"They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace." -Jeremiah 6:14 (NIV)
After learning that the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed teen Mike Brown, I felt like running in the streets and screaming at the top of my lungs. I was not surprised by the decision, and yet I longed for an outlet to demonstrate the rage that I felt in that moment, knowing that no black mother's son is safe from a similar fate in America. The problem is deep and it is systemic.
Irrational fear of black men
Our sons are perpetually typecast into a role that they unwittingly inherited as being evil, scary, large, dangerous, menacing, and "up to no good." This narrative has been used for centuries to justify slavery, untold violence, brutality, castrations, lynchings, beatings, and even death at the hands of those who exercise authority over the lives and livelihoods of African American men. The stereotyping and racial profiling that undergird this diabolical narrative are also used to justify the disproportionate rate of police contacts and incarceration that African American men experience. Indeed, statistics show that upwards of 40 percent of the more than 2.3 million people who are incarcerated are African American men, the majority of whom are poor.
Mass incarceration as a bi-product of injustice
Many of these men are incarcerated for lengthy periods of time for nonviolent drug offenses as a result of the War on Drugs that began in the mid-1980s. The War on Drugs was the precursor to the militarization of our police forces (as we have seen in Ferguson), increased spending on the criminal justice system, and an over-representation of law enforcement in our poorest communities across the country. It has also led to a ballooning of our criminal justice system, with an unprecedented number of men, women, and children experiencing incarceration. Sadly, the damage does not end there, as according to the Children's Defense Fund, an estimated 1 in 3 black boys born in 2001 are at risk of spending some portion of their lives behind bars.
Poor African Americans suffer daily indignities
The only way in which we can reasonably tolerate such injustices is because we have been conditioned to see black men as less than human, just as society did during the cruelness of slavery and the Jim Crow era, and to look the other way in the face of their suffering and oppression. The daily indignities experienced by black men, women, and children are made manifest in areas such as a lack of economic opportunity, high unemployment rates, inadequate access to education, criminalization of black children in the public school system, marginalization of poor blacks into ghettos, disparate health impacts, discrimination through financial systems and lending practices which help to maintain racial segregation, high incarceration rates, and negative media representations of African Americans.
The suffering that ensues from the denial of our basic human rights occurs under the noses of the average American citizen on a regular basis, and yet those concerns are not brought to the surface until a major incident happens, like the one in Ferguson, which exposes America's racial fault lines. These racial fault lines are like ghosts from the past; always present, always haunting, always reminding us that they exist to wreak havoc on the progress we think we are making. As is our custom, we have learned to bury these racial fault lines as soon as they surface, in the hopes that if we ignore them long enough, they will go away so that we may get back to 'business as usual.' This is folly. Where matters of justice are concerned, there is no place for 'business as usual.'
We're told 'peace', when there is no peace
In the midst of the daily harms and degradations African Americans face, we are told to remain peaceful and tolerant. This is a false sense of peace, used to comfort those who are comfortable. However, we face the fear that at any moment our children could be treated in a manner similar to Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Vonderrit Myers, Eric Garner, (the list goes on and on) and we know that the law may not protect them or hold their killers accountable. It is in this realization that many have taken to the streets in Ferguson to peacefully protest unjust laws and policies, while some have resorted to rioting (arguably exacerbated by the prosecutor's choice to announce the grand jury's decision late at night). As Dr. King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
We must root out racism
There is no escaping the fact that the majority of our systems and institutions throughout this country, including many of our churches, are built on a foundation of racial inequality and white superiority. Although we were not responsible for creating these systems, we do bear the responsibility for rooting out the racism that is embedded within them, and reconciling ourselves to the truth. Until we are able to engage deeply, painfully, and honestly about the roots of evil and hatred that permeate our institutions, systems, and in many cases our hearts, things will not change; they will only grow worse. Too many of us remain silent because we benefit from the way that things are structured, even though the foundation is like sinking sand.
This begs the question: How many more innocent lives must be sacrificed before we are willing to open our eyes to the truth and make the necessary changes? #blacklivesmatter
I wish I could say this headline is a joke, but sadly in the wake of an appalling news story by KSTP 5 last night, it is anything but funny. The news segment, entitled, “Minneapolis Mayor Flashes Gang Sign,” showed a photo of Mayor Hodges and a young black man supposedly throwing up a gang sign. In actuality, she and the young man were just pointing at each other. My eyes could not believe what I was seeing, but not for the reasons one may think. I could not believe that any credible news station in the Twin Cities would produce a segment like the one in question and attempt to pass it off as legitimate news. After the story aired, many in our community took to social media, with the hashtag #pointergate to express their outrage.
Don’t believe the hype
After processing the contents of the story, I thought about the tens of thousands of white Minnesotans who tuned into the news and were served a steady diet of racial stereotypes, innuendoes, and a false narrative about the Mayor and the young African American man standing beside her in the photo. For white Minnesotans who do not personally know any young African American men, it is all too easy to take the media’s word as absolute truth and embrace the negative racial stereotypes that are being perpetuated about the young man in the photo.
I had the privilege of meeting the young man in the photo several months ago at a community meeting. I learned that he has worked hard to reintegrate back into the community by being employed as a canvasser at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) for the past two years. This young man personally knocked on thousands of doors during the election season to help get out the vote and educate community residents about the impacts of felon disenfranchisement in Minnesota.
As a young black man with a criminal history, he has experienced numerous challenges in attempting to successfully reintegrate back into society. Many of those challenges have occurred in his interactions with law enforcement in Minneapolis. He has been handcuffed and detained for things like spitting on the sidewalk and even arrested at a Cub Foods store on the Northside for registering people to vote. Last weekend, this same young man was part of a larger effort to engage in door knocking with members of NOC, the Mayor, and Chief Harteau. The photo in question was taken briefly during that effort.
A Kafkaesque moment
Rather than celebrating the young man’s involvement in civic engagement, the media decided to replay an age-old narrative of stereotyping a young black man from the inner city and branding him as a gang member. Because of the Mayor’s willingness to reach into the community and build connections, she too, was labeled in a similar manner and accused of having gang affiliations. I posit, another reason the Mayor was targeted in the story is the fact that she has demonstrated courage by speaking publicly about much-needed reforms within the Minneapolis Police Department, including the body-cam pilot project that is being rolled out today. Resistance to change comes in many forms, and sadly this is one of the worst examples of such resistance. The young man in the photo was merely a convenient scapegoat for a larger agenda.
The constant portrayal of young black men as gangsters, thugs, and criminals can be seen nearly every night on the news or in newspapers in Minnesota and around the country. Undoubtedly these negative perceptions contributed to the untimely deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, and countless other victims. The daily replaying of the narrative of blackness as evil, dangerous, and in the case of Mayor Hodges, contagious, has a cumulative effect on the American psyche and permanently warps our perceptions of the “other.” Indeed, nary can many of us walk past a young African American man without a whole host of racial stereotypes, prejudices, and fears coming to the surface.
Negative perceptions of young black men influence laws and policies
One of the problems with negative perceptions of young black men is the fact that such views do not stay contained within individuals, but tend to influence our laws, policies, and our willingness to tolerate police abuse, harassment, and unjust arrests of this segment of the population. In essence, we become desensitized to the dehumanizing treatment of young black men and such treatment becomes par for the course. We forget to see them as real human beings who deserve to be welcomed into the human family and treated with the same level of dignity we have all come to expect. This should be the case even when someone has a criminal history and is looking to reintegrate back into society after paying his or her dues. (After all, 1 in 26 Minnesotans has a criminal history; and studies show that 95% of all prisoners will return home someday.) We cannot perpetually exclude and demonize people who have made their share of mistakes, just as many of us have made our share of mistakes, yet God’s grace has covered us.
We’ve got to fight the powers that be
As people who pride ourselves on being progressive, we must do a better job of building bridges and tearing down racial and socio-economic barriers. We must challenge narratives that constantly portray people of color as being suspicious, engaged in crime, “or up to no good.” We must hold our media outlets accountable for producing stories that are balanced, fair, accurate, and sensible. We must also be willing to use our voices to advocate on behalf of those who are made to feel as though they are outside the human family. Let us not despair. Instead, let us take action to change things for the better.
I know that we don't like to talk about it, but race still matters in Minnesota. Arguably, nowhere is that more evident than in the disparate outcomes between black and white students in Minneapolis Public Schools. When I express concerns about the intolerable racial disparities, typically there are four responses: 1) place blame on black parents and children; 2) express disinterest in the problem or remain silent; 3) defend the system at all costs; or 4) agree that there is in fact a crisis that needs to be urgently addressed. Although most folks that I encounter fall into categories 1, 2, and 3, or some hybrid of the above, I tend to gravitate more towards those who are brave enough to admit that serious problems exist and who are willing to lend their voices and social capital to speak publicly about these issues. Typically, these folks are not employed by the district, are not under contract with the district, and have some level of passion for social justice.
Time to challenge the status quo
Indeed, challenging the status quo is not easy, but it is necessary if we stand any chance of addressing the imbalances within the system and changing things for the better. Last month, numerous African American parents, children, and community members showed up at Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters to challenge the District’s inequitable practices as seen on this short video.
When we begin to put our differences aside and critically examine the available data, it becomes apparent that there are structural biases built into the Minneapolis Public School system that tend to reinforce and exacerbate racial disparities. For one, a disproportionate number of Minneapolis Public Schools are racially segregated, with a high concentration of children who receive free and reduced lunch. Within such schools, children are often taught by teachers with less experience and lower levels of educational attainment than their white counterparts at more affluent schools. It is not a stretch to surmise that students in most circumstances benefit from being taught by teachers with more experience and higher credentials. (Recent articles also show that poor students of color are also more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers, further compounding the problems, as shown here and here).
Are schools on the Northside being short-changed?
Assuming that premise holds true, if would not be unusual for a school district to want to assign its most experienced and highly credentialed teachers to the schools with the highest need for support in increasing academic proficiency for students. Yet for some reason, in Minneapolis Public Schools, that is not the case. The schools that seem to have the highest percentages of African American students and the lowest rates of proficiency in reading, math, and science, are provided with less experienced teachers on average than their white counterparts. Case in point, I searched MDE's (Minnesota Department of Education) website and took a look at the section called School Report Card. I looked at two schools that had high rates of African American students and high rates of students who receive free and reduced lunch: Namely, Lucy Laney and Bethune. I then compared a few key statistics from those two schools with Lake Harriet and Barton, two schools with higher percentages of white students and significantly fewer students receiving free and reduced lunch.
Here's what I found: Lucy Laney's student population is 88% black with 98% of students receiving free and reduced lunch. In terms of proficiency rates, only 8.7% of students are proficient in Reading, 12.9% are proficient in Math, and 5.7% are proficient in Science. (Yes, you read those statistics correctly). 35% of the teachers have been teaching for less than three years and 33% have a Master's degree.
Similarly, at Bethune, 85.8% of students are black with 100% of the students receiving free and reduced lunch. 10.5% of students are proficient in Reading; while 17% are proficient in Math; and 4.8% are proficient in Science. (And yes, you read those statistics correctly as well). 31% of teachers have been teaching for less than three years, while 47% have a Master's degree.
By comparison, Lake Harriet Lower Elementary School, a crown jewel of MPS, boasts a population that is 88.5% white and 7.7% free and reduced lunch. 72% of students are proficient in Reading and 80.5% are proficient in Math (Oddly enough, no Science proficiency rates were reported). Interestingly, only 4.2% of teachers have taught for fewer than three years, while a whopping 91.5% of teachers have taught for ten years or more.
Similarly, Barton boasts a population that is comprised of 65.5% white students and 29% of students receive free and reduced lunch. 74.3% of students are proficient in Reading, 66.4% are proficient in Math, and 54% are proficient in Science. 79.7% of teachers have a Master's degree, while 83.5% of teachers have been teaching for more than 10 years and only 5.6% of teachers have been teaching for fewer than three years.
The district has some ‘splainin’ to do
The question must be posed as to why schools with higher percentages of white students and lower percentages of students who receive free and reduced lunch, have significantly higher percentages of teachers who have taught for longer than ten years. Such schools are also more likely to be staffed by teachers holding at least a Master's degree. The question must also be asked and answered regarding how and to what degree having less experienced teachers impacts student proficiency levels and outcomes. As a matter of district policy: Who ensures that human capital is deployed equitably throughout the district to protect against schools with the highest needs being given the least amount of resources? On what bases are such decisions made and how is what is in the best interests of children factored into the equation?
The data show that in truth, the district could be doing better by all children it serves. Given the high social costs of obtaining a subpar education, the district should pay particular attention to the quality of academic instruction that children of color from lower-socio economic backgrounds receive. This is a matter of human dignity, equity, and justice and should be treated as such.
We should refuse to accept the notion that simply because a child hails from a low income family or community, they are forever destined to be at the bottom of society's social ladder. If we are serious about closing the opportunity gap that exists, we must begin by challenging our own (sometimes biased) assumptions about poor children's capacity to learn, and begin to critically examine and reassess policy decisions, formulas for resource allocations, teacher assignments, harsh disciplinary practices, uneven referrals to special education, vendor contract awards, and school climate and curriculum.
It’s not about good intentions
Let us remember, that accepting the status quo in our school system has nothing to do with good intentions, and everything to do with the history of race relations in this country and in our state, and the residue that still clouds our perceptions of the "other."
The following letter was sent to Mayor Betsy Hodges on the afternoon of Friday, September 26th and has since been updated to include additional signers.
Dear Mayor Hodges,
We write today to request that your office take seriously the concerns that are being raised by community members throughout Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities’ Metro area about the abusive police practices of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) that have been occurring for years. As you know, last week nearly two hundred residents of the Twin Cities gathered at Sabathani Community center with an expectation to engage in a “listening session” with Chief Harteau. As you are aware, Chief Harteau withdrew from the event just hours before it was set to begin and made comments to the media that we find to be offensive regarding expectations of physical violence and unruly confrontations that would pose a threat to public safety. These speculations, on the part of the Chief, reinforced stereotypes of the very communities she was purportedly gathering to "listen" to, and who are in fact, the community members most likely to be targeted by police.
The gathering was peaceful and comments from the community served to highlight the depth of the concerns that community members have about their safety on the streets and the ongoing negative interactions between law enforcement and the community. Young people from the community shared stories of arrests for things like spitting on the sidewalk or “walking while black.” The conduct of some members of MPD is unacceptable in a community that prides itself on having strong, progressive values.
Although several requests have been made by multiple community members to have you and Chief Harteau issue a public apology, this has not yet occurred. We find that disheartening. Many of us voted you into office because we felt that you would not continue with “business as usual,” but would work to unify the community and change the status quo. Your silence on the concerns that have been raised and your failure to engage the community on these issues speaks volumes, and will make it difficult to regain public trust.
We remain concerned about the short and long term impacts of failing to address community concerns regarding police/community relations in a timely manner. Following are some actions that you can take as a way to begin to heal the rift between the Chief, your office, and many concerned community members.
●First, we would ask that a public apology be issued by you and/or the Chief for missing the community listening session and her derogatory and alarmist media remarks that perpetuated negative racial stereotypes.
●Second, we would ask that drastic steps be taken to address the culture within MPD that leads to negative police/community relations.
●Third, we would ask for an audit of MPD by a credible, third-party entity to review departmental structure, the effectiveness of internal affairs and the civilian review process, along with departmental policies.
●Fourth, we would request quarterly progress reports to the community on issues such as increasing diversity within MPD, the rates of low-level arrests, the number and types of police misconduct complaints, and the number of police misconduct lawsuits being settled along with dollar amounts.
●Fifth, we would request an opportunity for community input on policies surrounding the use of body cameras by MPD. Although many of us support the use of body cameras, we are well aware of the fact that many jurisdictions that use body cameras continue to face allegations of police misconduct and brutality due to cameras being turned off during optimal times, storage of data, and interpretation of said data.
In essence, we would like to see MPD be transformed into a department that respects the human dignity of all persons and works to foster positive relationships with the community. We believe that public safety is negatively impacted when residents fear the police department or have lost trust due to a lack of accountability. We urge you to demonstrate bold and courageous leadership on these issues and to set the tone for the type of conduct that is expected in the city of Minneapolis. This can only happen after steps are taken to address the concerns that have been repeatedly raised over the last week and an apology has been issued.
Thank you in advance for your consideration. We look forward to a timely response.
Dr. Nancy Heitzeg St. Catherine University
Prof. Nekima Levy-Pounds University of St. Thomas Law School
Dr. Rose Brewer University of Minnesota
Scott Gray President & CEO, Minneapolis Urban League
Jeffry D. Martin, Esq. President, St Paul Branch NAACP, First VP, MN/Dakotas Conf., NAACP
Vina Kay Interim Exec. Director./Dir. of Research& Policy, Org. Apprenticeship Project
Nick Muhammad Concerned citizen, Community organizer
Rev. Dennis Edwards Senior Pastor, The Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis
Dane Smith President, Growth & Justice
Toki Wright Concerned community member
Jason M. Sole Metropolitan State University, School of Law Enforcement & Crim. Justice
Rev. Michael A. Hotz Associate Pastor of Care and Outreach, The Sanctuary Covenant Church
Rev. Dan Collison Senior Pastor, First Covenant Church of Minneapolis
Chris Stewart Concerned community member
Dua Saleh President, NAACP St. Paul Youth Branch
James Trice Founder and CEO of The Public Policy Project
Lissa Jones Host, Urban Agenda Public Affairs Show
Elizabeth A. Oppenheimer Concerned community member
Chaka Mkali Director of Organizing and Community Building at Hope Community
Mark Robinson Executive Director, E.M.P.O.W.E.R.
Anthony Newby Executive Director, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC)
Neely Heubach Minneapolis resident and concerned community member
Kenya McKnight Minneapolis resident and Business owner
Chris Brooks Faculty | Youth & Urban Studies, North Central University
N. Jeanne Burns Concerned community member
William C. Jottings Concerned community member
Matthew Barthelemy Concerned community member
Henry Jimenez Youth worker, Community organizer
Jamie Utt Concerned community member
Charles Samuelson Executive Director American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN)
Cynthia Assam Certified Student Attorney, University of St. Thomas Law School
Ngeri Azuewah Certified Student Attorney, University of St. Thomas Law School
Rachel Sebasky Certified Student Attorney, University of St. Thomas Law School
Justine Hicks Certified Student Attorney, University of St. Thomas Law School
Jacob Ray Certified Student Attorney, University of St. Thomas Law School
Muna Hassan Certified Student Attorney, University of St. Thomas Law School
Marcus Harcus Concerned community member
Taylor Shevey Concerned community member
Stephen Maitreya Wolfe Concerned community member
Nathaniel Khaliq Concerned community member
Shelley Martin Concerned Mpls Resident, Community Organizer
Nelima Sitati Munene Concerned Community member
Ann Mongoven Concerned Community member
Thomas Hooks Concerned Community member
Sarah Goodspeed Concerned Community member
Tami Schimnoski Concerned Community member
Ruby Simmons Partake or Flake
Kate Willis Concerned Community member
Matthew Berg Concerned Community member
Mike Griffin Concerned Community member
Kristy Pierce Concerned Community member
Vaughn Larry Concerned Community member
Donna Evans Concerned Community activist/organizer
Rev Meg Riley Senior Minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship
La Juana Whitmore Owner, Black Twin Cities, Member, MN Cultural & Ethnic Comm. Leadership Coun.
Shaun Laden Concerned Community Member
Amber Gay Concerned Community Member
Dwane Martin Concerned Community Member
Peter Thomas, Community Artist, Concerned Community Member
Dr. Bryan K. Cole Parent, Educator, former Minneapolis Resident
Tim Harlan-Marks Concerned Community Member
Karen Monahan Community organizer
David Miller Concerned Community Member
Cathy Jones People of Color Union Member, Concerned community Member
Dave Snyder Concerned community member
Anne Winkler-Morey Community faculty Metro state university
Claire Bergren Community Organizer- Harrison Neighborhood Association
Jobi Adams Concerned community member and Youth
Rebeka Ndosi Concerned community member
Chamise Anderson Certified Student Attorney, University of St. Thomas School of Law
Melvin Whitfield Carter, Jr. Concerned community member
Azucena Ortega Concerned community member
Eliot Howard Concerned community member
Zachariah Y. Oluwa Bankole JD/MBA student and concerned community member
Anika Ward Concerned community member
Roya Damsaz Concerned community member
Julie Plaut Concerned community member
Amy Van Steenwyk Co-founder of the Mennonite Worker
Ann Galloway Concerned Citizen
Daniel Dean Concerned Community Member
Muneer Karcher-Ramos Concerned Father
Molly Glasgow Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition
Oliver Schminkey Concerned citizen
Aaron Rennaker Concerned Community Member
Katie Huynh Concerned citizen
Ashley Horan Exec. Director, The Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance
Angel Smith-EL Concerned citizen of 4 African American young men
Kyla Sisson Concerned community member
Miranda Posthumus Concerned Community Member
William W Smith IV Youth Advocate
Bridget Siljander Concerned community member
Kate Sattler Concerned Community Member
Ann Haines Concerned Community Member
Evelyn M. Blum Concrned Community Member and Voter
David Boehnke Concerned Community Member
Mike Wedl Concerned Minneapolis Resident and Community Leader
Lauren Huiting Concerned Community Member
David Miller Concerned Community Member
Nick Campbell North Minneapolis Resident
Stephanie DeFrance Public School Teacher
Marjaan Sirdar Concerned community member
Niko Georgiades Youth Worker, Concerned Community Member
Chrissie Mahaffy Concerned community Member
Brian Mahaffy Concerned community Member
Dick Donovan Concerned community Member
Tessa Wetjen Concerned community member
Vanessa Messersmith Concerned community member
Leah C Palmer Former MPD employee
Jennifer Lock Concerned Community Member
Liane Gale Co-Chair, Green Party of Minnesota
Michael kraft Concerned community member
Josh Hardy Concerned Community Member
Steve Loop Concerned Community Member
Danyale Green Concerned Community Member/Organizer
Sonia Nunez-Gibbs Educator
Tony Nunez Concerned community member
Jazmin Danielson Community Leader
Avra Anagnostis Wake Up 612
Cari Tan Educator Concerned Community Member
Mrs. Maryann Robinson Concerned Child Education Advocate
Brian K. Smith Institute on Culture and Policy
Mary Webb-Hampton Concerned community member, Wake up 612
Stephanie Gasca Concerned Community Member
Roya Damsaz Concerned community member
Michael W. Jonak Attorney and Concerned Citizen
Jon P. Frasz TAMN
Roya Damsaz Concerned Community Member
Kissy Coakley Victims Advocate & Justice 4 All Leader
Dan Kauppi Lawyer, Minneapolis resident
Robert Smith III Doctoral Student, University of Minnesota
Carrie Anne Johnson Parent & Life-long South Minneapolis Resident
Amber Jones U of M Student, Concerned Community Member
Eric Highers Concerned Community Member
Lars Mackenzie Graduate Student, University of Minnesota
Maria Laden Concerned Community Member
James Christenson Concerned Community Member
Vanessa Messersmith Concerned community member
Joseph Maher ONE LOVE
Mike Griffin Concerned Community Member
Christena Cleveland Ph.D., Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies, Bethel University
C. John Hildebrand Concerned Community Member
Mark Van Steenwyk Pastor, the Mennonite Worker
Brita Higgins Concerned Community Member
Brandi Olson Jordan neighborhood resident and concerned community member
Pamela Y. Cook, Esq Chaplain Intern, Redeemer Lutheran Church & Redeemer Center for Life
Chelsea Forbrook MPS teacher
Holly Slattery Concerned Community Member
Alanna Morris-Van Tassel Concerned Community Member
Steve Clemens Minneapolis resident
Charity Kroeker Concerned Community Member
Jack O'Leary Concerned Community Member
Raymond Calubayan Concerned Community Member
Bethany Theobald Concerned Community Member
Terry W. Hokenson Board Member, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light
Nancy Nair Concerned Community Member
Russ Barclay Concerned Community Member
Jamie Buss Concerned Community Member
Dawn Pivec Concerned Community Member
Lora Pedersen Concerned Community member
Corliss Zawistowski Concerned Community member
Marcia Foutch Concerned Community Member
Linda L Richards Brain Injury Specialist in rehab, for persons with traumatic brain injury
Ryan Peterson Concerned Community Member
G Zachariah White, PsyD Licensed Psychologist
Orin Rubin Concerned community member
Matthew Masurka Musician, Concerned Community Member
Jennifer Arnold Community organizer
Nathan Michielson University of Minnesota Student
Morgan Bird Concerned Community Member
Peter William Atkins Concerned Community Member
Alexis Boxer Conservation Organizer, Sierra Club
Nick Espinosa Occupy Homes MN, United Neighborhood Alliance
Bobbi Dahlstrom Whittier resident
Rike Miggs Concerned Community Member
Cesar Atienzo Concerned Community Member
Alexandra Vagac Chair of the Board of Directors, MPIRG
Nicholas Cotta Student at University of Minnesota
Grayson Carr Community member
Dr. Sarah Humpage Liuzzi Economist, Concerned Community Member
Alyssa Ramsden MPIRG Board Director
Aaron Furuseth Concerned Community Member
Austin Zyvoloski Concerned Community Member
Stacia Martin Concerned Community Member
Anton Schieffer Concerned Community Member
Emily Lund Concerned community member
Adam Loomis Minneapolis resident, artist and activist
Guy Wagner Concerned Community Member
Zoe Prinds-Flash Photographer, Concerned Community Member
Abbi Dion University of Minnesota Graduate Student and Concerned Citizen
Eden Yosief Concerned Community Member
Sam Gould Concerned Community Member
Emerson Gutierrez Concerned Community Member
Phill Kelly Interim Executive Director, West Bank Community Coalition
Ryan Johnson Concerned Community Member
Nien Liu Concerned Community Member
Josh J. Kaplan Concerned Community Member
Greg Neis Concerned Community Member
Will Dockendorf Teacher
Mike Hoyt Concerned community member
Ruby Levine Concerned Community Member
Peter Pawlowski Concerned Community Member, PACIM Board Member
Noah Shavit-Lonstein University of Minnesota Student
Anya Cleaver Concerned Community Member
Louis Mielke Student, University of Minnesota-TC
Pahoua Yang Hoffman Concerned Community Member
Margaret Levin State Director, Sierra Club North Star Chapter
Matthew Saint-Germain Student, University of Minnesota and Business Owner, Freedom From
Brian Matthew Hart Concerned Community Member
Jonathan K. Davis Concerned Community Member
Angie Hanson-Huff Concerned Community Member
Adam Levy Concerned community member
Janey Winterbauer Musician, citizen of Minneapolis
Patricia Enger Actor
Rosalie Pierce Concerned community member
Kathy DeKrey Concerned Community Member
Sarah Peters Artist and arts administrator with Northern Lights.mn
Lars Hayne Concerned community member
Robyn Hendrix Concerned community member
Dominique B Energy Efficiency
Wil Sampson-Bernstrom Concerned Community Member
Ben Severns Community Educator
Juleana Enright Writer, Concerned Community Member
Dean Otto Concerned Community Member
Nicholas Clark Concerned community member
Lacey Prpic Hedtke Artist, concerned community member
Katie Hargrave Concerned Community Member
Shanai Matteson Collaborative Director, Works Progress Studio
Lara Avery Editor, Revolver
Erik Brandt Professor, Minneapolis College of Art + Design
Mark Borrello Concerned Community Member
Amanda Luker Boneshaker Books
Arwyn Birch Business owner
Randall K. Cohn Program Supervisor., Avenues for Homeless Youth; Law Student, William Mitchell
Josie Shardlow Concerned Mpls resident
Elisabeth Workman Poet, writer
Danielle Thompson Concerned Community Member
Lance W Conrad Local business owner, music community organizer
Christopher Caesar Concerned Community Member
Elizabeth Stewart Concerned Community Member
Regan Smith Concerned Community Member
Rachel Bean Concerned Community Member
Donna Buer Concerned Community Member
Bradley Coleman Johnson Concerned community member
Kyrra Rankine Concerned Community Member
Katherine Kazama Concerned community member
Jonathan Stensland, Concerned Neighbor
Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus Librarian, Hennepin County Library-Franklin
Kevin Van Meter PhD Student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Melissa Hysing Concerned Community Member
Mamie Xiong Concerned community member
Evan S. Giffin Concerned community member
Sharon Goens-Bradley Healing Justice Program Director, American Friends Service Committee
Christian Erickson Minneapolis Resident and Business Owner
Rowena Ng University of Minnesota Graduate Student
Andrew Molle Concerned Community Member
Travis Workman Assistant Professor/University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Ashley Fairbanks Artist/Organizer, Concerned Community Member
Paul Corts Teacher of Color
Danielle Kasprzak Concerned Community Member
Colin Kloecker Co-Director, Works Progress Studio, Concerned Community Member
Yusuf Ahmad Concerned Community Member
Bryan Pyle Concerned Community Member
Susan Kikuchi Labor organizer
Nancy Helfrich Concerned Community Member
Paul Achmelzer Concerned community member
Jessica Mueller Director of Development and Marketing, Urban Homeworks
David Petersen Owner, David Petersen Gallery
Julie Graves Youth worker
Amy Mingo Concerned Community Member
Peter Simonson Executive Sous Chef Peoples Organic, Minneapolis homeowner
Pamela Isham Concerned community member
Kristen Murray Minneapolis resident
Samuel Bjorgum Concerned community member
Taryn Tessneer Concerned Community Member
Marque Jensen Writer, Teacher, and VP of Minne-Mex Construction
Arjun Kataria Graduate Student, Carlson School of Management
Cheryl Wilgren Concerned community member
Jesse Petersen Concerned community member
Melody L Hoffmann Professor, Concerned Community Member
Tom Grant Civilian
Rachel Young Concerned Community Member
Lori Stee Concerned Community Member
Paul Henry Concerned community member
Jennifer Barclay Mother, Minneapolis resident, Concerned community member
Maura Brown Minneapolis resident
Jenn Schreiter President, the Students' Cooperative
Kirsten R Hayman Resident, Ready for Better
caty royce Deeply Concerned community member
Eric Asboe Concerned Community Member
Karlyn Avery-Derksen Behavioral Health Nurse Clinician, Concerned Community Member
Dave Jeffries Anti-Racist Action
Victor Martinez New Generation Church
Emerson Beishline Attorney and Concerned Community Member
Francisco Segovia Center Director at Pillsbury-Waite House
Janet Lobberecht Concerned community member
Erik Ostrom Concerned community member
Gabriel Bozian Certified Student Attorney, William Mitchell College of Law
Sara Nelson University of Minnesota
Dr. Valentine Cadieux University of Minnesota and Concerned Community Member
Jade Lichtsinn LICSW, Resource Chemical and Mental Health
Sarah Valentine Concerned Community Member
Eleanor Stoltz Teacher, Minneapolis Public Schools
Molly Phillips Concerned Community Member
Gudrun Lock Concerned community member
Bruce Braun Concerned Community Member
Brandon Kareef Church Onward, Concerned Community Member
A. Weiers Concerned community member
Mikel Herb Concerned community member
Dr. Kate Derickson University of Minnesota
Katrina Ann Haugen Concerned Community Member
Stephen Kung President, Urban Oasis LLC
Dylan Bradford-Kesti Program Organizer, Land Stewardship Project
Pia Payne Shannon Educator
Spencer Cox Concerned Community member
Lalit Batra University of Minnesota
Melinda Kernik Concerned Community Member
Ananya Chatterjea University of Minnesota
Paul Schulz Concerned Community Member
Last night, I had the privilege of moderating a community listening session focused on the long-standing issue of police accountability in Minneapolis. The listening session was hosted by city council members Alondra Cano, Cam Gordon, and Elizabeth Glidden. While nearly two hundred community members showed up, along with youths from We Win Institute, and panelists, Dr. Rose Brewer, Jennifer Singleton, and Prof. Jason Sole, Minneapolis police chief Harteau was conspicuously absent from the event. Just two hours prior to her expected arrival, Chief Harteau cancelled her participation, citing "public safety' concerns. The chief purportedly received information from a long-standing resident of North Minneapolis that there would be planned disruptions during the event, the threat of physical harm, and agitators. When pressed to name her source, the chief declined to do so, and on the word of an unnamed informant, abruptly withdrew from participation in the event. Also, the chief's referencing of North Minneapolis in her comments, (an area of the city with a large African American population) whether intentional or not, served to reinforce negative racial stereotypes about those who live on the Northside as possibly being "threats" to public safety. Indeed, the comment section under the chief's posting on Facebook shows mostly white commenters calling individuals "thugs" and affirming the chief's decision to withdraw from the event.
The chief's absence was deeply disappointing
To say the community was disappointed by the chief's decision is a gross understatement. Many were expecting the chief to attend the event in good faith and listen to the concerns of the people regarding issues of police accountability, allegations of police abuse, and the need for stronger police/community relations. At the forum, we heard disturbing accounts of police harassment, racial profiling, unjustified arrests, and targeting of homeless individuals within the community. Folks also expressed frustration about the lack of responsiveness by the chief, the mayor, and other elected officials to the cries for relief from rampant police abuse.
These concerns are not new to Minneapolis residents, yet the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the murder of an unarmed young black man by police give rise to a new sense of urgency in dealing with the crisis of police misconduct in our own backyard. The chief's failure to show up at the forum and actually hear the voices of the community sends a strong message about the culture of the police department and shows an overall unwillingness to sincerely address the concerns that are being raised.
Has police abuse become par for the course?
For far too long, we have read account after account and even watched videos of unarmed African American men being beaten by Minneapolis police officers, with limited to zero accountability for such conduct. There is not one elected official within the city of Minneapolis that can claim ignorance of the pervasive nature of police misconduct in the city. Indeed, the city attorney's office is routinely permitted to settle excessive force cases, while nary anyone bats an eyebrow. It's as though police abuse has been normalized as an ordinary part of our lives in the city, and as long as we can keep cutting checks to pay victims and hide the problems, then everything is okay. Well, it's not okay. This has to stop.
Let's get serious about solutions
In order to shift things in the right direction, there are a few things that need to happen: 1) We need to hold the chief accountable for her withdrawal from the community listening session by demanding a public meeting that includes the mayor and the chief to explain the circumstances surrounding the chief's absence; 2) We need to inquire of the mayor about the scope of her plans to ensure police accountability over and above the implementation of body cameras. Last night's forum demonstrated the breadth and scope of the problems are much deeper than body cameras alone will be able to resolve; 3) We need a comprehensive assessment of the overall effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the Minneapolis criminal justice system that looks at who is being stopped and searched on the streets, the rate of charging of low level, nonviolent offenses such as lurking, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and obstruction of legal process, the annual costs to the city of such low level arrests, and the health-related and economic impacts on individuals and communities when subjected to such punitive treatment. (We do not need another study, but a critical examination of data already available.) The results should cause us to repeal ordinances that contribute to the problems and revamp the system, where needed; 4) We need a coordinated community response that includes capturing negative police encounters on video, making rapid reports of such encounters, challenging unlawful stops, searches, and arrests in court, and showing up at City Hall until we see the changes that are needed; and 5) We need our Caucasian brothers and sisters to stand with us in demanding police accountability. It is not equitable for communities of color to both suffer the effects of police misconduct and then to accept full ownership for addressing problems that we did not create, nor have control over. White people should be just as outraged by police abuse as people of color and resolve to work diligently to address these challenges, as a matter of human dignity.
We are Ferguson
In light of the magnitude of issues we face with policing in Minneapolis, we can't afford to have an absent chief at forums designed to facilitate stronger trust between community and police. There is too much at stake for this to occur. While some express concern about whether Minneapolis will become another Ferguson, I posit that we have already become Ferguson, and have been for a long time. We just don't know it yet.