Pandemic Travel-Trailer Trip: Minneapolis to Los Angeles  

Minneapolis friends, John and Linda, provided the following account of their recent  travel-trailer trip to Los Angeles, September 22 – October 18, 2020.

“Our daughter, her spouse and their 22 month-old little girl live 2,000 miles away, in Los Angeles, a Coronavirus hotspot. The pandemic had precluded our seeing them since early this year, but at our vulnerable ages (mid-70’s), we were not about to use air travel. In fact, we’ve reached the age where our grown kids sometimes dictate to us, and our daughter told us no way she would let us get on an airplane. So what to do?”

“They were equally opposed to flying themselves in the midst of a pandemic, unwilling to manage a 22-month old in an airport and on an airplane, where they (especially their daughter, who likely would show no symptoms) could pick up the virus, then infect us during their visit. We were equally unwilling to drive out there using motels, restaurants and gas station bathrooms. Our answer to this dilemma was to use our travel trailer to make the trip.”

“Our travel trailer is quite basic — 21 feet, one room with a bed, small kitchen with propane stove and refrigerator, and a tiny bathroom. We bought it in 2013 so we could travel to and stay in the ‘back country’ more comfortably than in a tent, and that’s how it’s been used — trips up the Alaska Highway to remote parts of Alaska and the Yukon, trips out to the remote reaches of Newfoundland and Labrador, trips into some of the more remote regions of the American southwest, etc. But we now realized that our trailer could serve as a mobile “shelter in place” bubble if we towed it out to Los Angeles.  With advance campground reservations, we could even pull into and out of campgrounds without ever being indoors or even within 6 feet of another person outdoors.”

“We took the southern route, down through Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas to Oklahoma, then west through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, in order to avoid serious wildfires raging along the shorter northern route through Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Sticking to 2-lane roads and state parks whenever possible, we were able to relax with our ‘bubble,’ untroubled by any evidence of the virus as we worked our way through iconic rural and small-town America.   We had stocked up on groceries before we left, with bacon & eggs for breakfast and meat and veggies for dinner, cooked on a propane grill that attaches to the side of the trailer.  During the day, we’d look for a nice pull-off where we’d make sandwiches for lunch.”

“Our driving days also provided some respite from the emotional intensity of the election.  The campgrounds where we stayed had no TV hookups (thankfully!), but we subscribed to Sirius radio so that we could occasionally tune in to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and other news stations while we were driving.

“Political signage dominated the roads of rural Minnesota and Iowa (Trump signs vastly outnumbering Biden signs), but we saw surprisingly few political signs for either candidate during the rest of the trip, which was through mostly ‘Red’ states.   However, the ‘Red’ states were clearly not requiring or even encouraging protective masks.

Although we never had to go inside of gas stations (we had our own bathroom), they were very busy, and we could see that virtually no one was wearing a mask.  Restaurants and bars in the small towns also appeared to be open, busy, and mask-less, including one boasting the unforgettable (and unappetizing) name ‘Bucksnort Bar & Grill.’  On the other hand, we could see that the national chains in the small towns — McDonalds, Dairy Queen, etc. — had signs on their doors requiring masks and were allowing only drive-up orders.”

“And while RV enthusiasts are usually stereotyped as conservatives, the handful of RV’s we saw with political bumper stickers only slightly favored Trump. One monster truck pulling a 5th- wheel travel trailer with South Dakota plates — which we assumed would be a Trump supporter — boasted this bumper sticker: ‘Republicans against Trump — You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out.’”

“That said, RV campers have enough in common outside of politics to make for interesting conversations even in the middle of a heated election and a politicized pandemic, and it’s easy to enjoy safe outside ‘social distance’ chats in a campground.  The guys talk about ‘tow vehicle’ capabilities, tricks for managing the ‘black water’ tank, and maintenance challenges (which are never-ending with a travel trailer), while the wives trade stories about the travails of trying to guide their tone-deaf husbands in backing their trailers into campsites.  Of course, we also share tips about where else to travel and camp all over North America.

A special treat on this trip was meeting three other couples who, like us, were on journeys to visit their children and grandchildren.  In fact, reports in the media about the explosion in RV activity are accurate, as we saw a lot more of them on the road than usual for this time of year, and the campgrounds were always near capacity.”

“Our campground outside of Los Angeles — where we spent two weeks — was surprisingly open and rustic. We had feared the worst, given LA’s density, but this campground was near the foothills some 30 miles east of downtown, with spacious ‘full hook-up’ sites overlooking a large regional park with mountain views.  Unfortunately, this view was obscured off and on — especially later in the day — by smoke from one of the many wildfires raging through California, the nearest one only 20 miles away, but reportedly fully contained.”

“After seeing so many news reports before we left that showed raging fires, evacuations, and homes consumed by flames, we were surprised at what seemed to be a lack of concern about the fires on the part of our daughter’s family and campground neighbors.  There had been an evacuation just 10 miles north of our daughter’s home, but she said there was no concern that the fire would spread that far south, and the awful air quality seemed to be a nuisance to be endured by just staying indoors.  Our campground neighbors said pretty much the same thing.  They expressed the same concern we did about the unusual extent of the fires and the urgent need to deal with the root causes — global warming and inadequate resources.  But they felt no sense of personal danger, nor did they express any desire to move out of California.”

“We were glad that we had brought along an air purifier. We were also happy that our trailer had an air conditioner, as the daytime temperatures every day during that first week topped 100 degrees! Our days were simple: coffee, of course, together with breakfast cooked outdoors over a camp stove and enjoyed with our lovely mountain view, then drive 30 miles on the LA freeway to our daughter’s house — sometimes congested and stop & go, but mostly open, with six lanes of traffic impatiently roaring around us at 70 to 80 miles an hour.”

“Our daughter and spouse have both been extremely careful and have been working at home during the pandemic, so we had no concerns about catching the virus from them. Dinner with them was all take-out, with the grandparents (of course) picking up the tab.  The restaurants they used seemed quite busy when we stopped to pick up our orders — and absolutely everyone was wearing a mask.  On several days during the second week, which was cooler and less hazy, our daughter’s family came to spend the day with us. We picnicked at the trailer site, then enjoyed the nearby park playground, where no other children were playing. Our granddaughter hit it off with us right away, despite having not seen us for 8 months or so, and it was idyllic having nothing to do every day but hang out with her, enjoying her antics and totally unfiltered efforts to talk to us.”

“Our two weeks went by much too quickly, but this turned out to be a perfect way to minimize the risk of the pandemic, spend some quality time with our little granddaughter at a very precious age, and enjoy a nice camping trip — a true ‘three-fer.’”

“In fact, at the end, we decided we wanted to come back in February for a much longer stay, using the trailer for a winter get-away, both to visit our daughter’s family and just enjoy the warm weather.

This decision required leaving the trailer out there, since we had no interest in braving winter storms across the Great Plains to tow a travel trailer from Minnesota to California in February.   Fortunately, we discovered that acres of huge warehouse buildings are available out there to accommodate all of the RV’s that people own in such a densely populated area.  Some of them even offer valet service, delivering the RV to your door when you want it, cleaned and ready to go, then picking it up when you’re done.  They’ll even take it to and from one of the regional campgrounds for you.  We didn’t opt for that extra bit of luxury, but we had no trouble finding a place to store our little trailer until March.”

“So now the challenge was to drive home with minimal pandemic risk.   The solution was to limit ourselves to 3 motel nights (4 driving days of 500+ miles), obsessively sanitize our motel rooms upon arrival, and avoid restaurants and gas station bathrooms.  We wore our masks whenever we were outside the car, and we found that the interstate rest stops and truck stops not only had large and well-ventilated bathrooms, but required their patrons also to wear masks.  We even carried in and ran a HEPA air purifier in our motel room for several hours after we checked in, and we had pizza delivered.”

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 33): More Thoughts on the New Normal

Victor Davis Hanson, the Martin and Lile Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and an avowed Trump supporter, [1] has commented on whether changes we already are seeing in the U.S. reaction to the COVVID-19 Pandemic will be part of the new normal after we hopefully survive that pandemic. First, we will look at Hanson’s commentary, and then examine a Minneapolis perspective.

Hanson’s Commentary[2]

Initially Hanson notes, “Rents, home prices and office occupancy rates in major cities, especially on the two coasts, are dropping fast. Techies and young professionals have discovered that they can work from home without paying sky-high housing costs in order to be close to the office.”

Moreover, “Those more fortunate wonder why they should get bogged down with commutes and urban traffic — or navigate city sidewalks amid homelessness, crime, racial tensions and urban unrest — when they can make as much money while staying distant in quieter landscapes. Some react by moving to quieter, low-tax states such as Idaho, Tennessee or Utah. Others flee New York City or the Bay Area/Silicon Valley corridor to upstate New York or California’s Central Valley. Who would have ever believed that housing prices in picturesque San Francisco would be falling while housing prices in pedestrian Sacramento and Fresno are soaring?”

“Worries about COVID-19 in high-density cities, and unreliable city services add to the unhappiness. Residents want less dependence on mass transit and elevator living. Constant human contact is seen more as risky than desirous.” In addition, “gun sales are at record highs. When some cities take steps to defund police and some soften bail laws, citizens quietly go to the local gun store and stock up on ammunition. Many of the people who have never before owned firearms are no longer clamoring for gun control. A ‘man’s home’ is now becoming his armed castle.”

“As a general rule, any business or activity that does not bother, judge or lecture Americans and instead allows them to work or relax in peace is preferred. That may explain why Zoom and Skype use is soaring while TV ratings for the woke NBA and NFL are down.”

“Why are Amazon and Walmart booming while smaller businesses are going broke? Largely because home delivery better serves those who are barricaded at home, terrified both of the virus and government reaction to it. Family businesses [on the other hand] are not vertically integrated. They have few cash reserves and no special insider exemptions from government officials. How ironic that in our quest to become safe and in control of our own destinies, we empower the anonymity of huge conglomerates and erode the viability of reliable, service-friendly, mom-and-pop stores.”

“For the first time in their careers, many teachers and professors are careful not to go off-topic and rant to their high school and college students. Their video streams are not only seen by captive classroom audiences but occasionally peeked in on by the parents and taxpayers who pay their salaries.”

“This is the first autumn in memory that a huge percentage of college students are staying home. And no one is sure of the ensuing consequences. Will students revolt over borrowing money simply to watch lectures on their basement computers? Will they be less likely to vote in November when they are isolated at home, rather than congregating on campus near polling places and subject to constant peer pressures to vote — and to do so in predictable ways?”

“With college revenues dropping, will ambitious promises to hire more diversity administrators, build more self-segregated racial theme houses and increase campus social services be seen as just more costly overhead that shorts classroom teaching?”

“During the pandemic, government has become more intrusive and yet seemingly more impotent and incompetent. Pick a month and some government official issues yet more contradictory orders on mask wearing, social distancing and lockdowns — all to be soon reversed. Taxes stayed high and yet urban services got worse. Increasingly, American city dwellers don’t always count on the power going on when they flip the switch, or the bus or train always showing up, or the police always answering 911 calls.”

Hanson concludes, “We still do not know the full consequences of these radical changes in American life, especially whether they will continue after the COVID-19 virus abates and quarantines end. The cultural currents are often contradictory. They defy easy political analysis and seem at times counterintuitive.”

“But there is one historical constant. When institutions and politicians cannot accommodate radically changed circumstances, people will no longer value institutions and politicians. In their place, citizens will seek to ensure their own livelihoods, leisure and safety in ways that are more reliable and affordable — with their circumstances in their own hands rather than in those of distant others.”

“And their adjustments won’t always be calm or polite.”

Comments

I agree with Hanson that “We still do not know the full consequences of these radical changes in American life, especially whether they will continue after the COVID-19 virus abates and quarantines end.”

Here is a perspective on this issue from downtown Minneapolis, which is seeing positive developments despite current difficulties. First, the business news. Then, a look at residential real estate.

Local Business Developments[3]

Our local newspaper, the StarTribune, reports, “Creating that feeling of safety is job one for Minnesota employers hoping to woo back thousands of virus-leery staffers after months of working from home. It’s been slow going. To date only one in 10 workers in Minneapolis and St. Paul office towers have returned to the office hub. Most businesses expect more to follow sometime next year.”

One of the major downtown employers, Target Corporation’s headquarters, is essentially closed with virtually all of its personnel working remotely and currently not scheduled to return to their offices until next June.

Another downtown employer is the headquarters for Delta Dental of Minnesota, one of the largest providers of dental benefits in the Upper Midwest, serving more than 8,800 Minnesota- and North Dakota-based purchasing groups and 4.1 million members. It recently completed a remodeling of its Minneapolis offices: installation of an automated temperature and face-scanning station that reminds . . . [everyone]  to ‘wear a mask,’ . . . portable air filters, . . . automatic doors that open with the wave of an ID badge or hand, and . . . 180 workstations encased in 6-foot-tall plexiglass.” Now there are only three employees working on one of its floors.” https://www.deltadentalmn.org/about-us

“Commercial tenants inside [downtown Minneapolis] office venues such as the IDS Center, City Center, . . . Capella Tower and the SPS Tower. . .— each home to more than 2,000 workers — are laboring to keep people distanced from one another in elevators, cubicles and conference rooms and adopting motion sensors and software so workers can keep germs to themselves and stagger their attendance.”

When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Buhl Investors, was in the process of “converting a former 1883 railroad warehouse and soap factory” in the downtown (renamed Switch House). To respond to enhanced concerns over virus transmission it installed a ”needlepoint bipolar ionization system,” which produces “electrically charges ions in the air that cling to viruses, allergens, mold and other particles, rendering them inert.”

The 10-story Nordic building, also downtown, installed a different Covid-19 inspired technology. This will allow  the Chicago-based technology consulting firm, West Monroe, to move its 120 Minneapolis employees into its 42,000 square-feet second and third floor offices with 40 phone and meeting rooms.

Other positive news for downtown Minneapolis are the recent announcements by Deluxe Corp., which has expanded its business to include more than its initial check-printing, has decided to move its headquarters to downtown Minneapolis and by Principal Financial’s decision to lease 45,500 square feet of space in a downtown tower.

The most significant and flashy downtown development is the completion of the construction of the $125 million project for the headquarters of Thrivent Corporation, a nonprofit financial services organization (formerly known as Lutheran Brotherhood) with more than $16 billion in assets under management. With 264,000 square feet of open work spaces in a “new, airy , eight-story glass-and-stone building,” it features open work-spaces, sprawling breakrooms, credit union, library, chapel, art gallery (with works from the 13th century to the modern day), coffee shop, gym and underground parking. I look forward to walking around this new building.

John Breitinger of Cushman & Wakefield’s Minneapolis Real Estate Development Advisory practice is in charge of selling Thrivent’s new building with a 20-year leaseback as a means for Thrivent to recoup its investment in constructing this new building and redeploying the capital to grow and serve more clients. According to Breitinger, “Downtown Minneapolis is still seen as a safe bet by institutional real estate investors, given the diversity of our [institutions] and the quality of our workforce.”

These “efforts suggest that reports of the death of the American office may be premature. Many businesses ‘had this notion that we can do [remote work] forever,’ said Jim Montez, Minnesota leasing vice president at Transwestern. ‘But increasingly, what I’m hearing from business leaders is ‘We can’t do that forever because I am losing the bond that I have with my team. I am losing the culture [and] the brand identity of my enterprise. To maintain that, we need our people back together.’ ”

Local Residential Real Estate Developments[4]

 Jim Buchta of the StarTribune, starts, “As in many U.S. metro areas, the suburbs of the Twin Cities have enjoyed surging interest from home buyers as the global pandemic has upended how and where people work. Amid rising crime and lingering unease following spring riots, many suburban buyers have relocated from the urban core of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the number of homes for sale has swelled.”

But “this doesn’t mean a new urban exodus is underway. Also on the rise in both of those cities: home sales, driven in part by record low mortgage rates that have enticed entry level buyers despite a grim economy. ‘If there is an exodus’ of buyers exiting urban neighborhoods, says sales agent Pat Paulson, ‘there’s an inflow as well.’

“In Minneapolis, there’s been an 11% increase in listings through the first nine months of this year, buoyed in part by a recent rise in condos for sale. Pending sales, or signed purchase agreements, are also up 3% . . . . In the suburbs, where listings are off 2%, pending sales have increased 7%. In both areas, houses are selling at a record clip and median prices are at an all-time high.”

Conclusion

As a Minneapolis downtown citizen and resident. I hope that these positive developments will continue.

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[1] Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover Institution; Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers, Hoover Institution.

[2] Hanson, Will changes to American life after pandemic become permanent, Washington Times (Oct. 21, 2020); Hanson, Let’s count the ways 2020 will change our lives, StarTribune (Oct. 26, 2020).

[3] DePass, Workers return warily to the office, as employers embrace slew of safety measures,  StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2020); DePass, All Thrivent’s new Minneapolis headquarters needs now is employees, StarTribune (Oct. 26, 2020); Kennedy, Deluxe moving its headquarters from Shoreview to downtown Minneapolis, StarTribune (Sept. 14, 2020); DePass, Safety issues just add to uncertainty facing Minneapolis commercial real estate, StarTribune (Oct. 4, 2020).

[4] Buchta, Minneapolis, St. Paul housing exodus more myth than reality, StarTribune (Oct. 24, 2020).

A Moving Biography of George Floyd

A moving short biography of George Floyd, based on intensive research, has been published by the Washington Post.[1] Here is a summary.

Floyd’s Ancestors

“Floyd’s great-great-grandfather, Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr., spent the first eight years of his life enslaved in North Carolina, where tobacco fields financed American dynasties — and perpetuated inequality — that endured from the 19th century until today.”

“Stewart was freed in the mid-1860s, the result of a bloody Civil War that led to the emancipation of nearly 4 million Black Americans who had toiled under a brutal system of chattel slavery.”

“Despite having no formal education — teaching enslaved people to read and write was deemed illegal by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1830 — Stewart acquired 500 acres of land by the time he reached his 20s. . . .[But] Stewart lost it all when White farmers seized the land, using legally questionable maneuvers that were common in the postwar South.” Floyd’s aunt, Angela Harrison, who has maintained certain family records, said, “The land was stolen from him. He was ‘targeted’ by White usurpers due to his relative wealth. ‘They used to call him the rich nigger.’”

“Floyd’s grandparents were North Carolina sharecroppers, working farms owned by White landowners in exchange for a portion of the crop. They too fell victim to state-sanctioned discrimination and wage theft, according to Harrelson and other family members. As they raised their 14 children — including Floyd’s mother, Larcenia — they were repeatedly forced out of the shacks they rented with their labor, and regularly cheated out of their pay.”

Although they were “unable to bequeath financial wealth to their descendants, . . .[they] passed down an ethic of hard work, a reverence for education and a deep familial bond borne out of shared perseverance. . . . Larcenia and her 12 surviving siblings all graduated from high school, a source of pride for their sharecropper parents who never attended.”

The grandparents also passed down an “unshakable fear of White exploitation, and a skepticism toward a system that had treated the family’s dark skin as a permission slip for oppression.”

Floyd’s Early Years in Houston

“Floyd was born in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1973, a time when Whites-only service at restaurants and segregated seating in movie theaters were fresh wounds.”

In 1977 his mother, a single mom, and her children moved to Houston, where they lived “in a predominantly Black Houston neighborhood where White flight, underinvestment and mass incarceration fostered a crucible of inequality.”

“In the crumbling Houston public housing complex where Floyd grew up — known as The Bricks’ — kids were accustomed to police jumping from cars to harass and detain them. His underfunded and underperforming public high school in the city’s historically Black Third Ward left him unprepared for college.”

According to his younger brother, their mother “used to always tell us that growing up in America [as a Black man], you already have two strikes. And you’re going to have to work three times as hard as everybody else, if you want to make it in this world.”

“Schools  remained deeply unequal as Floyd moved through predominantly Black classrooms in the 1980s and early 1990s. . . . By the time Floyd left high school in 1993, he wasn’t academically prepared to go to college.”

“But his athletic skills earned him a place at a two-year program in South Florida before he transferred closer to home — to Texas A&M University-Kingsville, a small, mostly Latino school known as a pipeline to the NFL. Big Floyd was always talking about going to the [NFL] league. . . . Floyd, a tight end, went to practice every day, but he wasn’t making the grades or completing the credits that would have allowed him to get on the field. . . . Floyd’s time in college ended with neither a degree nor a draft into professional sports. With his two planned routes out of Third Ward blocked, he moved back to Cuney Homes in 1997.”

Troubled Years in Houston

“It didn’t take much time before he was in trouble with the law.”

“Police . . . arrested him in August 1997 for delivering less than a gram of cocaine. A judge sentenced him to six months in jail. It was the first of at least nine arrests in Harris County over the course of a decade, mostly for low-level drug crimes or theft.”

In 2004 he also was convicted for selling less than a gram of cocaine, which now is under review because the arresting officer has been charged with regularly falsifying evidence in drug cases.

“The most serious charge that Floyd faced was in 2007, for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors said the then-33-year-old [Floyd] and four others forced their way into a private home and that Floyd had held a woman at gunpoint while others ransacked the place, looking for drugs and money. After a plea deal, Floyd would spend four years at a privately run prison nearly three hours northwest of Houston. There, he largely languished, without access to vocational training or substance abuse treatment. Once jovial and confident, Floyd left prison deflated, introspective and terrified at the prospect of being locked up again, according to family members and friends.”

“Throughout his lifetime, Floyd’s identity as a Black man exposed him to a gauntlet of injustices that derailed, diminished and ultimately destroyed him.” His life, in short, “underscores how systemic racism has calcified within many of America’s institutions, creating sharply disparate outcomes in housing, education, the economy, law enforcement and health care.”

.“Floyd spent a quarter of his adult life incarcerated, cycling through a criminal justice system that studies show unjustly targets Blacks. His longest stint was at a private prison in a predominantly White town where the jail housing mostly minority inmates generated a third of the town’s budget.”

“Floyd made many mistakes of his own doing. His choices landed him in jail on drug and robbery charges, while also leaving him without a college degree and with limited career prospects. He acknowledged many of his poor decisions and tried to warn others against making them too. But for him, each misstep further narrowed his opportunities.”

“In a video he posted on social media aimed at convincing young people in his neighborhood to put away their guns, he said, ‘I got my shortcomings and my flaws. I ain’t better than nobody else.’”

“When Floyd stumbled, he fell far, ultimately battling drugs, hypertension, claustrophobia and depression.”

Floyd’s Move to Minneapolis

In 2017, at the urging of a Houston pastor, Floyd left Houston to move to Minneapolis in an attempt to leave his troubles behind him. “After arriving in Minneapolis, he enrolled in a rehabilitation program, began training to become a commercial truck driver and took up jobs working security at the Salvation Army and a Latin nightclub.”

“Floyd kept a list of goals in his house to make sure he was living a meaningful life. ‘Staying clean,’ was one of them.”

In Spring 2020 he “contracted the coronavirus and lost his security job when the pandemic forced the nightclub to close. Over Memorial Day weekend he felt better, and on May 25th told a friend he was going to run out for cigarettes and promised to call later.

Instead he was killed.

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[1] Olorunnipa & Witte, George Floyd’s America: Born with two strikes, Wash. Post (Oct.8, 2020).

 

Minneapolis Police Officers Claiming PTSD         

On July 10, a Minneapolis attorney, Ron Meuser Jr., revealed that at least 150 Minneapolis police officers are claiming that “they are suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] or other injuries from the protests after Minnesotathe February 25th police killing of George Floyd.[i]

Some of these protests were violent and included direct actions on police targets, including the attacks and destruction of the police’s 3rd Precinct station, when some officers “wrote what they thought were final texts to family members and loved ones fearing they would be killed . . . . [and] counted their ammunition to make sure they would have a bullet for themselves to avoid being beaten to death.”

Moreover, since Floyd’s May 25th death, “more than 240 [citizens and other] people have been shot, 13 fatally. . .  [in Minneapolis, and on July 9th ], nine people were shot and one was killed in a span of six hours. One of the wounded was a pregnant woman.”

According to Meuser, half of the officers making the disability claims “are no longer on the job because they have exhibited symptoms of PTSD. . . . [and the] other half likely will quit working in coming days as they formalize disability claims.”

In 2013 Minnesota’s workers compensation statute was amended to include PTSD as a ground for such relief, and in 2019 it was amended so that a police officer’s PTSD is presumed to have developed because of police work. The approval of such a claim entitles the officer to 60 percent of his or her salary until retirement or is no longer determined to be disabled. Thus, these claims add another financial burden to a city already suffering from the economic and financial effects of the pandemic.

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[i] McKinney & Navratil, Attorney: MPD officers filing for disability at ‘unprecedented’ levels, StarTribune (July 10, 2020); Bailey, Minneapolis police officers say they are suffering from PTSD after George Floyd protests, Wash. Post (July 10, 2020)l

 

Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal Charges for George Floyd Killing

On July 7, the attorney for ex-officer Thomas Lane moved to dismiss the charges that he had illegally aided and abetted the May 25th alleged murder and manslaughter of George Floyd. The prosecution’s response is due on August 12 followed by a reply from Lane’s attorney with the hearing on the motion likely to be the one previously scheduled for September 11.[1]

The brief in support of the motion made the following arguments:

  1. “There is not substantial admissible evidence to survive a motion for a directed verdict that Thomas Lane aided and abetted second degree murder or manslaughter.”
  2. “There is no evidence in the voluminous discovery that Officer Lane played an intentional role in aiding the commission of a crime. There is no circumstantial evidence Lane knew that Chauvin was committing a crime. Hence, the legal requirements showing he acted with intent cannot be met.”
  3. “Lane did not intentionally aid, advise, hire, counsel, or conspire with Chauvin or otherwise procure Chauvin to commit second degree murder. Lane did not encourage any alleged criminal actions of Chauvin. He did not know and had no reason to believe that a third degree assault was being committed, nor did he intend for the restraints of his Floyd’s legs to help commit a crime.”
  4. “Lane did not know what Chauvin was thinking while restraining Floyd. Chauvin did not verbally tell Lane anything about his intentions other than waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Lane knew Floyd needed to be restrained and he knew Chauvin was authorized to use reasonable force to restrain.”

Lane’s attorney also submitted transcripts of the body-cam footage for Lane and ex-cop and co-defendant J. Alexander Kueng. Here are extracts from these transcripts:

  • When Lane approached the vehicle containing Floyd and two other individuals, Lane drew his pistol when Floyd did not immediately show his hands. Floyd said, “”I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. God dang man. Man, I got shot. I got shot the same way, Mr. Officer, before.”
  • When Lane ordered him to get out of the car, Floyd said, “Please don‘t shoot me, Mr. Officer. Please, don’t shoot me man. Please. Can you not shoot me, man?”
  • Lane and Kueng then grabbed Floyd’s arms, prompting him to say, ““I’m not going to do nothing… I’m sorry Mr. Officer, I’ll get on my knees, whatever.”
  • Lane then pulled Floyd out of the vehicle and asked the woman in the car (Schwanda Renee Hill), “Why’s he getting all squirelly and not showing us his hands, just being all weird like that?”
  • Hill: “I have no clue, because he’s been shot before.”
  • Lane: “Well I get that, but still when officers say ‘Get out of the car.’ Is he drunk? Is he on something?”
  • Hill: “”No, he got a thing going on, I’m telling you about the police … He have problems all the time when they come, especially when that man put that gun like that.”
  • After Kueng escorted Floyd from his car to a nearby sidewalk and sat him down, Floyd said, ‘Thank you, man. Thank you, Mr. Officer,” as Floyd remained cooperative. He gave Kueng his name and date of birth, adding once again that ‘I got shot last time, same thing, man.’”
  • “Kueng then explained to Floyd that he was being detained for suspicion of passing a fake bill. Floyd said he understood.”
  • Kueng: “And do you know why we pulled you out of the car? Because you was not listening to anything we told you,”
  • Floyd: “Right, but I didn’t know what was going on,”
  • Kueng: “You listen to us, and we will tell you what’s going on, all right?”
  • Floyd: “Yes sir.”
  • “Lane then asked Floyd if he was on something, while Kueng asked about the foam around his mouth. Floyd said he was scared, and that he had been playing basketball earlier.”
  • “The two officers then attempted to place Floyd in the back of [their]squad [car], while he again pleaded with them not to, saying he was claustrophobic.”
  • Lane or Kueng: “You can’t win.”
  • Floyd: “I’m not trying to win . . . I’ll get on the ground, anything.”
  • “After more struggle, Floyd began to collapse on the ground, saying, ‘I’m going to lay on the ground, oh, I’m coming down.’”
  • As Lane and Kueng attempted to put Floyd into the back seat of their squad car, Floyd said, “‘Oh man, God don’t leave me man, please man, please man,’ he pleaded, telling them he was claustrophobic as the officers repeatedly ordered him into the back of the squad.”
  • Lane or Kueng: “Man, you going to die of a heart attack. Just get in the car.”
  • Lane then offered to sit in the squad car with Floyd and turn on the air conditioner. Floyd said, “”I’m not that kind of guy, man, I’m not that kind of guy … and I just had COVID, I don’t want to go back to that.”
  • After Officer Chauvin arrived, he asked Kueng if the suspect was going to jail, and Kueng explained the man was under arrest for forgery.
  • Chauvin asked the other two officers if they had a “restraint,” and the officers (who?) called for “Code 2” for medics after Lane said the man had banged his head against the partition glass in the squad car, resulting in a cut.”
  • Chauvin told Floyd , “You’re under arrest, guy.”
  • Floyd responded, “”All right, all right. Oh my god. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this … After Chauvin said, “so you’re going to jail,” Floyd said, Mom, I love you … Tell my kids I love them. I’m dead.”
  • Floyd then was placed on the pavement with Lane holding one of his legs while Kueng was holding his back. Floyd kept saying, “Mama, mama, I can’t breathe. I’m through, I’m through. I’m claustrophobic. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. I need some water or something, please. Please? I can’t breathe officer.”
  • As Lane asked Chauvin whether Floyd should be rolled on his side, Chauvin and Kueng said not to do so, and one of the officers called to upgrade the medics to Code 3.
  • Floyd’s final words: ““Come on, man. Oh, oh. l cannot breathe. Cannot breathe. Ah! They’ll kill me. They‘ll kill me. I can’t breathe. Can‘t breathe. Oh!” and “Ah! Ah! Please. Please. Please.”
  • After the medics arrived, Lane did chest compressions on Floyd.
  • One of the medics asked the officers, “Was he [Floyd] fighting with you guys for a long time?”
  • Lane: “ I mean a little bit, but not a long time, maybe a minute or two. We were just trying to get him in the squad and he came out the other end, so we were like we’ll just wait.”
  • Medic: “I wonder what he was on.”
  • Lane: “Not sure but he seemed very agitated and paranoid.”
  • Medic: “That’s a shame.”
  • Lane: “Yeah.”

According to the New York Times’ summary of these transcripts, Floyd told the police officers more than 20 times that he could not breathe and several times said the officers were killing him.

In addition, Lane’s court filing included a 60-page transcript of his interview by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and that this transcript had Lane responding to the question of whether at any time he felt Floyd was having a medical emergency, with the following: “Yeah, I felt maybe something was going on.” The Times also says Lane’s attorney claims a police photo of the interior of Floyd’s car showed “two crumpled counterfeit $20 bills that were found between the center console and the passenger’s seat.”

Another article in the Washington Post asserts that the “transcripts make clear that Floyd was trying to cooperate with police but was deathly afraid of them, at times telling them that he had had covid-19 and was worried that he was going to die because he couldn’t breathe.”

=============================

[1] Xiong, Former officer Thomas Lane’s attorney seeks dismissal of charges in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 8, 2020); Olson. Body camera transcripts: George Floyd repeatedly begged police not to kill him, StarTribune (July 8, 2020); Staff Reports, Read the transcript of Thomas Lane’s body camera footage during George Floyd call, StarTribune (July 8, 2020); Staff Reports, Read the transcript of J. Alexander Kueng’s body camera footage during George Floyd call, StarTribune (July 8, 2020); Memorandum Supporting Motion To Dismiss, State v. Lane, Case No. 27-CR-20-12651 (Henn. Cty. Dist. Ct. July 7, 2020); Oppel, New Transcripts Detail Last Moments for George Floyd, N.Y.Times (July 8, 2020); Bailey, George Floyd warned police he thought he would die because he couldn’t breathe, according to body camera transcripts, Wash. Post (July 8, 2020); Wernau & Barrett, Attorney for Former Officer Asks Court to Dismiss Abetting Charges in George Flynn Killing, W.S.J. (July 8, 2020); George Floyd told officers ‘I can’t breathe’ more than 20 times, transcripts show, Guardian (July 8, 2020).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020

By now, everyone in the U.S. and the rest of the world knows or could know that on the evening of May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue) George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, was killed by a Minneapolis policeman (Derek Chauvin) in the presence of three other Minneapolis policemen (Alexander Keung, J. Alexander Lane and Tou Thao).[1] Here is what is believed to be a fair summary of those horrendous 17 minutes of police encounters with Floyd and certain preceding events that evening:

  • That evening Floyd buys a package of cigarettes at a convenience store (Cup Foods) and pays for it with a $20 bill.
  • After Floyd left the store, a store employee inspects the $20 bill and believes it is forged. Two store employees then go outside and see Floyd in the driver’s seat of a dark blue Mercedes SUV across 38th Street .     
  • The two store employees go to the SUV and one of them from the driver’s side and the other from the passenger’s side of the SUV ask for the return of the package of cigarettes of a man in the passenger seat and Floyd in the driver’s seat. The request is denied.
  • The two employees return to the store and presumably one of them or another employee dials 911 to report a customer who had paid for cigarettes with an alleged forged $20 bill. They apparently also said that the African-American man appeared to be drunk and was now in a SUV across the street from the store.
  • At 8:08 p.m. two MPD officers (Lane and Keung) arrive at the scene and a store employee directs them to an African-American man (Floyd) in the driver’s seat of the Mercedes SUV across 38th Street.  This starts the approximate 17 minutes of police encounters with Floyd before he is removed on a gurney by medics in an ambulance.
  • Lane arrives at the driver’s side of this SUV and with his revolver drawn tells the African-American man (Floyd) to put his hands on the steering wheel. Floyd immediately does so without resistance and Lane puts the revolver back in his holster.
  • Lane then pulls Floyd out of the car, and he and Keung handcuff  Floyd’s hands behind his back and take him across the sidewalk and seat him on the sidewalk with his back to the brick wall, all without any resistance by Floyd.
  • At 8:14 p.m. Lane and Keurig had Floyd get up from the sidewalk and walk across 38th Street to their squad car and tried to get him into the back seat. Floyd said he was not resisting, but could not get into back seat because he is claustrophobic. But officers get him into the back seat.
  • At 8:19 p.m. Officers Chauvin and Thao arrive at the scene in a different squad car. Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the back seat of the first squad car with Floyd, still handcuffed, who falls to the pavement. Clausen then puts his left knee on the neck of the fallen Floyd while Kueng held Floyd’s back and Lane one of his legs.
  • At some time Lane asked Chauvin if they should roll Floyd on his side, but Chauvin says “no” and the officers do not change what they are doing.
  • At 8:24 p.m. Floyd stopped moving.
  • At 8:25 p.m. Floyd appeared to stop breathing and Lane asked again if they should move Floyd onto his side, but Chauvin again refused to do so.
  • At 8:27 p.m. Chauvin moved his leg off Floyd’s neck or 8 minutes and 46 seconds after he had placed his knee on the neck and 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become non-responsive. The latter happened when an ambulance and emergency medics arrived and placed Floyd on a gurney to go the Hennepin County Medical Center..
  • At 9:25 p.m. Floyd was pronounced dead at the Medical Center after an hour of unsuccessful attempts to revive him.

Subsequent posts will examine the criminal charges brought against Chauvin and then against the other three policemen, their initial court appearances, initial comments by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freenman, subsequent comments by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and the commencement of efforts to change and reform various aspects of Minnesota and federal criminal law and procedure.

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[1] E.g., Hill, Tiefenthaler, Triebert, Jordan, Willis & Stein, 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds: How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2020);  Hennesy & LeBlanc, 8:46: A number becomes a potent symbol of police brutality, Star Tribune (June 4, 2020); Xiong, A timeline of events leading to George Floyd’s death as outlined in charging documents, StarTribune (June 4, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 4): “Life” Poem

Important reminders of more important issues for us all as we live through this stressful period of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are found in different places. [1] For example, in organizing some personal papers I came across the following poem by Kristi Brown, the daughter of my cousin, Lloyd William Brown, Jr., and his wife, Karen Brown.

Life

 Life is not long enough to accomplish all your goals.

Life is too short to waste a minute of .

Life always has to end sometime or another.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life ends instantaneously for some,

Life’s end is long and painful for others.

Life’s end is known by some, but for others,

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is good to most people for a long time,

Life takes some people very early on.

Life fights with death for the cream of the crop.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is taken advantage of by some, others live

Life one day at a time, and cross bridges when they come to them.

Life usually ends for the careful ones, not careless.

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life’s end is welcomed by those who are suffering.

Life’s end is not welcomed for those who are not.

Life is hard after a loved one dies, but

It ends when you least expect it.

 

Life is a terrible thing to waste.

This poem in her handwritten spiral notebook was discovered in her nightstand drawer in the summer of 1987 by Kristi’s parents. This discovery was necessitated by Kristi’s having been killed, at age 19, on June 24, 1987, in a terrible multiple-vehicle crash on the Capitol Beltway outside Washington, D.C. on her way home from a summer job following her first year at the University of Virginia. Pursuant to her written instructions, Kristi’s heart, cornea and kidneys were donated to the Washington Regional Transplant Community.

Thereafter her parents organized an annual event they called “Kristi’s Christmas” when students from her high school in Springfield Virginia joined her parents and siblings to provide breakfast to a group of underprivileged grade-school kids and then escorted and provided money for them to go Christmas shopping followed by a special visit with Santa Claus. After her mother’s death, the West Springfield Rotary Club has taken over the organization of this annual event.[2]

Thank you, Kristi, for reminding all of us that life “ends when you least expect it” and that “life is a terrible thing to waste.” I am truly sorry that I never had the privilege of meeting you and learning about your inspirations for these amazing deeds.

This profound and beautiful poem helps me cope with the morning news on March 28th that  the world in at least 171 countries has seen 585,500 coronavirus (COVID-19) cases with at least 27,164 deaths while the U.S. has become the epicenter of the world with 102,838 cases and 1,646 deaths. My state of Minnesota has had 398 cases and 4 deaths, including 1 death in Hennepin County, where I live.[3]

My wife and I continue to be in good health while sheltering in our downtown Minneapolis condo with occasional outdoor walks on nice days and trips by car to buy groceries and once-a-week take-out dinners at restaurants, gas for the car and necessities at drug stores.

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[1]This blogger has decided to periodically post his reactions to living through this pandemic. Here are the earlier such posts to dwkcommentareis.com: Pandemic Journal (# 1): Kristof and Osterholm Analyses (Mar. 23, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 2): Westminster Presbyterian Church Service (o3/22/20) (Mar. 24, 2020); Pandemic Journal (#3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020).

[2] Korff, ‘Kristi’s Christmas’ honors the late Kristi Brown with day of giving for Fairfax kids, WJLA (Dec. 11, 2014); Ours, Kristi’s Christmas makes the holidays merry and bright, The Oracle (Dec. 15, 2016).

3] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2020; Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (Mar. 28, 2020); Olson & Snowbeck, Stay-at-home order now in effect to fight virus that has killed four Minnesotans, StarTribune (Mar.28, 2020).

 

Nelson Mandela Was Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution

The world this year rightfully commemorates the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela, who survived nearly 27 years in South African prisons to become the President of his country and to end its apartheid system with grace and humility.[1]

Also should be remembered was Mandel’s “special fondness for Fidel Castro, who had inspired the African National Congress (ANC) radicals with his daring revolution in 1959 [and] Cuba’s intervention in Angola. Mandela and his colleagues saw Cuba as “a dangerous model; a freak victory, but they were fired by the story of how Castro and Che Guevara, with only ten other survivors from their ship the Granma had mustered a guerilla army of 10,000 in eighteen months, and had marched on Havana in January 1959.” For Mandela, “Castro, not the Party, . . . had realized the moment of revolution had come. He would never lose his admiration for Castro.” Mandela’s “chief defiance of the Western World was his championing of the two American bête noirés [persons one especially dislikes], Libya’s Muammar] Qadaffi and Castro.”[2]

That was why only a year-and-a-half after his release from prison, Mandela went to the city of Matanzas in Cuba to give an emotional speech on July 26, 1991, which is Cuba’s national independence day, with Fidel in attendance as shown in the photograph below.

Mandela thanked Fidel and Cuba for helping the ANC to defeat Angolan invaders of South Africa in 1988.  That defeat, Mandela said, “enables me to be here today.”[3] Here are just a few of his other tributes to Cuba that day:[4]

  • “Today this is revolutionary Cuba, internationalist Cuba, the country that has done so much for the peoples of Africa. The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”
  • “From its earliest days the Cuban revolution has itself been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gains made in the Cuban revolution.”
  • “We admire the achievements of the Cuban revolution in the sphere of social welfare. We note the transformation from a country of imposed backwardness to universal literacy. We acknowledge your advances in the fields of health, education, and science.
  • We “are moved by your affirmation of the historical connection to the continent and people of Africa. Your consistent commitment to the systematic eradication of racism is unparalleled.”

In response, Fidel in his three-hour speech without notes called Mandela “one of the most extraordinary symbols of this era” by explaining that “apartheid is capitalism and imperialism in its fascist form.”[5]

Conclusion

In July 1991 I was totally unaware of the Mandela-Fidel connection and of Mandela’s speech in the city of Matanzas. It only was in the first decade of the 21st century that I learned of the existence of that city as a result of going there on three mission trips  to visit its Versalles Redeemer Presbyterian-Reformed Church, which is a partner of my Minneapolis church, Westminster Presbyterian Church. Now I have friends from that city. [6]

I was somewhat surprised to find that Mandela’s speech has no mention of Matanzas as a major port of entry for African slaves to work on sugar plantations, especially in the first half of the 19th century. As a result, it is said, due to the high number of both slaves and, importantly, free Afro-Cubans in Matanzas, the retention of African traditions is especially strong there. Perhaps that is the reason Fidel chose this celebration to be in that city. The city’s San Severiino Museum has an exhibit about Cuba’s slave trade.

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[1] Details about the commemoration are available on the website of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. One of the events is the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on July 17, 2018, which  this year will be given by former U.S. President Barack Obama and will be covered in a future post to this blog.

[2] Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography at 152, 191, 414, 554 (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1999).

[3] Id. at 414.

[4] Speech by Nelson Mandela at the Rally in Cuba (July 26, 1991).

[5] Sampson at 414.

[6]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries: The Cuban Revolution and Religion (Dec. 30, 2011); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba (Jan. 13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation (Jan. 4, 2015).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a moving Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church was organized and conducted by clergy from the Downtown Congregations of Minneapolis.[1]

This service was the perfect incarnation of a message given that same day by Pope Francis at a meeting of religious leaders in Nairobi Kenya. The Pope said there was a profound “need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness”. Indeed, said the Pope, “ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury . . . [or] something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.”[2]

Calls to Prayer

There were three Calls to Prayer at the Minneapolis service. Cantor Barry Abelson of Temple Israel sang one in Hebrew. The Westminster Choir in English sang “God Be in My Head” by Gwyneth Walker.[3] Muezzin Elijah Muhammad of Masjid An-Nur (Mosque of the Light) sang his Call to Prayer in Arabic.

Voices Around the Table

The participants in the service then gathered around a common table in the front of the Sanctuary for the reading of passages of sacred and other texts from their different faiths. In addition to those mentioned below the participants were Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Westminster’s Senior Pastor; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar of Gethsemane Episcopal Church; and Rev. Judy Zabel, Lead Pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.

Rev. Dr. Carla Bailey, the Senior Minister at Plymouth Congregational Church, read these excerpts from “A Litany of Thanksgiving” by Howard Thurman, an influential African-American theologian, educator and civil rights leader (1899-1981):

  • “Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.”
  • “I begin with the simple things of my days:
    Fresh air to breathe,
    Cool water to drink,
    The taste of food,
    The protection of houses and clothes,
    The comforts of home.”
  • “I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
    The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
    The tightening of the grip in a single handshake when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
    The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
    The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when my decision hung in the balance.”
  • “I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
    The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;
    The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
    The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;
    The workers whose sweat watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;”
  • “I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
    The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
    The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never dared to reach for the highest;
    The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.”
  • All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
    I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
    O God, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.”

Hamdy Dr. El Sawaf, the Senior Iman of the Islamic Community Center of Minnesota and the Masjid Al-Iman (Mosque of Faith), read the following passages from the Holy Qur’an in Arabic with the following English translations by Maulana Muhammud Ali:

  • “Blessed is He Who made the stars in the heavens and made therein a sun and a moon giving light!” (25:61)
  • “And He it is, Who made the night and the day to follow each other, for him who desires to be mindful or desires to be thankful.” (25:62)
  • “And We have enjoined on man concerning his parents — his mother bears him with faintings upon faintings and his weaning takes two years — saying: Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. To Me is the eventual coming.” (31:14)
  • “So he smiled, wondering at her word, and said: My Lord, grant me that I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good such as Thou art pleased with, and admit me, by Thy mercy, among Thy righteous servants.” (27:19)
  • “And He it is Who made for you the ears and the eyes and the hearts. Little it is that you give thanks!” (23:78)
  • “And certainly We established you in the earth and made therein means of livelihood for you; little it is that you give thanks!” (7:10)
  • “O people, keep your duty to your Lord and dread the day when no father can avail his son in aught, nor the child will avail his father. Surely the promise of Allah is true, so let not this world’s life deceive you, nor let the arch-deceiver deceive you about Allah.” (31:33)
  • “Surely Allah is He with Whom is the knowledge of the Hour, and He sends down the rain, and He knows what is in the wombs. And no one knows what he will earn on the morrow. And no one knows in what land he will die. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.” (31:34)
  • “Even as We have sent among you a Messenger from among you, who recites to you Our messages and purifies you and teaches you the Book and the Wisdom and teaches you that which you did not know.” (2:151)
  • “Therefore glorify Me, I will make you eminent, and give thanks to Me and be not ungrateful to Me.” (2:152)

Senior Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel read Leviticus 19: 9-18 in Hebrew from the Hebrew Bible with the following English translation:

  • “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
  • You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.”
  • “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.You shall not go around as a slanderer[a] among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood[b] of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”
  • You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Rev. Laurie Feillle, Senior Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) read this passage from the Christian Gospel (Matthew 6:25-33) in English:

  • “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Sermon

The Sermon, “Gratitude for Dreams,” was delivered by Rev. Peter Nycklemoe, Senior Pastor of Central Lutheran Church. Here is a summary of his message.

The above passage from Matthew stresses personal piety, almsgiving, prayers and calls for forgiveness. The text also tells us not to worry. But often being told not to worry just makes the situation worse. Matthew, however, points the way forward: “strive first for the kingdom of God.”

A helpful understanding of the kingdom of God comes from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor and author, who said:

  • “If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” [4]

We all are homesick for hope in this world, and the gathering at this common table of representatives of three great religious traditions is a sign of that hope.

The words of Leviticus that were just read by Rabbi Zimmerman also are important: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.”

These words from the Hebrew Bible reminded Rev. Nycklemoe of a celebration organized by one of his congregants in the State of Washington, Olaf Hanson, who owned an apple and potato farm. After harvesting what he needed, Olaf hosted a Gleaning Day for his guests to gather the gleanings of the fruit and vegetables and put them in paper bags for the poor and needy.

We too need to share our longings, our lostness, our need for love and the gifts of one another.

Responding in Gratitude

The solicitation of offerings to support the work of the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness was provided by The Very Rev. Paul Lebens-Englund, the Dean of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations

President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day was read by Fr John Bauer, Rector of The Basilica of Saint Mary, Here are its words:

  • “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”
  • “Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”
  • “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
  • “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
  • “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

President Barack Obama’s 2015 Presidential Proclamation was read by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church:

  • “Rooted in a story of generosity and partnership, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for us to express our gratitude for the gifts we have and to show our appreciation for all we hold dear.  Today, as we give of ourselves in service to others and spend cherished time with family and friends, we give thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us.  We also honor the men and women in uniform who fight to safeguard our country and our freedoms so we can share occasions like this with loved ones, and we thank our selfless military families who stand beside and support them each and every day.”
  • “Our modern celebration of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the early 17th century.  Upon arriving in Plymouth, at the culmination of months of testing travel that resulted in death and disease, the Pilgrims continued to face great challenges.  An indigenous people, the Wampanoag, helped them adjust to their new home, teaching them critical survival techniques and important crop cultivation methods.  After securing a bountiful harvest, the settlers and Wampanoag joined in fellowship for a shared dinner to celebrate powerful traditions that are still observed at Thanksgiving today:  lifting one another up, enjoying time with those around us, and appreciating all that we have.”
  • “Carrying us through trial and triumph, this sense of decency and compassion has defined our Nation.  President George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving in our country’s nascence, calling on the citizens of our fledgling democracy to place their faith in “the providence of Almighty God,” and to be thankful for what is bequeathed to us.  In the midst of bitter division at a critical juncture for America, President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the plight of the most vulnerable, declaring a “day of thanksgiving,” on which all citizens would “commend to [God’s] tender care” those most affected by the violence of the time — widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers of the Civil War.  A tradition of giving continues to inspire this holiday, and at shelters and food centers, on battlefields and city streets, and through generous donations and silent prayers, the inherent selflessness and common goodness of the American people endures.”
  • “In the same spirit of togetherness and thanksgiving that inspired the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, we pay tribute to people of every background and belief who contribute in their own unique ways to our country’s story.  Each of us brings our own traditions, cultures, and recipes to this quintessential American holiday — whether around dinner tables, in soup kitchens, or at home cheering on our favorite sports teams — but we are all united in appreciation of the bounty of our Nation.  Let us express our gratitude by welcoming others to our celebrations and recognize those who volunteer today to ensure a dinner is possible for those who might have gone without.  Together, we can secure our founding ideals as the birthright of all future generations of Americans.”

Music

Interspersed throughout the Service were pieces of wonderful music.

The Preludes–“America the Beautiful” (Calvin Hampton for organ), “Variations on Simple Gifts” (Michael Burkhardt) and “The Promise of Living” (Aaron Copland)–were provided by Westminster’s Minister of Music & the Arts/Organist, Melanie Ohnstad, and the Westminster Choir directed by Dr. Jere Lantz.

Jon Romer on a Native American flute played two Ojibwe pieces—“Song of Welcome” and “A Song of Love.”

The choir and assembled people sang the following hymns: “O God, Show Mercy to Us;” “This Is My Song;” “ We Praise You, O God;” “Now Thank We All Our God;” and “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies.”

Conclusion

This was a powerful and meaningful worship service, especially in these days of too frequent expressions of hostility towards Muslims and Syrian refugees. This service was exactly what Pope Francis called for in his previously mentioned remarks in Kenya and on November 30 at the Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in the Central African Republic:[5]

  • “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.  We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. . . . Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace.  Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years.  They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good.  Together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.  God is peace, God salam.”

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[1] The bulletin for the service is available online,  So too is a video of the service.

[2] The Pope held the meeting at the city’s Apostolic Nunciature (diplomatic mission of the Holy See) with leaders of different Christian confessions (Anglican, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal and others) and of other religions (Animist, Muslim). Holy See, Ecumenical and Interreligious Meeting: Address of His Holiness Pope Francis (Nov. 26, 2015); Interreligious meeting in Nairobi: service to the common good. News.Va (Nov. 26, 2015).

[3] A prior post discussed this anthem, its composer and its derivation from the Sarum Primer of 1514.

[4] Other references to Buechner are contained in previous posts: Honorary Degree (Aug. 14, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014).

[5] Pope Francis visits Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in Bangui, News.Va (Nov. 30, 2015)

New Cuban Ambassador to U.S. Presents Credentials to President Obama

On September 17 Cuba’s new Ambassador to the U.S., Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez, presented his credentials to President Obama.[1]

Obama & Cabanas @ White House
Obama & Cabanas @ White House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, Cabanas said he would be continuing to spread the truth about Cuba, promote new relationships and explain all remaining obstacles to normal relations between the two countries. “In particular we are going to work intensely to realize the decisions of the first meeting of the Bilateral Commission held last week in Havana.”

As discussed in a previous post, that meeting of the Bilateral Commission established an agenda in three tracks, with the first encompassing issues where there is significant agreement and the possibility of short-term progress. These include re-establishing regularly scheduled flights, environmental protection, natural disaster response, health and combatting drug trafficking. A second track includes more difficult topics such as human rights, human trafficking, climate change and epidemics. The third includes complex, longer-term issues like the return of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. damage claims over properties nationalized in Cuba after the 1959 revolution and Cuba’s damage claims for more than $300 billion in alleged economic damages from the U.S. embargo and for what it says are other acts of aggression.

Last October Cabanas, then the Chief of Mission of the Cuban Interests Section, was in Minneapolis at the invitation of the Minnesota International Center. I had the pleasure of having a delightful Cuban lunch with him, his wife and others at one of the city’s Cuban restaurants, Victor’s 1959 Café, where he wrote his name on the wall. Afterwards, Cabanas, his wife and others came to my church, Westminster Presbyterian Church, to talk about our Cuban partnerships and various issues between our two countries. Our main partnership is with a church in the city of Matanzas, and when most of the Americans in the room indicated they had been in that city, Cabanas said it was the “home town” for both him and his wife.

We at Westminster and Minneapolis wish the Ambassador success in his diplomatic endeavors in our country.

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[1] Davis, First Cuban Envoy to U.S. Since 1961 Presents Credentials at the White House, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015); Reuters, Cuba Has First Ambassador to U.S. in Half a Century, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2015); Gomez, Cuba already has US Ambassador, Granma (Sept. 17, 2015).