Nekima Levy-Pounds is a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School and the founding director of the Community Justice Project, a civil rights legal clinic. She is an expert on issues at the intersection of race, law, criminal justice, public education and public policy. Follow her on Twitter at @nvlevy.

Posts about Government

An Open Letter to Mayor Betsy Hodges

Posted by: Nekima Levy-Pounds Updated: September 30, 2014 - 5:05 PM

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.

Sincerely,

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

The Community is Speaking, but Chief Harteau is Not Listening

Posted by: Nekima Levy-Pounds Updated: September 19, 2014 - 4:25 AM

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.

The Crisis Facing Black Boys in Minneapolis Public Schools

Posted by: Nekima Levy-Pounds Updated: July 2, 2014 - 7:18 AM

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.

As the Battle for Equity Heats Up, Scapegoats are Caught in the Crossfire

Posted by: Nekima Levy-Pounds Updated: June 20, 2014 - 4:29 AM

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.

In the Spirit of Wellstone, We Must Champion Equity

Posted by: Nekima Levy-Pounds Updated: June 3, 2014 - 5:19 AM

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."
 

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