenced in terms of Black and Brown communities, right? And we know that that’s been a problem for many, many, many years. So when you think about all of these things and all of the environment in which Adam lived, this is also a bigger conversation about not just Adam, but about other children that live in that community and other surrounding Chicago neighborhoods.

Just the other day, a 17-year-old girl was shot and killed in Adam’s neighborhood in the Little Village. 17. She was shot in the head. So we’re—so just to turn to the circumstances in which Adam lived, and all the other students that lived in that community is just devastating, you know.

Michele Goodwin

The video of Adam Toledo’s killing adds further grief to communities already suffering. We return in a later episode to Dr. Blessman and Tasha Cruzat, as we probe children and officer involved shootings.  

Last summer, the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Abery were followed by the 911 weaponized threats against the birder Christian Cooper by a white woman Amy Cooper (of no relation) and then the horrific murder of George Floyd, followed by the shooting of Jacob Blake.

It was enough. Last year, I wanted to know how we make sense of this and so we talked about policing in America, policing reform, policing abolition, women and policing. But, here we are.

Now, my questions are different. Critiquing and reforming policing is important, but what about the rest of us? 

To get to the bottom of this, I asked T. Mychael Rambo, a University of Minnesota professor, award-winning actor and community leader: Who Killed George Floyd?

T. Mychael Rambo

Well, my initial response, first and foremost is that, George Floyd was not killed, he wasn’t murdered—it was a public lynching, and the reality of what transpired was that this man was placed amongst white folk and Black folk alike, but laid on the ground screaming, crying for his mother, and the opportunity to breath with countless cries and wails were over eight minutes and 46 seconds, only to be left laying on the ground until EMS workers came to respond to an already lifeless body. The truth of the matter is, that it was really more than just Derek Chauvin that was the issue here.

Michele Goodwin

Dr. George Woods, former head of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health and noted neuropsychiatrist who has served as an expert witness in some of the most high profile cases involving policing, agreed and had more to add. So did Professor Roderick Ferguson, who is a professor of American Studies at Yale—previously he taught at the University of Minnesota. 

Dr. George Woods

And we, we know where policing came from it came from running down slaves and making sure that that valuable property. Just is just like you would go back to your prize Angus that broke through the fence. And you would bring it back to the pasture, you would go and get that slave and bring it back.

And we know that that’s where policing came from.

Professor Roderick Ferguson

But you know it’s also important to remember that you know he was surrounded by other officers. There’s a kind of police culture that we can say helped to kill George Floyd. Right.

Michele Goodwin

There was a larger story that all of the Black people interviewed for this podcast wanted to tell. One that acknowledged the horrors and brutality of racial profiling, surveillance, police violence and lack of accountability.  In Minneapolis, Black people are 8.7 times more likely than white counterparts to be arrested for low-level offenses.  For Indigenous populations in the Twin Cities—the data is similarly skewed.  In what some have called, “Minneapolis Black Codes,” various misdemeanor offenses are disparately enforced against Black people in Minneapolis.  

Here’s what T. Mychael Rambo confided about police stops.

T. Mychael Rambo

I’ve had to worry about it because ever since I moved into this neighborhood, I’ve had police encounters from them throwing me face down in the street right behind my own home, to having them pull me over, presuming that I’m a drug purchaser when I make the block of my own home, seeing that my address on my license … I was arrested at the Mall of America for refusing to move my car from behind a white woman who took my parking space. 

Michele Goodwin

Then there was T. Mychael’s experience at Mall of America.  Where police pulled him out of his car, dragging him across parking garage all over a parking spot.

T. Mychael Rambo

The police showed up and they pulled me out and they tried to arrest me. They said that she, all of a sudden, claimed that she was being violated and that she thought she was going to be raped and she did a Karen and fell out into the arms of the police officers and started crying, the whole thing. So, they bloodied my lip and drug me across the concrete and handcuffed me, and just craziness. So, I mean, I’m a degreed professor and everything else and well-known person, but that doesn’t stop me from being a Black man in America.

31. Who Killed George Floyd? (with Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, Tasha Green Cruzat, T. Mychael Rambo, Roderick Ferguson, Pamela Alexander and Dr. George Woods)
A Black Lives Matter Protest on May 29, 2020, in Washington D.C. in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. (Geoff Livingston / Flickr)

Michele Goodwin

Hearing their stories hit close to home, reminding me of my own stops in Minneapolis after leaving yoga, driving down the street to my home. And there is the harassment of the wait—you’ve not done anything wrong, but you must wait 30 or 40 minutes while the officer does whatever he or she does back in the squad car, until he or she is satisfied that you can leave. But, the trauma of the stops does not fade and it’s something that, according to my guests, white Minnesotans just can’t compute, because it doesn’t happen to them in the bucolic setting that they love.   

Sometimes neighbors do the policing for the police. Once, while pulling into my driveway, a neighbor demanded that I stop, because I was not allowed down the street. When I told him I lived there, he profusely apologized and invited me to come for drinks at his house.  

The thing about the Twin Cities police stops and harassment is that they are equal opportunity stops if you are Black. No one should be executed over a $20 dollar bill—real or fake.  But, the truth is traumatizing police stops in the Twin Cities happen no matter your socioeconomic status if you are Black.  Judge Pamela Alexander shared that she would warn police at the local precinct when she bought a new car so that she could avoid harassment in her neighborhood. 

At this point in my interview with Rodney Ferguson, he was sharing another encounter.

Professor Roderick Ferguson 

And then another time was when I was dropping my friend Richard off at his apartment in Loring Park. And I was literally just dropping him off. And all of a sudden, I’m surrounded by these police cars and Richard remembers that to this day. 

So, when the George Floyd murder happened, that’s what he recalled; he’s like. “I’ll never forget that time you dropped me off and all of a sudden you were surrounded by police cars.” Again, there’s a culture of not only racial profiling, but also of racism, you know, it’s also important to remember the Duluth lynching, you know, that happened in the 1920s.  I’m forgetting the date, but, you know … not free of racist violence. It has its own history. 

Editor’s note: On June 15, 1920, police arrested several young Black men accused of raping a white woman. That evening, three of them—Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie—were removed from jail by a mob and lynched.

31. Who Killed George Floyd? (with Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, Tasha Green Cruzat, T. Mychael Rambo, Roderick Ferguson, Pamela Alexander and Dr. George Woods)
From the Ely Miner, June 25, 1920.

Michele Goodwin

The truth of the matter is that it’s not just police stops that create the culture that allowed for horrible image that we can never unsee of Derek Chauvin looking into a camera while he placed the weight of his body and knee onto George Floyd’s neck.  There is the weight of history, Minnesota “niceness,” and racism in this liberal community that hides under the veneer of the Twin Cities community being perceived as one of the best places in America to live.  

However, none of this is a surprise to Black community leaders interviewed for this series. For example, retired Hennepin County Judge Pamela Alexander explained to me, “You’re actually talking about middle class, upper income white Twin Cities folks who were resistant to racial integration. The educated people of Minnesota were people who were resistant.” 

Judge Alexander, a fourth-generation Minnesotan, was the first Black woman to become a judge in Minnesota. It is something that she is proud of, but makes clear that being a lawyer and judge in Minneapolis has not spared her (or her family) from racial aggressions and hostilities in the Twin Cities, including profiling, police stops, being followed in department stores, or having to address racism among colleagues.

Growing up in South Minneapolis, Judge Alexander and her family had to move several times as the city navigated its highway through Black neighborhoods, destroying the fabric of their community.  

Judge Pamela Alexander 

It is a concern and right after Philando Castile was killed here, I remember listening to a group of friends and you know, my husband’s friends you know, all African American males who said look, I’m just going to drive and have my license on the dashboard because you never know what’s going to happen. You don’t want to reach for anything, you don’t want to tick off somebody because you never know what’s going to happen or how they’re going to react to you, and everybody was very, very, very on edge after Mr. Castile was killed and you know, people were outraged by the fact that you know, he stopped, he did everything like they asked him to and he volunteered well, I have a gun here, I just wanted to let you know, and then immediately he was shot and killed, and he had a permit.

I mean, this can happen at any time to anybody and we all know it.

Michele Goodwin

The narrative told about racism in the U.S. is that liberal communities in the United States are the safest most welcoming places for Black Americans.  Judge Alexander wanted to disabuse that notion.

Judge Pamela Alexander

I mean, no, not at all. Where I grew up in South Minneapolis it was very distinct redlining there but we formed a very vibrant Black community and you know a lot of great folks came out of our community. I think that it was because we were pushed into one place—but we made the most of that. But you better not try to venture out of that, and I distinctly remember when Richard Green became the superintendent of schools and he closed the two almost predominantly white schools here, where most of the upper middle-class kids went which was West High School and University High School, and he said oh, I’m just going to close that to force integration.

And so he shut those two schools down. These folks went insane and these were all of these supposedly very liberal individuals who said oh, you know, we’re going to help and we understand all this, but as soon as you say that they had to go to school with kids of color they went insane, and then the whole charter school movement kind of jumped up, you know, people started moving to private schools very quickly, and you know, because after the ‘60s riots tons and tons of white fled out of here.

Michele Goodwin

What Judge Alexander was emphasizing were the structural inequalities that have long lingered in the Twin Cities. Here she’s talking about redlining.

Judge Pamela Alexander

Well, and other than the educational system the other part that was very interesting is I’m sure you’ve heard about Rondo, I’m sure you’ve heard about you know, the freeway going through the Rondo community. Well, they did that in South Minneapolis, too, and 35W went through the Black community here. As a matter of fact, my family had to move three times because of construction of the freeway, and it pretty much decimated our community, and people don’t talk about that as much but originally 35W was supposed to go down Lyndale Avenue and of course, they had a whole bunch of very large homes over there and there was a huge tax base out of there, it’s closer to the lakes, people were like no, you’re not running that through here.

And they didn’t—they ran it right through the Black community and the Native American community because right then you know, they’d redlined us all so you know, the Black community was here, the Native American was right next to it, and that’s where they ran these freeways, and it really messed up the cohesiveness of the community at that time. So, you don’t hear as much about it as you do Rondo but it was the exact same effect. 

Michele Goodwin

Judge Alexander told me that the Black and Native American communities in the Twin Cities were devastated by these local government moves.  Equally jarring, the petty misdemeanor laws like spitting on the street, that disparately enforced against Black people created a pipeline into incarceration. 

The Twin Cities known for being high on an index of livability, can be a liability if you are Black. According to Dr. Samuel Myers, a distinguished professor at the University of Minnesota’s public policy school, “While Minnesota is a great place to live for white people, for Black people, it’s just like everywhere else—and sometimes worse.”

This is what he’s termed the ‘Minnesota paradox:’ huge racial disparities masked by aggregate outcomes, and it’s an issue that he’s been studying since moving to Minnesota in the 1990s.  He’s written, “The continued existence of this paradox is driven by buried racism. Unlike places where racism was (and is) open and transparent, racism in Minnesota is obscured by progressive policy.” 

He says that Minnesota’s “legacy of egalitarianism make it harder for [Minnesotans] to see racial disparities as manifestations of racism.”

What Dr. Myers is referring to are policies that institutionalize racism.  He recently wrote in the New York Times that structurally racist rules have created a two-tiered society in the Twin Cities.  From “brutal redlining practices from real estate brokers and lenders and racial covenants limiting where [Black people] could purchase homes.”  According to Dr. Myers, ‘redlining has left a lasting impact of racial disparities in wealth.”  But that’s not all.   “Policing policies—like the CODEFOR policy in Minneapolis—substituted overt, explicit racial profiling found in other cities with scientifically managed administration of racially disparate arrests.”

Additionally, as Minnesota doled out programs in public housing and child welfare, they also policed Black families, creating rules that reduced benefits.  Again, Dr. Myers explains, “When out of compliance with work rules, child support rules (even when fathers were incarcerated and thus unable to pay child support) [these rules] disproportionately affected Black people.”

The result is a thick type of racism papered over by what some describe as self-satisfied liberalism. And just how does it affect daily life?  Judge Alexander expressed that it’s hard to escape it. It’s the daily business of life, going work, interacting with colleagues, and more.  But, white friends, neighbors, and colleagues ignore it. And often times they are part of the problem.  Judge Alexander and T. Mychael told me about racism in the most mundane encounters at the local grocery store, and even just buying clothes. 

Judge Pamela Alexander

As a matter of fact, I had gotten so frustrated with some of it, especially in one of our larger department stores here that I just got a personal shopper and quit going in because it was just, I just got tired of it. So, you just really you know, it’s kind of crazy and it still happens.

And as a matter of fact when I was at the Council on Crime and Justice we did a full study on rent discrimination here and so we sent in testers. One of them was my former law clerk and he just you know, went in and tried to rent an apartment and got turned down, and we would send in you know, scruffy little white guy with you know, little loafers on and man, he would get the apartment. And that has happened, actually that actually happened to my husband as well so it is just one of those things where you don’t get spared because you have a income that is you know, higher than a few other people. 

31. Who Killed George Floyd? (with Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, Tasha Green Cruzat, T. Mychael Rambo, Roderick Ferguson, Pamela Alexander and Dr. George Woods)
An anti-eviction demonstration in Brooklyn, New York, in August 2011. (Michael Premo / Flickr)

Michele Goodwin

One could think that one of the most recognized faces in Minneapolis could escape the Twin Cities racism. T. Mychael Rambo, not only teaches at the University of Minnesota—he’s also one of the most widely known persons in Minnesota theatre. He’s been in numerous August Wilson productions, performed with the Minnesota Opera, and at all the major theatres in the Twin Cities.  He’s also been at the heart of conversations about social justice and race in the Twin Cities. But, in many ways, it’s also as if he’s been caught in a loop, living out the experiences he’s fighting hard against.

T. Mychael Rambo

No, racism percolates in a very cover sort of presence in our community here where you know, you go in with the understanding that … it’s perceived that you are accepted and well received only to find that the microaggressions and the presumptions that you are a certain way. Or all of a sudden, they code shift on you, thinking they need to talk a certain way to help you feel comfortable when they’re really allowing themselves to feel comfortable because of their disease of racism. Their disease doesn’t have to add more complexity to my own experience you know, but that’s what happens, and those organizational structures, whether it be the state capital, whether it be the bureaucracies of education. All of them are drenched with those sorts of challenges.

Michele Goodwin

Part II: White Allies

In his famous “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote, “More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” 

This brings our conversation to “Minnesota nice”—racism or xenophobia that’s covert, lurking beneath the surface.

Professor Roderick Ferguson

Yeah.  You know there is a whole phrase for it.  It’s called Minnesota Nice, you know.  Before I even thought about moving to Minnesota, I remember meeting this Black woman at a conference in Atlanta who was from Minnesota.  I was still in graduate school at San Diego.  This was a National Black Leadership Forum which was the Black LGBT organization, and I remember meeting her. 

She lived in Minnesota, but she was moving, and she was the one who [talked to me about Minnesota]. I said, well, how is it?  I’ve never been to the Midwest even.  I was living in California going to grad school from Georgia, went to school in Washington D.C. for undergrad, and she said, “Well, you know, the thing about Minnesota is you have to understand this this thing called Minnesota nice,” where it is a disavowal of just the everydayness of racism. That is obscured by just the sort of politeness, you know, that characterizes at least the surface of interactions.  

And so, that was very much what I experienced, and I think a lot of people experience in Minnesota is the kind of Minnesota nice, that we’re not racist, you know, we’re good neighbors and we love everyone and, you know, we’re a liberal state and we support unions and, you know. 

31. Who Killed George Floyd? (with Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, Tasha Green Cruzat, T. Mychael Rambo, Roderick Ferguson, Pamela Alexander and Dr. George Woods)
Minneapolis, May 2020. (Renoir Gaither)

Judge Pamela Alexander

The best example was when we did the Race Bias Task Force here. I was head of the criminal section of that, I said you know, we have some real serious issues here. We’re setting bail and the bail schedule in and of itself is racist because you’re using indicators that have nothing to do with coming to court. We fought people on that and I said okay, what are the two factors that are out there that tell you people don’t come to court? The biggest factor is because people didn’t come to court before so we know if you didn’t come before you probably may not come again.

But they wanted to use factors like income, residence—everything that’s going to be skewed against Black folk or against any community of color here really, and I’m also going to talk a little bit a about Native Americans who’ve been treated horribly in Minnesota. I said look, if your income and your residence have nothing to do with whether or not you come to court, so we’re going to take that off and I mean, it was pushback like you wouldn’t believe. We eventually did take it off and it wasn’t a factor that is used in the setting of bail any more but it was really a hard fight.

And then, and this is the one that you’re going to really kind of raise your eyebrows about, when we did the Race Bias Task Force everybody said well, you don’t have enough data. I said well, because you don’t collect race data so I would like you to collect … we fought for 10 years to collect race data because judges kept saying we can’t ask people their race. I said well, why? Why? I’m asked that every time. I’m like, What are you talking that you can’t ask? I said, surveys ask this constantly. No, no, that’s uncomfortable for me. And I said why is it uncomfortable? When I walked in you knew I was a Black lady, and they were just like well, but I can’t ask that. 

So, I said well, you’re going to have to. So, we made a script for them, we said you’re going to have to fill out this data because if you’re saying that, because we’re saying bail setting is skewed against people of color, we’re saying that sentencing is skewed against people of color, we’re saying every point in time in the criminal justice system is skewed against people of color so what we want to do is collect that data so we can back it up. 

Michele Goodwin

That was Judge Alexander speaking about how a Minnesota Race Bias task force didn’t want to ask demographic questions about race. But, you could hear her frustration as she spoke about some of the most frustrating encounters being with colleagues who prided themselves as being progressive or anti-racist.  Speaking of a typical encounter with a colleague…

Judge Pamela Alexander

You couldn’t tell him that he wasn’t the most liberal standup guy out there, and one of the hardest things to do is to try to tell people who think that that you know, what you’re doing is actually racist because you’re not even listening to the Black people in the room, like we’re not even, we’re living this experience and you’re not even listening to us. It’s like we don’t matter.

Michele Goodwin

In 2020 lots of buzz words like white allies, white accomplices, white advocates made the rounds. The thought behind this is that if more white people are vocal, breaking the silence that Dr. King spoke and wrote about.  It would be a step in the right direction. Here’s T. Mychael.

T. Mychael Rambo

Yes, we walk in solidarity with our allies and with our accomplices that are white—but the overarching reality is that they can walk away without any sense of impact or addressing, complications of anything because of color, because of race. So, we just see that Black and brown bodies have such disparity and such, the numbers reflect clearly, the range of atrocities that are hurled at and it fall on the backs and the shoulders of people like George Floyd and others.

It sits in the marrow of how our city council in Minneapolis, our mayor in Minneapolis, and so many others have lost sight of the real question here: How do we create safe spaces and spaces for Black and brown bodies to exist and coexist with the dignity and humanity that has been bestowed upon us by what we call the Constitution? We need not have to seek, apologize for our Blackness or our humanness—but yet, we live in a city that struggles with that.

But, many white Minnesotans do not perceive the problems that Black people complain of.  In Minnesota 56 percent of Republicans believe that white and Black people are treated equally in “the justice system.”  Overall nearly a third of Minnesotans agree. 

Professor Roderick Ferguson

The piece is that if you sort of invest in a narrative about racism doesn’t happen here, it doesn’t actually allow you to see and acknowledge the structural racism that will happen in a police department. And that will just jeopardize people’s lives, you know. They actually are of a piece.  Even though not quite the same thing. Right.  

Michele Goodwin

That was Professor Ferguson. 

Part III: Trauma and Racism

According to Dr. David Williams, a professor of public health at Harvard University, “Over 200 Black people die prematurely every single day,” and this is directly attributable to racism. Dr. Williams has spent over 25 years studying the premature deaths of Black people and he says no matter how you look at the data, the outcomes are the same.  I asked our guests about this.

31. Who Killed George Floyd? (with Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, Tasha Green Cruzat, T. Mychael Rambo, Roderick Ferguson, Pamela Alexander and Dr. George Woods)
Peaceful protesters hold up signs in Washington, D.C. in May 2020. (Creative Commons)

Judge Pamela Alexander

Oh, I think it takes a toll on us, it takes a toll on us physically. I think our stress levels are always higher. I actually suffered from a stress-related illness for many years and I think a lot of it was just really brought on by racism, and those are things that people really don’t like to talk about, but I think when you get those kind of microaggressions on a consistent basis it does actually work to your detriment and I think it’s been hard to try to figure out … I mean, because even some of the physical challenges that I’ve had you know, I’ve kind of asked my doctors okay, so like what is causing this? And they go well, even stress is really bad.

And then people want to say it’s just the stress of the job but you know, I don’t think it’s always been that. I think it’s been that coupled with all the other things that is always a constant fight, and it is really hard.

I’ve been very disheartened obviously during these last four years where being racist became almost acceptable again and I kept thinking, and one of the things that breaks my heart a lot is the fact that my children are having to face these issues that I thought that we had actually come so far on and have really now shown that we really haven’t come far at all. We’ve come a little ways but not as far as we should have, and just the fact that for the next 30, 40 years my children are going to face these same challenges as Black women is very disheartening to me. 

And even though I think it’s going to be, they probably won’t take as much as maybe some of us did that are now in our upper 60s and they’ll demand more, but they’re still going to have to deal with those issues. So, I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about self-care, about how they take care of their selves, how they really guard against getting out and having to fight those fights on a constant basis because they’re going to have to. They’re going to have to do it as a African American woman, they are going to have to fight sexism as well as racism and the stereotypes that they have about black women period, and because it’s become now so okay.

And I was extremely disheartened, I watched an interview, I think a snippet of an interview they’re getting ready to do on 60 Minutes with one of these white supremacist groups and trying to say well, you know, our goal was to start a race war and I’m like, what are we talking about in 2021? 

T. Mychael Rambo

It wears us out. It really, it creates health crises amongst members of our community. High blood pressure. Diabetes. Migraines. Stomach and lower GI behavior. All of those things have a direct impact—a direct correlation to just what we’re talking about, and I think that it’s got to stop.

Michele Goodwin

And according to Dr. George Woods? What did Black people and white people see differently or did they see the same thing with Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck until he died?  Was the psychological response the same?

Dr. George Woods

Well, there’s a difference. I mean I think everyone was horrified.

The difference is, of course, Black people saw their brother, or their uncle or their cousin, or they had to, no matter what their socio-economic level may be, they may be reliving a family member. So, we’re talking about trauma, rather than stress. I think that for those, those of you that are not of color, are not Black, I totally see the stress from the pain that that may have caused many people.

That’s different than causing you trauma. 

Dr. George Woods

Trauma is the deregulation of emotion.  Trauma is the irrational response trauma is the fear.  Trauma is the overreaction or the reaction.  You don’t know which you may be.  Trauma is the personalization of the event. 

It becomes personal to you. It’s not just a political event. If a personal event hurts you, in your heart. And, and that is really in many ways. Sadly, the undermining of the American, of the African American. It said we are traumatized. And I, and consequently we often move from a pathological place, rather than a place of healing and privilege and it undermines us. It undermines our abilities.

And this trauma then can take place within African Americans regardless of their socioeconomic status so that even if you’re wealthy even if you’re Oprah, even if you’re, you know, fill in the blank in terms of how many zeros in your bank account, trauma can happen to you after looking up to you. I’m in, I’m in Montana and I’m walking down the street, and I see these two white guys working on their lawn mower, two blocks away.

And I’m walking toward them I’m just taking my traveling. I’m just taking my everyday walk. And I think to myself, should I keep walking down the street?

And then I start thinking, How far am I away from my friend’s house, from which I came? And then I started thinking, well maybe I should turn down this street. And my heart is racing, and I get close to them and I walk past them, and they never look up. It’s not their issue.

It’s the extra weight, the undermining of the concentration is the tiring of focus is the after weight. It’s what we always were taught about having to be twice as good to do the same job. That is not just a function of racism. That is also a function of the impact of trauma on our ability to do that job because we’re having to think about our hair. We’re having to think about clothes.  We’re having, we’re having to code switch from talking to my mother in the morning to talk to my boss in the afternoon.  We’re having to do all of these things that undermine our consciousness. However, we do it very well.  Mm hmm. And it is in my, in my opinion, it is the same thing that women have to do on a daily basis.  And so black women have to do two or three or four things. Right.

Michele Goodwin

After weeks of conversations and interviews.  I ended where I began with Dr. Woods. I asked him: Who killed George Floyd?

Dr. George Woods

That’s such a hard question, Michele, because George Floyd has such a high potential of being dead so early in life. So the question of who he actually took his life is very difficult. His potential for dying increased from the moment he was born.  And it increased exponentially through his childhood, through his adulthood through his contacts with the criminal justice system.

And so you see this increasingly steep statistical curve and emotional curve that says, your chances of living are fewer and fewer.  So, there’s no question that a person took his life.  But, that person is really an institutional representation, rather than really an individual, we have to deal with him as an individual, but he is really an institutional representation.

Michele Goodwin 

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.”

I want to thank my guests—Dr. Patricia Jones Blessman, Dr. George Woods, Tasha Green Cruzat, Professor Roderick Ferguson, T. Mychael Rambo—for joining us and being a part of this critical and insightful conversation.

And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling, and telling like it is with special guests tackling issues related to Climate Change is Real, NOw What? We’ll be joined by Nourbese Flint and Osprey Orielle Lake. It will be an episode you won’t want to miss.

For more information on what we discussed today head to MS. MAGAZINE.COM. 

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Pre-recorded Closing:       

This has been your host, Michele Goodwin reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is.   

On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is a Ms. Magazine joint production.

Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal, and Mariah Lindsay. We thank Oliver Haug for research and digital assistance.

The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps; editing by Will Alverez and Marsh Allen; and music by Chris J. Lee. 

Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.