It may have been an unlikely point of view for a black boy growing up in a big city, but Carter had a good reason: his father was one of St. Paul’s first African Americans in the police force.
“He became a police officer in the early 1970s after a lawsuit called for the desegregation of the St. Paul Police Department. And so he was part of a class of African American officers who came and had stories that weren’t always homage.” , recalls Carter.
At first, Carter said, some of his force’s white colleagues told him in no uncertain terms that they would not support him, “whatever had happened”, because he was black.
“Our challenge to people is to be peaceful, but never to be patient. We are not asking people to sit aside and wait as we slowly and progressively stem the tide of unarmed black men and women killed by law enforcement. We fight for the right change now, for a big structural change right now, “Carter told CNN in a virtual interview from City Hall.
Perspective as a black man profiled racially countless times
The life experience of the 38-year-old black mayor with law enforcement is not limited to that of the son of a police officer. He said he was stopped and stopped by the police countless times, precisely because of the color of his skin.
“I had a broken taillight and I had put the bureaucracy on it. And the officer pulled me up and explained that right in the corner of the bureaucracy you could see a small speck of white and that was because it stopped me”, he remembered Carter.
“Even as a city council member there were times when I stopped. And people said, ‘Why didn’t you tell them who you were?’ And my answer is, if I am to be a member of the city council, if I am to be a mayor, if I am to be the son of a police officer to be treated with basic human dignity and not to be stopped when obeying all laws, maybe that’s the problem in the first place, “he added.
“You start to think this is not accidental. This is something very specific for who I am and what I look like. It can easily create a large gap between me as a resident, like a young black man growing up in this community and the officers I rely on to keep me safe. “
When his home was burglarized a few years ago, his first call was to the police.
“I went home and found that a stranger had been in my bedroom. That a stranger had been in my house, a stranger had gone through my things and had taken very personal items from my house. And in that moment we have called the police and this is the paradox is that we need those officers, we need them as much as anyone else. We need officers who recognize our humanity, who understand our communities, who introduce themselves and help. And the paradox is that in everything I need a good police officer, a good police department that I can trust, “said Carter.
The pain of his family in St. Paul is deep
Carter, who won his mayor race in a busy 2017 field, is a proud fourth-generation resident of St. Paul, but his family suffered a lot of pain due to the color of their skin.
“When I say that I love this city. It is not like a kind of love for newlyweds in which I have starry eyes and I think everything is perfect. It is more than this that I know that smell of your morning kind of love smell that can be built over time, “said Carter.
His grandparents owned more than half a dozen commercial properties in what was known as the Rondo neighborhood, which was completely eradicated to make room for the highway.
“Members of our community were given cents on the dollar for their properties, they were expelled from those properties, those properties were demolished,” explained Carter.
African Americans in St. Paul were not nearly the only community it happened to: highways were built on black neighborhoods in cities across the country, from Detroit to Oakland.
“In the history of our family, the house was destroyed by firefighters as a training exercise,” said Carter.
“When we see people like George Floyd, who lose their lives in the creepy and disturbingly random way that we saw in that video, when my father can remember that their family was transferred from old Rondo and remembers the firefighters who burned his mother home as a training exercise. When we have this incredible wealth as a nation that is undeniably centered and rooted in that evil institution of slavery, that was the work of my ancestors, but we have very limited access to those same riches that that institution he created, “he added.
The harrowing observation of his 12-year-old daughter
Carter said he struggles with what to say to his six children. But his 12-year-old daughter came to him with his understated prospect of what happened to Floyd.
“He said he didn’t think anyone should be surprised at what happened last week,” Carter recalled emotionally, admitting that it broke his heart.
“Yes. How was that possible? And I asked her, ‘Why should you say that?’ And he said, ‘Because if we see ourselves killed again and again and again and again in these videos and everyone seems to get worse,’ he said, ‘people have to do something.’ “
He said he took the opportunity to tell his daughter what he is trying to tell all residents of the city that he has been elected to serve.
“We just discussed this concept that we shared with people; peace but never patience. To say:” Yes, you’re right, we have to do something “and it’s really understandable that people are angry as they are, that people are traumatized as they are and that people are as impatient as they are with these systems, “said Carter.
Carter explained the importance of channeling frustration and anger in reducing systemic racism, inequality and existing racial disparities.
“And we had a conversation that we have the opportunity to channel this energy, this frustration, this anger at destroying not our neighborhood institutions, but at destroying systemic racism, all the inequalities and disparities we talk about until and all the barriers that are written in our laws, in our judicial records and certainly in the police union contracts that make it so difficult to hold someone responsible when a black life is unfairly taken. ” He said.
‘We are literally all George’
Carter’s grandfather – the first Melvin Carter – was a Navy veteran who spent most of his life as a porter on the railroad. But people didn’t call him Melvin or Mr. Carter, they called him George. Here’s what all the black men were called.
“As a Pullman porter, it didn’t really matter your name or how much experience you had or what your rank was. Everyone was named George,” said Carter.
There was a 2002 film, “10,000 Black Men Named George”, which related this degrading phenomenon.
He said that for many men, little has changed.
“I was reflecting today that the murder, the murder of George Floyd, I think is so painful for us and so personal because for every black man in America, whether you are a lawyer or an architect or an accountant or a Mayor, we know there is no amount of credentials. There is no amount of results. There is no amount of money that can change the fact that we are literally all George, “said Carter.