Student activist fights back


When MCTC student KingDemetrius Pendleton was approached by Take-A-Knee Nation (TAKN) co-founder and community activist Mel Reeves to lend his expertise as a videographer and photojournalist to TAKN’s national conference and rally, he did not hesitate.

Pendleton already had much on his plate. He was carrying a full-time load of college credits. He was managing his own videography and photojournalism business that he had started several years ago. And, he was actively engaged in activities to help raise awareness to the serious problems of distracted driving and drunk driving.

On a hot day in August 2015, while waiting to see Brandy, the girl he considered to be his daughter, he received news any parent would dread. Brandy had died—killed by a drunk driver.

56 year-old Philip Scott Bertlesen of Golden Valley had smashed his car into the rear-end of the car in which Brandy Banks-Sutta was riding. The rear-ended car was being driven by 21 year-old Melvin Jones. Minneapolis Police determined that Bertlesen’s car was speeding over 100 miles per hour mere seconds prior to impact, which killed both Banks-Sutta and Jones instantly. Bertlesen’s blood-alcohol test revealed alcohol intoxication more than twice the legal limit. The damage to the victims’ car required the use of hydraulic equipment.

Pendleton pulled several purple rubber bracelets from a kitchen drawer. He placed them in a clear place on an otherwise cluttered table. Bertlesen was ultimately sentenced to eight years in prison but, ironically, due to a technicality did not lose his driver’s license.

Pendleton’s mechanically twisted the bracelets and sunk into momentary pensiveness. Smiling again, he shared a tender memory of Brandy.

“She was beautiful and smart too, very smart.” Pendleton said. “The news often be talking about how many people got killed by guns, drugs, and everything. It’s true, we do lose a lot of people that way. But we lose a lot more of our young people to car accidents than all those other crimes put together.”

His two brothers who had already settled here coaxed Pendelton to Minnesota. Before he moved to Minnesota he lived in the infamous projects on the South side of Chicago.

Wentworth Gardens was built specifically to house African Americans who were otherwise not allowed to live in areas of Chicago where whites lived. These segregated projects started proliferating in the mid-1940s as a way to house African Americans and at the same time keep them segregated from white Americans.

In the 1960s Chicago Housing Authority’s indifference and lax management, particularly their ineffective tenant screening practices provided a ripe environment for the uncontrolled influx of drugs, gangs and crime.

“I got caught up in that horror. My drug of choice was heroin. Luckily, I found my way out. I found the Lord,” Pendleton said.

Super Bowl Sunday, was a typical winter day in Minneapolis. Snow covered the entire metro area. The powdery snow that had fallen earlier in the week had turned grayish and crusty within a couple of days along streets, sidewalks and driveways hastened by the “can’t keep us inside” attitude of hearty Minnesotans.

Super Bowl visitors popped up in various bars, restaurants, and stores around town. And, certainly, many revelers visited the Mall of America. Despite such goings-on, there was serious business in the works for Pendleton and TAKN. At Augsburg College’s Foss Center organizers and supporters had distributed their posters, flyers, buttons, and stickers in furtherance of their mission to demonstrate against senseless police brutality. The materials clearly expressed their mission.

“The purpose of the conference is to bring together everyone across the country who has protested police brutality, especially those who have taken a knee to protest police violence and the families of victims particularly those who have remained on the front lines in this struggle,” read one flier.

Pendleton was tasked with the responsibility of getting TAKN activities to the public in real-time live streaming. The conference schedule included speakers, workshops and panel discussions. The main highlight would be the appearances of the mothers of the victims. They would share their stories live with Pendleton’s help.

One of the featured mother was Valerie Castille, the mother of Philando Castille, the Minnesotan who was shot dead by a Falcon Heights, Minnesota cop. Pendleton said he admired Mrs. Castille. And, he admired Castille’s fiancé.

“I was so inspired by Diamond Philips,” Pendleton said. “She did an incredible thing. How could she have found the courage to do what she did? It was so brave. She was so strong. She inspires me. Her baby was in the car, in the back.”

He shook his head in disbelieve and admiration.

The supporters and organizers of the TAKN conference and protest wanted to stop the killing of African Americans at the hands of the police. Participants discussed whether police killings implicitly endorsed police violence by the silent acceptance of the American people, some of whom embrace the false narrative that taking the knee during the playing of the national anthem is unpatriotic and an affront to the men and women who defend this country.

Pendleton said he believes those who embrace the belief that peaceful protest is un-American misunderstand the basic premise of American democracy—the right to peacefully protest.

“I listened to the stories told by the mothers of their murdered children,” Pendleton said. “In spite of their overwhelming grief, they came out to share their loss in hopes of preventing more loss of life. I was affected by their courage and concern for others.” He said he would do whatever he could to help.

“I like helping people. People have helped me,” Pendleton said.

He had studied the career of Gordon Parks, an African American photojournalist who had a successful career in the 60s and 70s.

“The brother was a pioneer. He was one of the first to do this important work,” Pendleton said.

The Philadelphia Eagles beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl Lll by the score of 41 – 33, for their first-ever Super Bowl victory. By all accounts, it was a hot game, plenty of scoring, plenty of excitement. Outside U.S. Bank Stadium, in frigid temperatures and icy winds the Take-A-Knee Nation supporters and organizers demonstrated in order to convey the important message that the police killings of black men and women, boys and girls, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, nephews and nieces, are wrong and cannot go on business-as-usual.

KingDemetrius Pendleton did what he set out to do. He live streamed it. And, he did so down on one knee.