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.
Public education debates in Minnesota frequently center on disputes between those who want to reform education and those who support the position of teachers’ unions. As those heated debates continue to swirl, important aspects of the discussion tend to fall by the wayside. One key example is the current crisis facing African American boys within the Minneapolis public school system. Sadly, black boys are often excluded from classrooms, placed in special education at alarming rates, subjected to administrative transfers, and are graduating at dismally low rates. They are also routinely subjected to harsh discipline for minor infractions and in many cases even criminalized and brought into the juvenile justice system through the use of school resource officers.
Black boys face racially-hostile school settings
As a civil rights attorney, I have learned of black boys as young as six and seven years old that have been arrested in public school settings and hauled away in the back of squad cars. I have also been made aware of black boys who have been charged with disorderly conduct for non-violent offenses, thereby opening the door for future involvement in the criminal justice system. The cumulative effects of unevenly-applied school policies and practices upon black boys have arguably created a racially-hostile environment that makes learning difficult to impossible. It is a continual affront to the human dignity of black boys to be treated as second class citizens within the public school system and made to feel as though they are not welcome in mainstream classroom settings.
Is Jim Crow still alive?
Moreover, the current treatment of black boys in public schools cannot be divorced from the oppressive and inhumane treatment black people have experienced throughout their history in this country and in our state. The signs reminiscent of the Jim Crow era may no longer be visible on school house doors, yet the sentiments have somehow seeped into policies and practices that deny opportunity to some of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens, with untold consequences to boot.
In response to the myriad challenges and obstacles that black boys face within the district, Minneapolis Public Schools has resolved to create an Office for Black Male Student Achievement. While the specific plans for the office have yet to be unveiled, there seems to be a great deal of public support for such an effort and some would say that it is long overdue. Many would also say that given the magnitude of the problems that black boys are experiencing, the district must begin to act with a greater sense of urgency and commit to making a sufficient investment if it is serious about addressing the challenges that exist.
The district's response to the crisis is inadequate
A major concern that has surfaced in recent weeks is the fact that in determining expenditures in its most recent budget, the district has opted to earmark a mere $200,000 toward establishing the Office of Black Male Achievement. As one might imagine, the amount that is being allocated is a paltry sum in the grand scheme of things, which amounts to just $28.00 per African American boy. For many concerned parents and community members, this feels like a slap in the face, given the district's enormous budget of over $700 million (http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2014/06/asking-minneapolis-public-schools-what-are-we-worth). Although the district claims that the $200,000 investment is initial seed money, many see it is an indication of the level of seriousness, or lack thereof, of the district's prioritization of this issue.
In response to these concerns, a coalition of 13 community-based organizations and civil rights groups sent a joint letter (http://aalf.us/sites/default/files/2014-6-20_mps_obma_letter.pdf) to district leadership requesting a reconsideration of the amount that has been allocated to this effort and a community meeting that will allow for greater levels of collaboration and input by concerned members of the public. As one of the signers of the letter, I feel that it is important that the district begins to honor the voices of parents, students, and community members who want to ensure that the crisis facing black boys is taken seriously by district leadership.
Solutions must include community voices
Too often our voices are shut out of the process of providing input, critical feedback, and diverse perspectives that will ensure that the district is moving forward in a way that puts the interests of children, and particularly vulnerable populations, at the center of its decision-making. Ensuring public involvement would also increase the likelihood that there is proper accountability and balance in how the district prioritizes limited resources. Instead of quickly hiring someone to lead the Office of Black Male Achievement, as the district has indicated that it will do, district leadership should be willing to take a step back and allow for a community process before things move forward. Involving the community in a strategic way will help to begin rebuilding public trust and confidence in the district and will usher in a paradigm of collaboration and cooperation that will benefit all stakeholders, and especially the children who are most in need of our support.
The treatment of black boys in Minneapolis public schools has been unconscionable. Rather than continue down a similar path, it is time to reverse course and make critical investments in the lives of black boys. They deserve the chance to reach their full potential in life.
It's a crying shame that getting people to talk candidly about racial justice and equity in Minnesota is like pulling teeth. To be frank, not only is it difficult to broach the subject of race and our need to address socio-economic disparities for people of color, but those who do show courage and speak the truth are often targeted by those who disagree.
For those who have been reading my blog, you know that I have been writing about white privilege, racial injustice, and equity for the last several weeks. My goal is to increase awareness of the issues at hand and to awaken our appetites for justice and equality in our state. Although some have been inspired by my writings, others have been enraged by what I have to say. Indeed, I have received disturbing emails filled with venom from those who believe that people of color experience higher rates of poverty and social isolation due to laziness, a lack of values, and/or a poor work ethic. Here is an excerpt from one of the emails I received: "Your article represents the usual black whining about the evil whitey. In the last 50 years whites have bent over backwards to help blacks, in many cases to the detriment of their own children and grandchildren. No good deed goes unpunished - and we all know the results because we see them every day - laziness, crime, violence, aggression, out of control ghetto breeding, refusal to take responsibility. Of course all this is the whitey's fault. "
Sadly, such attitudes are widely -and I would venture to say secretly- held by a certain segment of our society who is unwilling to entertain evidence that bias, and institutional and structural racism work to perpetually limit access to opportunity for people of color and aid in producing many of the negative outcomes that occur. Rather than show intellectual curiosity for uncovering the truth, these individuals tend to stereotype people of color and sit behind a computer screen and spew vitriol that they would never have the audacity to utter in public. It's what some people call "Minnesota Nice."
There’s a shift away from real issues
Another form of Minnesota Nice that I have seen play out in recent weeks is related to public discussions surrounding an equity agenda in the City of Minneapolis and the resources being devoted to that issue by the Department of Civil Rights. The media has been ablaze with stories that reflect growing tension between a couple of members of the city council and Velma Korbel, the Director of the Civil Rights Department, who happens to be an African American woman. Disturbingly, Ms. Korbel has been berated in public and called to the carpet to explain the amount of time and resources being expended by her office to promote equity within the City. In this instance, Minnesota Nice is rearing its ugly head by shifting attention away from the real issues at the intersection of race and inequality and focusing the attention on Ms. Korbel through attacks on her character and even her management style.
From my perspective, in light of the fact that Minneapolis has some of the worst racial disparities between blacks and whites in poverty, unemployment, criminal justice, and high school graduation rates in our state and probably the country, it should be a no-brainer to focus on equity and to aggressively implement the racial equity agenda that is being developed. Indeed, many of the problems that plague the poorest communities in Minneapolis would dissipate through an urgent focus on equity and economic justice that opens doors to affordable housing, home ownership, high quality education, and most importantly JOBS for those who desire to work.
We must ask the right questions
And yet, despite these challenges, it is painful to see the mask that Minnesota Nice wears in an effort to impede progress towards equity in the City of Minneapolis. As concerned citizens, we need to be asking the right questions of our elected officials such as: What are you specifically doing to create jobs for those who are locked out of access to economic opportunity; especially African American men? How will you ensure that those with criminal histories are given a second chance? Does the City's workforce adequately reflect the diversity contained within the City? If not, are you using an equity toolkit to ensure more diversity within government hiring? Will the City continue to pay out millions of dollars to settle police brutality claims while simultaneously raising concerns about the resources being spent on an agenda that promotes equity? Who is providing political cover for those like Ms. Korbel, whose office is tackling the issue of equity head-on? Will you allow Ms. Korbel to be used as a scapegoat on this issue while the status quo is allowed to remain in place? And my personal favorite: Who among you is willing to spend down political capital to protect the interests of the poor and take a stand for justice and equality?
If Hubert H. Humphrey had not taken a similar stand many moons ago, we might not be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act this year. Because of the courage of Humphrey and so many others, that means at a base level that I can go to any restaurant and hotel in the City and drink from any water fountain I choose, without being denied access because of my skin color. However, in spite of the gains that have been made, there is still much work to be done.
Minnesota nice must go
Thus, it's time that we pull the mask off of Minnesota Nice and demand change on behalf of those whose interests are constantly being ignored or pushed to the back burner for the sake of political expediency. We are allowing too many distracting forces to stand in the way of what is right and true and just. The time for equity is now. The future of Minneapolis and our state depend upon it.
Last weekend the DFL and the GOP each held state conventions to determine which candidates would receive endorsements for positions ranging from governor to U.S. Senator. While it is clear that both political parties considered everything from electability, to fundraising ability, to maturity and experience, what is not clear is the degree to which a candidate's commitment to equity was factored into the equation.
“We all do better when we all do better”
As someone who has participated in a political convention in the past, I found it disturbing that issues of racial and economic justice were either not on the table at all or were seen as issues of marginal importance in the grand scheme of electoral politics. The practice of relegating issues that are important to poor folk and communities of color to the sidelines is detrimental to the health and well-being not only of those groups, but to all Minnesotans. Seemingly gone are the days in which we openly declare and act upon the sage reminder that Senator Paul Wellstone made years ago that, "We all do better when we all do better."
Since moving to Minnesota in the summer of 2003, I, like many other newcomers to the state, have been left to piece together his message and his hope for more equitable outcomes for folks in rural communities, people of color, immigrants, the working poor, and laborers to name a few. I have learned that not only was Wellstone a man of the people, but he used his power, influence, and position to fight for the rights of those who experienced oppression, inequality, and economic injustice. I was also inspired to learn recently from Dane Smith of Growth & Justice that Wellstone even opened his campaign at Sabathani Community Center as a way of demonstrating his connection to everyday people and showing that his election would not be 'business as usual.'
We must run the next leg of Wellstone’s race for equity & justice
In reading Wellstone's words and learning about the courage he exhibited in the fight for social justice and equality, I am left with a desire to see a revitalization of his legacy and the realization of his hopes for our state. In light of Minnesota's rapidly-changing demographics and unprecedented levels of racial and ethnic diversity, there has arguably never been a more important time to pick up the torch he left behind and to run the next leg of the race in championing the cause of equity and justice. It's a sad fact that too many of our poorest residents do not have the basic resources they need to live a decent quality of life. Too often they are struggling to find affordable housing, even temporary shelter, access to quality health care and mental health services, and jobs that are accessible through public transportation and that pay a living wage (as was the discussion at a recent community meeting about equity and transit referenced here in Finance & Commerce). These are tough battles to win, but necessary battles to fight. For as Paul Wellstone said, "If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them."
So what do we really stand for and what do the people we elect stand for?
In this day and age, it's relatively easy for politicians to craft messages that will appeal to the masses or to get volunteers to knock on doors to secure pledges to vote. This happens far too often in economically-disenfranchised communities in which politicians begin appearing within months of an election and then disappear after the votes are cast; thereby creating a negative cycle in which communities of color come to expect broken promises and ultimately lose faith in the political system as a result of failing to see any real change in their communities over the long haul. Sadly, after most elections the poor remain poor and locked out of access to economic opportunity, their voices are rarely heard, and they are often seen as pawns in the electoral process rather than as assets who can positively contribute to the well-being of our state.
Use the Power of the Ballot for Equity
Thus, during the next election cycle, I would urge us all to carefully consider where each candidate for political office stands on matters of equity before casting a vote. I am taking cues from the work of Dr. Bruce Corrie, who in the spirit of justice is encouraging communities of color and their allies to vote for candidates who agree to help develop a plan that promotes equity and asset-building within communities of color. (See www.alanaassets.org). Regardless of where one stands politically, it’s important to take ownership for advancing the cause of equity in our state and not leaving it up to others to do the work. By taking ownership and holding leaders accountable, we may not be able to change the whole world, but at least we can begin to shift the paradigm in Minnesota. In the words of Paul Wellstone, "Sometimes the only realists are the dreamers."