80: Acoma Gaither, African American Historian & Activist (transcript)

ATTENTION: This is an automated transcript for this episode of “People I Know Show” and it might not have been fully edited or reviewed. It could have some mistakes and sometimes be unclear.

Besides using the player above, you can listen from your favorite podcast app. Click the icons below for some popular choices or go here for additional options: http://bit.ly/pikslisten.


Acoma Gaither 0:00
I share that same passion and we could have a good conversation. You know if anybody before would have said that to me, I’d be like, I’m not going to talk to you. I don’t have time to talk to you.

Curt Carstensen 0:28
This is People I Know Show. I’m Curt Carstensen. It’s Episode 80 today and my guest is Acoma Gaither, Acoma first joined me in the podcast for Episode 27. And she’s back today to discuss what’s been happening in the world in her world since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police department. Acoma professionally works as a historian and personally has been very involved as an activist. One of the topics we discuss is her recent trip to Seattle, to witness and to be a part of the chop zone or chaz. And as we discussed that, she recognized that very soon she thought it would be no more. And in fact, within the last 24 hours or so, of the release of this podcast episode, it is no more. Certainly you can google more information on that. But in the meantime, here Acoma’s perspective from being there. Make sure to like or follow People I Know Show online on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, links to all that is in the show notes. And make sure you hit the subscribe button for People I Know Show on your podcast playing app, so that all future episodes arrive directly to your mobile device. Now to my conversation with Acoma Gaither Hello Acoma.

Acoma Gaither 2:01

Curt Carstensen 2:03
Acoma we have not chatted since the previous time at least not in like face to face person although today we’re over zoom. We haven’t chatted in person since it was Episode 27 on my podcasts a little over a year ago, like 14 months ago, I had you as a guest and we talked about a number of things that seem so relevant again today. You are preemptively trying to have a good conversation to make an impact on the world and the events of a few weeks ago involving the murder of George Floyd is exactly what we talked about the day you’re talking about race and policing as one of the main topics and here we are. So what what is your last month or so been like?

Acoma Gaither 2:54
Oh my gosh, I feel like just my whole worlds like everything that I’ve been doing in the past like three years has come into, like existence and reality. I mean, it’s always been there, but I’m just now realizing that so many people didn’t know the history before. And they’re now becoming aware of it. And it just, you know, is fueling need to get into this work even more. But yeah, I I’m, I was shocked when this happened. When the murder of George Floyd happened, I was shocked. I was surprised but then I needed to, you know, realize that a lot of people just don’t know that, like, what has been happening in the Twin Cities. And, you know, when I spoke with you, I think I mentioned that I did this traveling exhibit on the history of race and policing in the Twin Cities and it has been lifted off yet it’s been written into articles and such. But I know that this knowledge needs to be passed around and shared widely because people are just realizing that, you know, lynching happened in this country and slavery happened in Minnesota. So I think just the gaps in knowledge and history is now coming into light. And yeah, it’s just motivating me even more to do it and search for more answers.

Curt Carstensen 4:35
You just something there that seems incorrect to me, because I apparently don’t know something that you said slavery happened in Minnesota. Explain what that means. It’s technically according to the old rules. I don’t think it did. But clearly, there was some something that happened to you that you know about.

Acoma Gaither 4:55
Yeah. So um, if anyone is away When Minnesota was a territory, we had a fort called Fort Snelling, which is a little bit south of St. Paul. And it was a huge port in the fur trade in Minnesota, or this this territory. And officers who worked at the Fort would bring enslaved persons that they owned down south and they would bring them up here. And by law, it was supposed to be illegal. However, they continue to bring in slave persons to do work. And they were also encouraged to do so by the federal government because if they brought somebody up, they would get an extra stipend. And the stipend would supposedly go towards feeding and clothing. But of course, they never received any of the money that they for their labor that they did here. And at Fort Snelling now, I am A historian of that fort. So I’m not sure of the entire state. But I know that more than 120 enslaved persons lived in Workfare during the period that it was opened and operated. So yes, it was supposedly illegal in the law. However, people worked around it. And if anyone knows of the Dred decision, Dred Scott actually lived at Fort Snelling. And he thought it was wrong that he was enslaved in a Free Territory. So him and his wife went all the way up to the US Supreme Court and fought for their freedom. However, they lost, but a lot of people were angry with this ruling. And it actually was one of the factors of why the Civil War started and broke out, which a lot of people don’t know. So we

Curt Carstensen 6:58
I’m one of them.

Acoma Gaither 6:59
Yeah. Yeah, um, but yeah, just just look up the Dred decision. It’s local history and it’s so important to just not just the state’s history but American history in general. Um, but yeah, if we if we knew these stories, I would hope that we would learn a lesson and not repeat, repeat these paths. It’ll do.

Curt Carstensen 7:27
And I think by not knowing these stories about not knowing history about not being taught history unless you have the, the curiosity to actually learn it yourself and find sources that can teach you things that are actually history and not the whitewash version of history if people actually knew and cared to knew, I suppose I’m talking about white people generally cared to know and actually knew the history. Then when we see these incidents horrific, incidents that happen? But I think people don’t look at any individual event as being important enough to rise the level of what follows, like huge protests and riots. If you take one singular incident, some people will think it’s overblown or think that the riots are worse than the murder or whatever opinions that people end up taking. But if people knew the history and that the history seems to be repeating itself only in a modern day version, people would I think, have a different opinion and things would change. So you as a historian, someone that understands this. Has your work cut out for you to find a way to educate people, apparently.

Acoma Gaither 8:45
Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Definitely. I think those conversations and dialogues need to need to happen too. And just people need to be open of where everybody is at and just be willing to have conversation. You know,

Curt Carstensen 9:02
I think one of the history pieces that I first learned about leading up to your, your conversation you had to gentleman in an auditorium in, I believe was in St. Paul a little over a year ago. And there was talking about was the Rondo neighborhood, which was maybe the most vibrant African American neighborhood in the Twin Cities, and probably much more than a coincidence when there needed to be space made for Interstate 94. Back when the national government got national government was expanding the interstates the local leaders decided to put it right through that neighborhood, destroying the vibrancy and forcing so many people into generations long trying to find themselves again.

Acoma Gaither 9:54
Right. Exactly. I mean, can you imagine like your home your livelihood, your community just being completely destroyed. Like what would you? How would that affect you? You know, and and your kids and if they watch that happen to their homes? Yeah, it was pretty. The effects were long lasting. So yeah, the two gentlemen that I had actually grew up in that neighborhood. And, you know, their friends and family were dislocated. A similar thing happened actually in South Minneapolis. Rondo was in St. Paul. This was in South Minneapolis and highway 35w actually completely destroyed black community and Latinx community. And apparently, city planners were planning this highway, and it was going to go straight through the Minneapolis Institute of Art and they’re like, Oh, no, no, we can’t do that. So let’s move it East a little bit and That’s what happened. And, you know, it’s coming back up because there’s they’re seeing a lot of construction on the highway as well. And these stories are now bringing, bringing back up being brought back up. So yeah.

Curt Carstensen 11:14
And as far as I understand this is not isolated to Minnesota. This was a common thing across the country knowing that they had to destroy something. And okay, we’re putting in new roads. eminent domain, however, they described it back then. But it seems like the trend was to find the least powerful people with the least strong voice and destroy their neighborhoods and not not anyone that had the money or the power to influence it away.

Acoma Gaither 11:44
Right, exactly. So these issues are been here for a while, a long time. So when somebody says, I don’t get why they’re angry. This has been blown out of proportion. It’s because nobody has been hearing us like, talk about these, you know, horrible, horrible things that have happened in the past. And when people start to understand, like, this isn’t a singular event, maybe they can, you know, really understand what’s happening. And I know a lot of people are very quick to criticize looters and rioters. However, my thing is why are you very quick to defend property and objects and not really take into account the life of a person, you know, somebody died, somebody wasn’t given their human rights and you know, we need to look at that the humanity first.

Curt Carstensen 12:45
This is clearly a time of our lives that we’re going to remember of either an opportunity where changes began to get made or a situation where it seems like an opportunity didn’t create that much change. It’s now been approximately one month since George Floyd died in the late part of May, in this month, from your observations and your work and your activism. What do you see happening? Do you see I know there’s been some change. Do you see the change has already happened being super impactful? And are you sensing that more change is going to happen based on the momentum that you’ve seen?

Acoma Gaither 13:29
Yeah, I think there’s going to be lasting change. And what’s different about this movement is there’s a lot more white people behind it. They have more buy in and to it, and this hasn’t been seen before. And of course, COVID is behind all of this. I think people wanted to see other people and, and have connections with others. So that also motivated people, and just all of these things that happen, just the timing, it was able to create this wave effect. And I think it’s going to be long lasting, you see all of these statues and monuments being pulled down, which I didn’t even think was going to happen in my lifetime. But that’s significant. I just see a lot of protests and it’s happening along for a long period. I think, oh, and you see a lot of institutions, cutting their ties with police departments, not just here, but around the country. And a lot of people I know. You know, are very fearful of that and because it’s unknown, you know, I will admit, I had my doubts too, in the beginning, but I think conversations are now being happened of, you know, what’s appropriate. What is the appropriate situation to contact the police or a social worker or you know, a health care or mental health provider. So this idea of mutual aid is springing up, and I think it’s going to be long lasting. And people are, you know, finding community in this when we had been so isolated for for those months for COVID. So yeah, I see it long lasting. I took a trip to Seattle to go see the autonomous zone, because I was inspired by what was happening here. Actually, what what really drew me to Seattle was the fact that I went on Lake Street, where the third precinct was burnt, and all a bunch of businesses was burnt down around my area as well and I went out and I was just really taking anything everything in taking photos Just documenting everything because you know, this is this is a historical event. And it’s going to be on our minds for a very long time. But I just wanted to see what a space would look like without police officers with all different people coming together and just having this kind of conversation. And I saw that happening in Seattle. And I was like, Hey, I’m going to go, I want to see what this is like. And I want to learn something. So I went there. And it was a very different experience. I’m very glad I went. How before anyone, like gets any ideas about Chaz or chop just kind of push away what you’ve heard in the media because I read a few articles after I visited and the media has it Off very off.

Curt Carstensen 17:02
So this is so great that I’m having this conversation with you. Because imagine still most people haven’t been to the protests that have been happening in Minneapolis or whatever their city is. A lot of people have been out. I know you’ve been out there several times. And honestly, I intended on going out and I, I put a couple on the calendar, and I didn’t make it. So I’m hopeful that I’ll still go to one. But people like me, well, meaning people, like me, haven’t been to these places. So you’ve been in Minneapolis several times that we can talk about that a little bit a little bit later. But you went to Seattle. And you didn’t go by yourself? I don’t think so. Explain. Explain that whole how quickly that decision was made to drive halfway across the country to go there and describe exactly what you find when you get there because I heard stuff on the news but didn’t look that much into it. So I really didn’t know was going on until after I know you were there. Then I read a little bit about it and got a better understanding, but I’d much rather hear from you.

Acoma Gaither 18:07
Yeah. Um, so, my dad, he, he, he kind of told me about Chaz. In the beginning he is. He knew a few people who were following it. And I was like, Oh, this is this is kind of cool. He kind of inspired me to go he was like, let’s go take a road trip. So like, yeah, let’s take a road trip. So I went with my father, my mother. They’re, you know, in their 60s and I was a little bit nervous to go across the country and you know, COVID is also very real. So I was nervous, but my dad just, he had this energy. to just go I was like, You know what, I don’t know when I will. Another opportunity to do this. Let’s Let’s go. So my work is based online too. So I was like, I can go remote, I can go anywhere. But I also just wanted to witness what was happening. Because, you know, in history, autonomous zones are usually only here for a little bit. And then they’re taken away very quickly. And this was something that I thought was very important. So I wanted to go. We took a road trip through North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Washington. It was, oh my goodness, it took us two and a half days to get there. It was really interesting to see how each state was kind of just dealing with masks and the politcs around masks wearing and not wearing masks. And it was it was interesting. It was really cool. When I got to Washington, there wasn’t that many people there weren’t that many tourists there. Because you know, COVID was when Washington was one of the outbreaks that happened there. It was one of the first states that had outbreaks. So it was nice to not have a lot of tourists there. There is a lot of local people there. And we got there we left on a Saturday got there Monday night, and I was at the chaz or chop on Tuesday morning and stayed there for about three days. I didn’t sleep there. We were off, a few blocks down, staying down the street, but I would go there during the mornings and afternoons. And Chaz was the Capitol Hill autonomous zone. That’s the acronym for it. And they changed it to chop, which is Capitol Hill occupied protest. And there’s some debate around what it should be called. But it was it was great. I have a lot of conversations. When I first went there, I just noticed all of this beautiful artwork. Oh, let me back up. Let me back up. I’m gonna give some context to what chaz and chop is. So, during a George Floyd protest that happened in the beginning of June, police came upon a group of protests and they had tear gas thrown at them pepper spray flashbang flashbang, grenades, barricades and they were just you know, have having this huge tension with the police. And they decided, all right, we’re going to set up a zone of six blocks in this area. And we’re not going to have any police officers here. And we’re just you know, we’re going to occupy this space. And yeah, so I arrived there, I believe it started June 8, and I got there. June 12, I believe so it had been going on for a little bit. But it was something completely different from what I was used to. Like I said before, there’s a bunch of artwork that was dedicated to George Floyd and Briana Taylor. Victims of police brutality. Just a lot of things calling out Black Lives Matter. But it was, it was like a community. I saw a lot of different people there. Who you Probably wouldn’t see normally together. If, if you’re aware Seattle has a large homeless population. So there was a there was kind of like an encampment. People who had mental health issues were there. People who were anarchists, white liberals, black people, indigenous people, and they were all together there. And it was kind of just like, like I said, a big family. And ownership was a really big theme that I noticed when I first walked in. There was a no cop, no cop Co Op, where they had all these fresh foods and food donations, toiletry donations, and I was volunteering there. Just cleaning organizing it, and that’s another thing be ready to work. When you’ve been autonomous owns definitely work. But we had to organize things because we had a huge group of hot meals being donated. So, you know, everything’s happening just like, in a quick second. So you have to be on your toes and ready. Um, but it was a sense like, okay, we, we have this space, we own this space. We don’t know for how long but we can be ourselves in this space. People would just yell out in the street. I’m like, why are you here? We’re supposed to be here for black people. And they were kind of, you know, just really expressing what was on their minds and it was, it’s normally seen as odd. But in the space it was like, you know, just be yourself say Say what you need to say. And I also got this idea of Just being uncomfortable and being okay with that. Because although some people in the encampment, I know other people would say that they’re not normal, or they wouldn’t fit in normal society and people would usually, you know, call law enforcement or police to get rid of the problem. Um, and this, you know, this wasn’t happening, you just have to be in this space with people. Um, and it was, you know, I like to say, like morally center, it was a morally centered space, while institutions were decentered, if that makes sense. So people were at the center of this. They had a bunch of free food, free water that they were offering people. So once again, the sense of mutual aid was very apparent there. They had a huge Huge soccer field, I saw a lot of people playing soccer and football and other people playing basketball. And there is a sense of play at work, which was also really comforting. I don’t know if a lot of media outlets talk about that. There was a bunch of children there, and they were doing arts and crafts. And but yeah, there was also a sense of celebration that was happening. And I was a part of a healing circle that was there, which was with black women, and we were, you know, discussing ancestors and what it means to be in this world in this time period. And it was really beautiful. And it was just nice. It was it was a nice feeling to have that and just be connected with people. Because But yeah, I had a conversation with somebody there. This gentleman And he said something that really stuck out to me. And that was that he was just laying in the fields for you know, five hours and he had somebody offer him food, offer him water. Three mental health specialists came up and asked if he was okay and two medics asked if you need any he needed anything medically. And he just felt really secure and safe in that space. And, you know, why couldn’t that be a thing in in in normal society or in the world? And I thought that was really beautiful. And I think that is really that right there. That sense of mutual aid and helping your neighbors really expanding out to a lot of people right now. I don’t know if you heard this but the Twin Cities parks board just opened up their parks for People who are experiencing homelessness to stay there. I mean, I would like it if they didn’t have to sleep in parks, if they could sleep in, you know, shelter, right. So I think that will be the next step. But just this idea of just helping one another is really, I think going to be a lasting effect of this and empathy.

Curt Carstensen 28:27
I think one thing I have noticed from witnessing some of this through the media is that it has brought out the best in a lot of people and with the best happening from so many people at once. A lot of amazing work can get done quickly. So in this space in Seattle, that story really helps describe with people coming together in a sense a community and a sense of making everyone around them included and taken care of. You are witnessing that for sure. And that’s something That if we can have more and more of that, in our normal day to day lives would be amazing, especially helping the people that often don’t get the help that they maybe need more than others with whatever mental health challenges they’re going through, or homelessness challenges. So you saw a lot of good. And I don’t know, the media is portraying as much good as happening. But I do have some questions about things that that come to mind. And I did read about I want your perspective. So six blocks is that six in one direction, like six East and six north, for instance. So like, I don’t know how the math works and how big of a space is this. And from your sense of either talking to people that, that have their homes in that space or businesses all had their normal day to day lives, whether or not they they liked the idea of this concept, that their lives were were much more challenging or maybe made worse because they weren’t able to live freely within the space that they normally do. live freely?

Acoma Gaither 30:00
Right? Yeah, that’s a good point. I did speak to some people who lived in the area. And you know, all of them weren’t necessarily positive. There was a woman who was saying that essentially having this zone is going to devalue the property within the area much quicker than it was happening before. So gentrification is going to happen more rapidly. And that was her thought process with that and I was like, okay, that’s a very valid point. I’m also Oh, the six blocks, it isn’t just six blocks in one direction. They have a huge Park which is basically one side of it. And if you move, I believe east, it goes down another block, and then you have a Like to other streets that are facing the other way, South that go down, and then another street that goes north. That’s really hard. But it isn’t one, like long Street. It’s like a little, it’s like three blocks. And then you have like, little streets that go the opposite way. Does that make sense? It’s

Curt Carstensen 31:28
not It’s not like a big square, but from one end to the other. It stretches across six blocks and then maybe a couple blocks in the other direction.

Acoma Gaither 31:35
Yes, okay. Yeah, exactly. Um, so yeah, she she didn’t. She wasn’t too positive about it. There was another girl who I spoke with, who was around my age who lived in the area. And she when I asked her about how she envisions a world without police and what’s her message She was saying, Well, I don’t know about the rest of the world I think I can only make change locally within my, my space. And she wants people to just hold space for black indigenous and people of color. And this was the space where they could, you know, be themselves and she was okay with it. She was fine. She was like we need. We need this. We need to make white people feel very uncomfortable. And this is the way to do it. Because it disrupts, it disrupts what they’re doing so they can actually pay attention. I thought that was interesting. A bunch of the businesses that were around the area. A lot of them are still opened, however, they were boarded up. So anybody could walk Through a lot of the media says that there are like armed protesters, which you had to get through to just get in. And that’s not the case. Anybody could walk freely through. So it wasn’t it wasn’t too militaristic in that sense. A bunch of the businesses were still open. Yeah. And it was residential. So there was a lot of apartment buildings and houses around that area too. But that area is an art district and it’s a very liberal neighborhood. Um, and I think that was one of the reasons why they were actually able to do something like that. But yeah, with history we always see that you know, police come in and and stop these efforts a few days or weeks after this happens or even months. So I think people were willing and Seattle to have this be a social experiment. But, yeah, I don’t know how much longer it’s gonna last though. Yeah. And it was just like a attention of what will be the lasting impact and how long and what what the impact will be on that neighborhood. So yeah, it was both positive and negative and kind of neutral. In a way.

Curt Carstensen 34:33
From what I heard the the mayor or the city council did some action to say that this was okay, at least for a while.

Acoma Gaither 34:42

Curt Carstensen 34:43
And with that, so the city’s kind of staying out of it, and the police have stayed out of it. I think with any situation where the typical leadership goes away, individual leaders might arise whether it’s to To help feed people or to provide what other services, but I think there’s also a risk of people taking some kind of leadership position that don’t have the best interests in mind that since maybe kind of happened throughout history, good ideas turn into new leadership, which turns into maybe more powerful, less positive leadership arise. So of the people or the groups that seem to be the most influential within this zone. What were you seeing good people arise rise to the leadership positions, or are some people trying to even be trouble causers in that context,

Acoma Gaither 35:41
yeah, I actually didn’t see any leaders. So one of the main points within an autonomous zone is having it be autonomous and not having a hierarchy of authority. So you know, everybody is on the same level. And I didn’t see any, like specific organizations doing work in that space. It was just all volunteer based. Now, what was interesting when I first walked in, there’s a group of people that was standing in kind of the entrance. And when I walked through, there was another group of people that were telling me, Hey, watch out, those are proud boys are very conservative. You can’t really see their faces cuz of the masks, but they’re not looking for any good here. So I had to, like keep my eye open. Um, so I think people people have their backs but then it was also Like, who do we trust in this space? Um, and some incidences happened a few days ago, with apparently somebody who was a proud boy, and like safety precautions weren’t there and stuff went down. So it’s It is really hard when you don’t have sort of the safety net. But I think that’s kind of what was needed, like you said before leadership can arise, but that it could also arise but be worse than what you’re trying to fight, you know. So I couldn’t really point out to you who was leading anything. And I think that was the beauty of it.

Curt Carstensen 37:33
And you had this sense that it was not going to go maybe that much longer that this that you guess the whatever you said a few minutes ago, it felt like you thought this is probably going to end fairly soon. What What gave you that, that thought that that’s the way it’s headed?

Acoma Gaither 37:50
Well, the only thought was was because history has showed that and I know like in a big, big city, like Seattle, they wouldn’t keep something like this for a long time, which is really unfortunate. I wanted it to last longer, because I thought it was a beautiful space. And I still think it is. Um, but I know people just have to go back to, you know, the way things were or, you know, have some sort of like security. So that’s why I knew that it wasn’t going to last forever. And I had to keep that in the back of my mind. But yeah, it wasn’t anything that I saw there specifically.

Curt Carstensen 38:39
For me, I think the point of that and the protest is to shake up the status quo to find what is normal but not working, or at least not working for some groups of people that clearly clearly see things aren’t working. I’m sure there’s a lot of white people that think everything’s fine in policing, nothing needs to change. And over here, black people are saying, No, there are major problems. We’ve been telling you this for ages. So let’s shake this up a little bit. When you hear the term defund the police and that movement, maybe explain what it means to you. And what ideally, realistically what you think, can come out of this in terms for what people what the mass of people seem to want when they’re out there, yelling and screaming, defund the police.

Acoma Gaither 39:36
Yeah, that’s a big, a big, big, big thing. Um, so your question was, what do I think? Like, what steps should be taken?

Curt Carstensen 39:52
When you hear that term and if you don’t educate yourself on it, people can draw all sorts of conclusions from it as if the police In anything like it would disappear forever and the way that there’d be no authority that would be there to truly protect and serve the community. I hear it, I think, on a cop cars is is to protect and serve. But that’s not always happening in that way. People don’t think that that’s what’s happening. Let’s get it closer to that by whatever means necessary, whether we restructure it abolish it started, again, put in different groups of people that are there to do those jobs, whatever it is, I think there’s probably a better way that’s not being done. Some cities have tried it. So there’s to me, there’s Okay, let’s overhaul the system in some way to make things better for the people that especially need it.

Acoma Gaither 40:41

Curt Carstensen 40:41
But I still feel like I’m kind of an outsider. I haven’t been in the middle of these protests. I haven’t been yelling and screaming that I don’t know that I would yell and scream that because I think there maybe there’s better ways, but maybe that is the best way from your perspective. If you’ve been out there yelling and screaming, defund the police or if you’re a part of that movement.

Acoma Gaither 40:59

Curt Carstensen 40:59
Why? Trying to truly accomplish realistically, because I don’t think we can disband police forces everywhere and have nothing like it, replace it.

Acoma Gaither 41:10
Right. Yeah. So I know it’s it can be a scary concept. And so in terms of defunding, what that means to me is basically shifting the resources from this very militarized police force that we have already with the aim of like reducing socio economic disparities within certain communities. So that means putting resources that we would use to fund the police into social services into education. You know, police aren’t mental health specialists. They’re not social workers. They’re not here once again for certain certain situations such as as domestic violence I don’t think the police should be called. I think another service should be called. Because I’ve seen too many times of women who had called the police being arrested themselves and having to spend the night in jail when that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Or just all these crazy stories, you see Philando he got pulled over. I think it was for for a traffic light or something,

Curt Carstensen 42:29
A taillight maybe something like yeah,

Acoma Gaither 42:31
and, and he was murdered in front of his daughter like shot not once multiple times that did not need to end up like that, as well as George Floyd. They said he allegedly had a $20 you know, fake, fake bill, right? Why? Why are we calling the police for the situation and it ends up with him getting a knee to his neck and dying, that there’s something wrong here.

Curt Carstensen 43:00
Yeah and as you bring up the the police being called for the use of a fake $20 bill if that is what happened, I had the thought of if I’m if I’m parked past my my meter in a parking spot, there is a separate group of people that are coming around and giving me a parking ticket because you don’t need I don’t know exactly what the parking, I forget whatever the call to the enforcement for the parking if they’re carrying any weapons of any kind, but they probably don’t have a gun on them to give me a ticket for this parking crime. If it is a crime even. And there’s someone having that job to enforce a relatively petty infraction and I pay my $45 whatever. Not that not the end of the world knows no chance of some violent interaction with the person enforcing it. And if it’s truly the reason that The police were called for the fake $20. Bill whether or not it was a fake dollar 20 bill, I have no idea. The fact that anyone shows

Acoma Gaither 44:07
It shouldn’t matter right?

Curt Carstensen 44:08
It shouldn’t matter, but they show up and they have all this weaponry. So if somehow things don’t go perfectly, they didn’t shoot him that time and in so many cases, someone ends up shot. But still or four cops show up because something got out of hand because someone was in a store and the store didn’t like the way it when it things can escalate so much. Where Yeah, there would conceivably be another way, maybe a different group of law enforcement to be there to handle this instead of because the police probably have more important crime to attend to than that. And that’s kind of the point. It’s not everything, everyone against police. It’s what should police really be dealing with. And if they have so much time on their hands that they can be there for this relatively small alleged crime, maybe there’s totally different ways for them to use their time such as hanging out in the communities and just helping people and getting to know people rather than only showing up when something bad is happening, and then having the chance for it to escalate, why can’t they be there a lot more often, to just be a part of the good of the community instead of always being the indication that something bad is happening?

Acoma Gaither 45:23
Exactly. That’s my point. Yeah. And I think we should also get more police officers from those communities of which they’re, quote, unquote, policing, to have those relationships already built in place. Or, or if they’re not from that community, like you said, you know, be involved, be a part of the community in some way. Because if you’re just showing up for crisis’s, like you’re going to already build a certain bias of the neighborhood or people that you’re policing. If you’re only seeing You know, certain certain things about that community, right? So yeah, we have we need to dismantle, we need to defund.

Curt Carstensen 46:10
it makes sense to me and I have the perspective of a straight white guy that if I call the police, I wouldn’t have this sensation that there is that somehow it was very likely that something bad would happen to me because I’m reporting whatever I’m reporting, but I know that’s not the case for so many other people that for a variety of reasons, people in black or otherwise less serves communities have hesitation, a slight hesitation or a huge hesitation to ever get law enforcement involved for a variety of reasons. And the trust is gone. Whether or not right, whether or not an outsider think that the trust should be gone. It’s gone. So how are we going to make this work effectively?

Acoma Gaither 46:57
Right. Exactly. I I have no idea that trust just isn’t there. And it’s going to take a very, very, very long time to rebuild. Um, and that’s why you know, people want to say or or are saying abolish the police because that system just isn’t isn’t a trustworthy one. So we need to get there. Before we, I think even before we tried to reform because you can reform reform reform all you want to, but it’s not going to, you know, have long term effects like you can have a bunch of trainings like we see the Minneapolis Police Department doing in St. Paul police department, but it’s not really working. Because we still have these numbers. We still have incidences like George Floyd. So we need to do something more. And it’s gonna be something that’s radically different and First thing is funding. So I think they really realize when I say they, I mean, the police department police union, that this is a serious issue, and you need to listen to our concerns. So we need to have you pause. And you know, rethink this.

Curt Carstensen 48:19
As you’ve spent time in the the different protests around the Twin Cities and in Seattle, you’re meeting with people, you’re being a part of it. You’re seeing people you’re you’re hearing all the opinions are hearing. Do you think there is enough clarity in what people seem to want? That a clear message or a few important clear messages can and will come through so that those particular actions can be improved upon or resolved? Is it clear enough? Is the movement clear enough to be effective because I know sometimes I hear opinions thinking maybe it’s not maybe there’s so many people with so many voices wanting so many different things. Can we get anything done to actually make a difference? Clearly?

Acoma Gaither 49:12
Yeah. That’s a good question. My first reaction is two people who are saying, well, what’s what’s the message? What’s the plan? Do you even have a plan that are quick to like, go to that mode of thinking? I already know that they aren’t understanding what we’re saying in the beginning, which is we need to have a conversation about this. First, we want you to be a part of the situation, the solution. So the fact that you’re saying, Well, what what is the solution? No, no, no, we’re still in that part. We’re still trying to have dialogue and process what’s happening. So back up a little bit. And let’s talk Okay, where where are you in this In the struggle for me, I see once again three things emerging from this movement today, three messages that I think are very clear. They might get watered down or murky. But once again, mutual aid, that is a huge thing that I think people are realizing right now. And it’s being brought up because of COVID. We see these inequities, and they’re very real and people are dying. And I think that is one of the biggest messages, how are people getting health care? And why do we have this system in place to begin with who’s not getting the help that they need? And I think that is a big message that’s going that’s going around. Another one is justice for people of color, but specifically black and indigenous folks. I see a lot of people realizing these symbols that they thought were, you know, supposed to be on this pedestal like a bunch of Confederate soldiers, or Christopher Columbus coming down and people are realizing, okay, some people are saying you’re erasing history, but other people are realizing like, hey, why why are we, you know, honoring and celebrating this person who, you know, did some questionable stuff like owned people, or Christopher Columbus, he didn’t even set foot here and in this part of the world, in this part of the world, and we still have a statue of him in our capital. That’s a little strange. Anyways, I see that emerging. And I see. I see that as a big message. Um, and then I think another thing, which is a little bit murky, it will just police reform and and the atrocities of Police? Um, yeah, those are those are the three things that I see people really fighting for. And my question is, how are we going to sustain it? I know I’m gonna do my part as a historian and continue to tell these stories and, and get that education out there because I think education is the, you know, biggest thing that we need right now. So we can move forward. But yeah, what are what are the messages that you’re seeing from this movement? On the other side of somebody who’s not in the protests?

Curt Carstensen 52:40
I think that’s the trouble. I see so many messages that I like the ones that you brought up, yes, those have probably been some of the more clear ones. But what happens is, there isn’t always a point person or a few point purse, people passing on the message, there’s news reports of all varieties, giving you moments in time from something. And the message is different from time to time, or there’s just so many messages going on that if you step away from them, and you don’t know that people are just trying to have the conversation, I think that’s always a part of my life. And I we need to keep having conversations. But if you don’t see those, those people really just trying to push the conversation forward. You’re wondering what’s going to come with this. And I think in the past when things don’t happen, it’s because it didn’t get clear enough eventually. And those clear messages, whether they ever were there or ever were put into potential political change. They they lost the momentum or something. Now there is the momentum. And I do think major police reform is coming in a lot of places, at least places like Minneapolis specifically, it seems like on a larger scale. scale the government, maybe not. But there needs to be a city like Minneapolis that does do things, radically different. That work.

Acoma Gaither 54:09

Curt Carstensen 54:10
The problem is if things change greatly, and somehow the statistics show everything’s getting worse than that, you got to do it right. You really got to find a solution. It’s we’ve agreed that we can do better. But whenever the solution comes and ends up not being better, that that could be troublesome. So it might take a while to get it right. And I think it’s okay to take as much time as as needed. So to me that that is the big one because the police represent the government. In all these situations, they’re given the authority that they are in charge. And if the people that are in charge, on the point of interaction with the general public, aren’t handling the situation in a way that the general public sees as being okay, accurate, the best thing you can do, the trust falls away. It’s fallen away so many times in the past and that that to me, that’s the biggest thing from this. The interactions point to point with the public in the authority needs to be greatly improved.

Acoma Gaither 55:12
greatly improved. Yes. I couldn’t have said it better. Definitely. Yeah. And like when you have the public, who’s paying taxes, who, who’s paying salaries of police, and you see them, you know, I see them killing my family, killing fellow friends and family. That’s not the kind of world I want to live in. So let’s have this conversation. We can do better, you know, like who ownership I said is a big thing. Police I see as they’re trying to protect private property in a lot of situations when they’re supposed to protect and serve its public. When that’s not happening, like that’s, that’s what it’s supposed to. That’s the ideal that it’s supposed We got to, and when that’s not aligned, we have a huge problem and we need to we need to fix it. So, yeah, I think dialogue is the first thing. For sure.

Curt Carstensen 56:10
I struggle when I see that the National Guard or whatever branch of the military is called out to protect statues and monuments. That symbolism is important to a lot of people. It’s not really important to me. Like how big of an issue it became when Colin Kaepernick five years ago, took a knee during the national anthem, how so many people felt offended that someone could do that. These are all symbols, the flags a symbol, how we respect the flag. I don’t know why anyone gets to decide that and enforce that. It seems like a knee is just as respectful as standing with your hand on your heart or standing. So many times I’ve been at a sporting event and I took it off my hat and held it behind my back. There’s all sorts of ways that people stand at attention and The kneeing in attention doesn’t need to be any worse. But somehow that symbol of someone doing something different, was made out to be this awful thing. And now he’s, he’s been looked at much differently, especially with the specific meme that arose of a respectful knee and a murdering knee, basically.

Acoma Gaither 57:18

Curt Carstensen 57:18
And the symbols of the statues and people really hold on tightly to the way things have been or the way they think they should be. And put that more importantly than how individuals are treated and that that’s crazy. But

Acoma Gaither 57:33
yeah, it’s, it’s crazy to me too. It’s like what? Truly if you if you really think about it, what are you holding on to what what is it? You know? Yeah, just some food for thought.

Curt Carstensen 57:51
I think we’ve covered a lot, a lot of topics here Acoma, about we go to my personal growth segment and perhaps you have a story to share about Through this process or in your life in general, in the last 14 months since we had a conversation for my podcast, or encapsulating everything else that’s been going on in your mind with your personal growth. What can you say from your life has, has really been standing out of ways that you think you’re being better as a person and growing to become the person that you know that you can or should be.

Acoma Gaither 58:27
Right. And I think just my willingness to be uncomfortable and engage in conversation has grown so much. I’m really proud that I, I went on this trip to Seattle, and I got to interact with a bunch of people that I would never normally interact with, on a day to day basis. And it just really helped me expand my own reality and we What I think I know about the world, my own knowledge and my own limited knowledge in the world, and just see it from another perspective. Um, this idea of mutual aid This is very new to me, to be honest, I never really thought about it. I you know, living in my own little bubble and, and not really not that I didn’t care, it was just I was unaware of how I could help. How big of an issue this was. So that theme has been really resonating with me a lot. And just being willing to listen to people. I’m not gonna lie, like I if somebody had a particular view, I just would easily just shut it out and, you know, label them as a particular person and, you know, not really give them the time of day because I thought they weren’t really giving me the time of day of, you know, being the person. I I am so why should I talk to them and give them any respect. But I think now it’s like, okay, you may have had a different lived experience than me. I’m in a hold space, and I want to figure out where you’re coming from, and why you have these particular ideas. And, you know, I’ll share where I’m coming from. And let’s, we might not come to an agreement, but let’s, let’s see where we are. Let’s see what kind of human we are. Um, and, yeah, I had a incident where I was at my job and I was telling the story of Dred Scott, the individual who I spoke with you earlier, in the beginning of this podcast, and I was telling you story, and this gentleman was just telling me like he was really fed up of black people. Talking about slavery. And I was like, Alright, let’s have a conversation. Let’s talk Why Why are you so fed up with this? Where are you? Where are you coming from? And he was telling me about his life situation. And I kind of was understanding where these where the bias was coming from. And, you know, I was telling him about my life story and who my my family was, and why my history so important to me and my identity and why I fight to have their stories shared. And I think he could see that he could. He understood from, you know, being proud of where he came from and telling his story and he could see that I shared that same passion. And we could have a good conversation. You know, if anybody before would have said that to me, I’d be like, I’m not going to talk to you, I don’t have time to talk to you. And I think it’s okay if people don’t have time or the emotional capacity to talk to somebody like that. Do so you know, keep yourself on hold. But when you do have that opportunity to maybe change somebody’s viewpoint, and not do it forcefully to you know, don’t get the ego out, and just come at it with, you know, humility, and just set a even playing field, if that makes sense. So, yeah, we didn’t agree in the end, but we had some understanding. So that was really big for me.

Curt Carstensen 1:02:47
Something that I think I forget maybe is commonly forgotten that we often assume the common ground and politics, the only things that we hear about What’s being debated where the the left and the right don’t agree on this, but the vast majority of what’s in place in our society is agreed upon. And it’s only the the handful of things that we don’t agree on that, that bring about the divisiveness because if you focus on what we don’t agree on all the time and forget that we agree on things, we can build up this, this content for each contempt for each other. And I think when those conversations you can’t change anyone’s mind, but we can do is become someone that they come to, like, appreciate and respect for what you have in common, and then share the different perspective that they might not initially agree with. But they if they see you as someone, I like I respect this about this person. There’s a chance that they’ll hear this new perspective and then consider it more greatly but if if you ignore all hide all the things that you might share in common with somebody else, and then immediately go to the debate this, there’s no chance for a common ground.

Acoma Gaither 1:04:10
Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Curt Carstensen 1:04:13
So it’s these conversations, but we, we all need to get better at having conversations. I appreciate you having this conversation. I think I agree with so much of what you have been much more active about than I have. But still I come from a different background, a different perspective. So I don’t I don’t know everything that you’re specifically fighting for. I’m over here being an ally that saying, I like these people. I like these ideas that these people have. It’s worth being on this side of it, but I still don’t have your perspective. So you coming on and having this conversation with me, you’re able to share some aspects of your perspective that that’s no one but you really has your perspective and I do appreciate it.

Acoma Gaither 1:04:54
Yeah, thank you. Thank you for holding space for me. I love talking with you and sharing my perspective, this is great.