Volume 32, Number 4

Intersection–Falcon Heights, Minnesota

In July 2016, St. Anthony, Minn., police officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb. The world watched the aftermath, live on Facebook. Yanez was charged in Castile's death. Jurors found him not guilty on all charges on June 16, 2017.          
–MPR News

Larpenteur at Fry—9 blocks
west of my old bike route to work.

Late spring, summer, fall, pedaling for three years
on maple-lined streets. Stopping for little toys
in the road to bring home to my son.
The tiny plastic dalmatian puppy
covered in grime. At work, within a year
of getting the tenure-track job
I’d struggled for three years to get,
I was terrified of being laid off.
Law school admissions falling and falling,
staff under threat for months before the fateful
meeting, the surreal champagne. And then
fear widening, sealing the untenured into its echo chamber.
But my forty-five minute bike ride—
from our stucco farmhouse with its treed, double-lot—
the oldest house on the block—to the brick liberal arts college—
those were moments I could think—could wrap
my body into action. Right at the end of our long driveway
onto County Road B East, then left onto Victoria, which jogs
to the left at Larpenteur,
the busiest street on my route. I would get off my bike,
push the pedestrian button, and walk across. The only time
I was ever scared in three years of riding was further on—
entering the shadowy Lexington Tunnel,
cut, mortared stones and cement arched above the bike trail, the worry
that someone could be lurking, but no one ever was.
My fear would muscle my legs into fast orbits
for those few seconds of shade.
C., who taught at the other St. Paul law school,
once told me biking to work was too dangerous because of all the traffic.
I looked back at her silently, the way I do when I know I’ll keep doing something
in the face of disagreement and don’t know quite what to say.
Inside I could hear my brain—my heart—refusing to relent.
M. and I knew we were leaving for a year before we had to,
and I kept hoping something would change—more law students would
sign up, more donations would come in, more senior professors
would retire, the one who planned to die in his office would change his mind.
We registered Z. for school because of the hope,
signing him up with the local district and also
entering a lottery for St. Paul’s JJ Hill Montessori. He was on the wait-list,
and the summer we left—2014—he got in. Sick to my stomach
with sorrow at the news.

JJ Hill was where Philando Castile worked as a culinary supervisor,
having started in district food services at 19. He was promoted
after eleven years—a month before Z. would have gone there. Z. would have been one of the kids
who’d laughed at his jokes and then—too early—become intimate with confusion and grief.
Castile’s dream he said during the supervisory interview was to
“sit at the other side of this table.” Did he also dream that someday
the police would leave him alone, stop filling suburban coffers
with his hard-earned paychecks, stop trumping up fines and give him
a break? His sister said it was partly the big sedans he liked to drive,
his dreads that gave them license. Thirteen years of driving and forty-six
stops, $6,000 in fines that he struggled to pay off. Only six of the stops
for things that could be noticed prior to sirens and flashing lights.
That leaves forty for driving while black, his life a time-bomb
awaiting eruption of some officer’s fear. The last officer saw
a wide nose and fastened on robbery suspect. And the jury
refused to penalize fear, clutching instead the collective belief that fear
justifies anything. Fear that goes back hundreds of years to the slavers’
estimation that black men were more valuable than black women—
purchasing preferences birthing the buyers’ own fear. And all of us still living under it,
this slavers’ creed, this disease. Fear construed
as alibi. Imagine how he must have tensed up when he got into his car.
Imagine how lucky we all are that he could still manage to joke
with the pupils and serve the district well all those years
after he graduated from that school. “My son loved this city, and this city killed my son,”
his mother said after the verdict.

For three years, I crossed Larpenteur nine blocks east
of that intersection. No harm ever befell me.
Unlike in Michigan where motorists sometimes screamed
at me for biking or Seattle where a car pulled in front of me and stopped
on Yesler’s steep downward slope and I hit the wrong brake
and sailed over the handle bars, the unruffled driver continuing to park.
Three years without knowing the price of my peace.

—Ann Tweedy