I am a former student and current resident of Sartell. I have lived here almost my entire life. When I was a kid, I always thought Sartell was a great place to live. I thought it was a reflection of what the world would be like. What it would look like, feel like.
But I was wrong.
We live in a community that is 90 percent white. Most of our community lives comfortably above the middle-class socio-economic line. For most of us, worrying about food or housing is never a concern. We get to live our lives free of concern about so many issues. It’s undeniable that Sartell is a suburban bubble. As long as no one pops it, we allow ourselves to stay content with the way things are without thinking about it or challenging anything.
I hate to break it to you, but Sartell is not the “perfect” community we think it is or want it to be. Sartell is not a place without housing insecurity, food insecurity, poverty, racism, homophobia, ableism… you name it. There are so many major issues that exist right out our front door. So, why do we choose to ignore it? Why do we get to ignore it?
For a lot of us, we get to ignore the issues happening in our community because they don’t affect us. We have the privilege to close our eyes and focus solely on ourselves.
I know. I dropped the ‘P’ word. But it’s the truth. Take this for example:
Recently, I started a petition to remove the ‘thin blue line’ decals from the Sartell Police Department’s vehicles. I had already emailed and met with Mayor Ryan Fitzthum and Deputy Chief Wayne Schreiner. The petition was just the next step to show them there are other people who care about this issue. However, the response from many of our community members was absurd. It was violent. Hateful. Folks in our community responded with a counter petition, threats and demoralizing language. It was ignorant because our community, including the mayor and the Sartell Police Department, refuses to acknowledge another perspective.
The ‘thin blue line flag’ does have a positive message. Its origin was meant to represent solidarity and the sacrifice our officers make on the job. The flag also means a lot to families and friends of fallen officers. But it also means something else now.
In 2014, the flag was adopted by the newly founded “Blue Lives Matter” group. This group actively uses the ‘thin blue line’ flag to make a mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement by laughing in the face of police brutality and systemic racism. The flag is no longer a sole tribute to our police officers. It symbolizes active racism and the further oppression of Black people in our communities. Why would we choose to fly it and further alienate our community members?
That’s what we’re doing. We’re choosing ignorance. We’re choosing to decide what social issues we care about. We’re choosing to turn a blind eye to social justice movements because it’s “not what it means to us.” We’re using our privilege to opt out of the conversation because, well, we can.
This community can do so much better. We can choose to learn and practice inclusivity and acceptance for all people. We can choose to use our privilege to learn and make our community a better place. This is just a starting point. Let’s keep going.