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Late Pearl Lindstrom acknowledged a horrific history

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 20, 2014 - 4:10 PM

Pearl Lindstrom, who embraced commemorating the horrific racial history of the Minneapolis house in which she'd unknowingly lived for over 50 years, is dead at 92.

Lindstrom’s death was confirmed Thursday by the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office. No other details were available.

Lindstrom lived at her Columbus Avenue house for more than 50 years. Not until several years ago did she become aware that it was the site of huge racially motivated demonstrations in 1931 in which mobs of thousands of whites tried to force out a black couple, Arthur and Edith Lee, and their small daughter.

Once she learned that ugly truth however, she embraced the efforts by neighborhood leaders to commemorate the Lee family’s stand against intolerance.  A marker commemorating the incidents was installed in 2011 in a corner of her front yard, and the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, something she wanted before she died.

She often flew a U.S. flag from the porch of her white craftsman house, and she told a University of Minnesota researcher this about her inherited house history: “Oh, it means a lot to me; I’m a U.S. citizen, and I’ve been through a war. This house stands for freedom! You know, that freedom that they talk about? Well, some people believe in it and some don’t. Yet, there are a lot of people that are prejudiced. When I tell people I’ve got a historical house, they say, ‘Oh really?’ Some say, ‘well, our house is historical, too.’ And I say, ‘well, this one is special.’”

Added Greg Donofrio, a University of Minnesota professor who helped to prepare the national register nomination: "I doubt I'll ever hear another person spontaneously explain so clearly why the history of a property was personally meaningful because it represented a broader set of values and ideals."

“She wanted people to realize that we can all get along regardless of their skin color,” Stearline Rucker, a staffer and former president of the Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group, who also helped resurrect the Lee history.

Lindstrom outlived two husbands, both ministers, Rucker said. “She said her faith grounded her in looking at people for who they are and beyond their skin color,” she said. She was exposed to a wide variety of people because of the international ministry of one of her husbands.

After World War II, Lindstrom continued working at Munsingwear despite societal pressures of the time.  “She was one of those women, I would say, before her time,” Rucker said.

The Lees stuck out the hostility in their all-white neighborhood before moving about 10 blocks north to a traditionally black neighborhood. Their story remained only as lore among south Minneapolis black families until the 2001 publication of research by law professor Ann Juergens.

Lindstrom had one daughter, Carla Bielawski, who lived with her and found her dead at home Wednesday morning.

Video below from a 2014 Twin Cities Daily Planet interview:

Yonis wanted cash in larger bills, accuser says

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 19, 2014 - 9:53 PM

Soccer promoter Moises Hernandez described former Minneapolis park worker Hashim Yonis as someone who wanted no bills smaller than $20 when paid in cash for renting public soccer fields, but who issued no receipts.
 
Hernandez said he preferred to pay in cash because he collected $4 apiece from the players in his mostly Latino leagues.  He rented fields at three south Minnepaolis parks. But only Yonis, who rented fields at Currie Park in the Cedar Riverside area, refused to give the receipts Hernandez wanted so that he could chase pickup players off the turf if needed.
 
Hernandez testified as a key prosecution witness in the second day of the trial of Yonis on a felony theft charge. The Hennepin County attorney’s office alleges Yonis pocketed money for field rentals at Currie that Hernandez gave him in 2013.
 
The charge is a stunning reversal for the young onetime park and school worker who lost those jobs after the allegations surfaced last year.  He once was taken to the White House by Mayor R.T. Rybak to tout the city’s jobs program for teens in which he participated. He was running for a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board seat when the accusations  emerged.
 
Hernandez denied that the Park Board forgave him a past due obligation of more than $13,000 in exchange for his statement fingering Yonis. “I never have debt,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. “I paid every week.”

Ira Whitlock, attorney for Yonis, asserted the debt forgiveness in his opening argument, but so far no evidence has been presented to document that. Whitlock sought to undermine the credibility of Hernandez by highlighting inconsistencies in his testimony.
 
Hernandez admitted he lied when first questioned by a park police investigator, but he said that was only because Yonis urged him to conceal any field rentals before a certain date.  Prosecutor Susan Crumb asserted that was part of an effort by Yonis to conceal taking cash and not remitting it to park authorities.

Vreeland denies political motives in Yonis trial

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 19, 2014 - 3:14 PM

Minneapolis park Commissioner Scott Vreeland testified Wednesday that he had no idea that Hashim Yonis was running for another commissioner seat when Vreeland first asked him last summer about community complaints about the rental of soccer fields at Currie Park.

Vreeland said he met with Yonis last June 29 but didn’t know until filings closed in August that Yonis was running for one of three city-wide seats on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Vreeland was seeking re-election to a separate district seat that included the Cedar-Riverside area and Currie.

Ira Whitlock, the lawyer for Yonis, is arguing that the felony theft charge against Yonis was motivated by park commissioner incumbents wanting to keep Yonis from displacing them. Yonis was put on administrative leave in mid-July after an investigation produced allegations that he pocketed money for rental of the fields. He later was allowed to resign after appealing his dismissal.

Whitlock said in his opening statement that it was known as early as January that Yonis was planning to run.  He registered a campaign committee on August 23, but did not list any campaign fundraising or expenditures before that month.

Yonis was capitalizing on the recognition he gained as a park and school employee for which he’d received some citations, including a superintendent’s coin from schools leader Bernadeia Johnson. Mayor R.T. Rybak took Yonis to the White House to tell President Obama about his experiences in a city youth job training program, and Whitlock suggested he’d wowed federal officials.

Whitlock sought to portray another commissioner, John Erwin, as running against Yonis for the three at-large openings on the board. Vreeland said they were competing for three seats in a field of about 10 people, but not running head-to-head as in a traditional election.

“It was a pretty crazy election with a lot of people running," Vreeland said.  “Please don’t make me explain ranked-choice voting.”

Yonis a victim of politics, lawyer says

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 19, 2014 - 3:18 PM

The felony theft charge against Hashim Yonis arose from a politically motivated attempt to keep him from being elected to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, his attorney asserted Tuesday in opening arguments in his trial.

The accusation represents the first glimpse of the defense that Yonis plans to offer against the charge that he rented a Currie Park field and pocketed the money. Until the accusation surfaced, Yonis worked for both the park and school districts. The refugee from the Somali civil war was taken by former Mayor R.T. Rybak

to meet President Obama and tout the city's STEP-UP youth job and mentoring program. School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson also cited his work.

His lawyer, Ira Whitlock, argued that "this is a case about false accusations of theft" designed to keep the man park Commissioner Scott Vreeland testified was "a rising star" from displacing incumbent commissioners in 2013. Vreeland was called by prosecutor Susan Crumb.

Whitlock did not identify who specifically was behind what he described as a political conspiracy. Vreeland was one of several recipients of community complaints about weekend field rentals to adult Latino teams instead of predominantly East African youth teams from the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

But although Vreeland represents the area as district commissioner, Yonis was running for an at-large seat in a different race. John Erwin, an at-large park commissioner who was also running for re-election, also got the complaint about rentals, Vreeland said. Erwin is on the list of potential witnesses for Yonis in the trial but Whitlock said he'd been unable to interview Erwin. Erwin said late Tuesday that he wasn't aware of any attempts to reach him.

Crumb asserted that Yonis repeatedly accepted money to rent the Currie field from Moises Hernandez, representing the Latino teams. She said the field rent was paid in cash in an outbuilding at Currie, but Hernandez was given no receipt. She said that once Vreeland confronted Yonis about the rentals, Yonis tried to cover his tracks. He turned over some money and tried to get another employee to backdate a receipt, she said. Whitlock said that Yonis was never trained by his supervisors about procedures for turning over money and issuing receipts.

The trial may hinge on the credibility of Hernandez. Crumb said his wife and stepdaughter also witnessed the cash rentals by Yonis for weekend rentals that began in early May. But Whitlock said that Hernandez has given inconsistent statements, and that a park employee found that he owed the Park Board $13,000, a debt that Whitlock said in an interview was for field rentals and later was erased.  He argued that influenced the statement Hernandez gave an investigator.

Vreeland testified that he got an e-mail with a petition signed by 77 people complaining about the weekend rentals.  He said he'd known Yonis for about five years, worked with him on organizing projects and found his multi-lingualism and contacts an asset.

       

Minneapolis school, park hours for Yonis conflict in alleged theft case

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 14, 2014 - 5:09 PM

Hashim Yonis, the former park and school employee tentatively scheduled to be tried next week on a felony theft charge, was scheduled to work conflicting hours by the two public agencies, according to their records.

Yonis normally worked a 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. day for the Minneapolis school district, according to a district response to a data practices act request filed by the Star Tribune.

The district released Yonis, a probationary employee, days after he was charged last January by the Hennepin County attorney’s office with pocketing money he collected for soccer field rentals at a park. He had been put on leave before that.

Meanwhile, a Park Board calendar for Yonis showed that he was consistently scheduled to work from 1-9 p.m.

Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said Friday that the park district is concerned about the conflicting hours, but that it acted to terminate him due to "misappropriation of public funds."   

Yonis was a youth specialist assigned to work at three parks for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. It initially fired him last year for numerous alleged civil service violations after the rental allegation arose, but then agreed to allow him to resign to settle his appeal of the firing. He was also a program assistant at South High School. The school district didn't respond to the issue of conflicting hours.

Authorities contend that Yonis kept more than $5,300 from renting to adults the Currie Park artificial turf field, which was designed for youth soccer.

Yonis has denied mishandling park funds, and said he wouldn’t do anything to harm his aspirations for public service. He was running for a seat on the Park Board when the accusations of wrongdoing emerged. He was not elected.

He hasn't responded to attempts to reach him by phone, e-mail and text message.

Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford ruled against an attempt by attorney, Ira Whitlock, to suppress a search of a park office Yonis occupied that yielded $1,320 in cash, to exclude a statement Yonis gave to a park police investigator.

He is tentatively scheduled for a jury trail to begin on Monday.  He earlier rejected a proposed plea agreement The county offer would have required him to plead guilty, serve 90 days, and make restitution, while remaining on probation for five years.  

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