Trevon Tellor had just completed his sophomore year at Augsburg University when George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police. As protests erupted in the city, he quickly got involved in protests – eventually working as a protest medic. Here is his testimony from those intense, passionate days from last week – his testimony as an activist, student of history, a black man, and a Lutheran. Read, comment, and share.
Francisco Herrera – Interim Editor, Ph. D. student
I woke up Tuesday morning and was immediately met with the snuff film that was passed around social media and major media outlets.
The first thing I had to see that morning was a man with skin like mine on the ground with his breath, God’s light, slowly snuffed out of him. My heart sank and tears welled in my eyes. I’ve begun to grow numb to the killings of Black people in this country; there’s too many to keep track of now. But this was different, 8 minutes of a man begging for his life. I wanted to scream at the video, “Do something, don’t just stand there and video tape it! You can stop him!” I sobbed, I raged, my mind drifted to daydreams of broken windows, burning buildings. I called out of work and grieved. Later on that day through my screen I had to witness people I see in class, people I care about, get brutalized by rubber bullets and tear gas as they protested against police brutality and murder. The many sins of the Minneapolis Police Department were crying to the heavens with vengeance.
Throughout the course of the week I went out every day but one to go to the frontlines. I encountered rubber bullets, tear gas, and flashbangs thrown at myself and other protestors without warning, often resulting in the injury of many other protestors. I heard of some pretty horrific injuries, but I never saw them the first couple days I went out. I felt empowered as I saw people in my city coming together.
Quickly supply drop offs were set up for protestors outside of the 3rd precinct on the first day at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation a few blocks from the 3rd precinct and other various locations around south Minneapolis. When I walked by the front of the church it was incredible. In the grass out front were stacks of cases of water, there had to be at least 30 cases, and bins filled with granola bars, and other snack foods. This continued to grow day by day as grocery stores shut down out of fear of being looted. With no hesitation people opened up their pantries, drove to the suburbs for food and drove as fast as they could to Holy Trinity and the other neighborhood drop off points set up regular people who happened to live near each other.
It was a modern feeding of the 5000, maybe not a divine miracle, but an incredible task that people across the metro accomplished in little time, with little hierarchical organization.
Like the people Christ ministered to that day we were hungry after witnessing the gospel, we did not tell the people to go out of town to buy food (Luke 9:12-17). No, we fed each other with what we had, and lo and behold we had enough.
We did not panic, we did not despair, we trusted in the body of Christ, our community, to provide for us. Our communities were being abandoned by the people who swore an oath to “protect and serve” in favor of concentrating their forces to brutally repress protestors. But we did fine without them, the vision of abolition, a police free world, was being built before my very eyes.
On Saturday my partner and I went down to the 5th precinct with medical supplies in case people were hurt by the police. The protest during the day was beautiful, we took kneeling moment of silences, with our raised fists in the air for George. I couldn’t help but see that there was indeed a liturgy of the street. A constant cycle of sermons, protest chants that replace the usual hymns of our churches, the silence as prayer. I felt at home, my own church may be closed due to the pandemic, but I found another one in the street. Around 6:30 pm we went to the medical station outside of the then-looted K-Mart to help set it up, we pulled fence lengths and signs together to create a clinic with people we had never met. Supplies were brought in and some were even expropriated from the K-Mart employee break room by a masked scavenger.
We readied ourselves for the worst, knowing that police had been getting increasingly aggressive.
I paced back and forth, rifling through our supplies that were dropped off to our bay, unwrapping what I could to save time when it hit the fan. I smoked a nervous cigarette with another volunteer medic who was a lifeguard, we were afraid of being arrested, we couldn’t afford the fine. Yet, we both felt it was our duty to stay, it was too late to back out. 15 minutes after curfew when protestors were sitting on the ground up the block at the 5th precinct, we saw the flashes and tear gas appear in the horizon. They ran to us, people were limping, bleeding, a girl’s hands were burnt black because she threw a tear gas canister back at the police to save her friends.
It was horrific.
My station only had time to treat one mans ankle, who was busted up by a hard-plastic baton round. All of a sudden the other medics were screaming for us all to put our hands up. In front of us across the street were black armored police, pointing riot guns at us.
They fired, rubber rounds hit medics and patients, my partner got hit with a ricochet in her jaw.
Everyone who could still move ran.
I was horrified, the police had just shot at medics, clearly marked with red crosses on our clothing and our station, the sign of not only first aid but also of my faith that had moved me to come protest and help. While I’m sure many saw the cross on their clothing as nothing but a signifier of being a medic, I also saw it as a testament to what I was there to do: heal the injured, stand for the oppressed. I may not be ordained yet, or even in seminary, but being with our beloved community and serving them was our ministry, Christians and non Christians alike. As I ran from the police I was terrified, literally running for my life, there were reports of armed white supremacists chasing people as they fled, and police were circling in vans and cars, sometimes arresting people, sometimes just shooting at them with rubber bullets.
I couldn’t stop asking myself, and those with me “Why did they do this?” Were we not protected under a symbol for first aid, and a symbol for triumph over evil? In war this would have been a war crime, but somehow in the streets of our “Christian nation” this was allowed.
Now many will decry these protests and use the burning of the 3rd precinct as justification for the horrific actions taken by the police at the 5th precinct and the nearby medical station. But remember this: no amount of property destruction amounts to the violence that was dealt to human bodies, the body of Christ, God’s creation by MPD. When the 3rd precinct was burning, I admit I smiled, no officers were hurt as they had evacuated and a community temporarily took back their community from an occupying force. I do not consider this a tragedy, but rather an echo of prophecy.
The prophets verbally lashed and threatened their government for its injustices, telling tales of destruction that would come as long as the status quo stays unchanged (Isaiah 10:1-4). With a clear message like this from Isaiah, how can we as Christians be surprised when the oppressed lash out against their oppressor? Our authorities have turned away from God, not in the sense that they are not Christian, but in the sense that their priorities and positions stand in direct opposition to the call of Christians everywhere.
Christ prioritized human lives over commodities when he flipped the tables in the temple and drove the moneychangers out with a whip. Christ was not just angry that they were using the temple to collect money, he was angry that the temple was being used to oppress the poor. How can we as Christians condemn angry protesters today for turning to destruction, when the Lutheran Scholl twins themselves destroyed property with graffiti as they resisted the Nazi Regime? We as church can stand against violence but we must remember that the violence we stand against has always first and foremost been concerned with God’s creation, life, and breath. Not police stations, not super Targets, not K-Marts. Do not let the shocking videos and pictures of burning buildings change what this is about: a cry for human lives, a cry for freedom and liberation.
As church it is our duty to stand with the oppressed, provide both materially and spiritually for them as we have been called to do since the time of the Hebrew Bible even in times of riots.
Born in raised in Bloomington, Minnesota, in the fall I will be a junior at Augsburg University in Minneapolis studying Sociology and Religion. I hope to go to seminary after undergraduate school. I returned the faith and the ELCA after my religion 100 course (something few have ever said).