The Minneapolis NAACP has called for a boycott of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board over what the civil rights organization says is unfair treatment of employees of color in hiring, promotions and discipline.
Minneapolis NAACP President Jason Sole said the boycott, which began Monday, includes skipping Park Board meetings, park activities, and directing park employees to not take on any new duties until several stipulations are met. The group also vowed to disrupt the upcoming International Urban Parks Conference that will be held in the Twin Cities.
“A lot of this is on fair process,” said Sole, a criminal justice professor at Hamline University in St. Paul. “They’re not listening to the people, so that’s why we feel like we have to make a bold step at this time.”
The Minneapolis NAACP said it has attended 27 meetings with the Park Board in 2016 and 2017, asking for more people of color to be hired and for a fair and consistent promotions and disciplinary practice.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Park Board said racial equity is being adequately addressed.
“Our record will show we have made incredible strides in addressing racial equity efforts, and we have no intention of slowing down,” the Park Board statement said.
The Park Board rolled out a racial equity plan in January to address disparities in neighborhood parks. The 20-year plan gives priority to improvements at parks located in areas with more minorities and people of color, among other criteria.
But members of the NAACP said the plan fails to address internal problems that have festered among Park Board staff for five years.
“We want them to repair the harm they’ve done and have a true racial equity plan,” Sole said.
Activists pushing for more racial equity have regularly attended Park Board meetings, and the debate has sometimes disrupted the proceedings.
At a meeting in May 2016, a shouting match broke out between then-NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds and then-Park Board President Liz Wielinski after Levy-Pounds raised concerns about disparities in parks staffing and facilities. Wielinski stepped down as board president several weeks later.
Four people were ticketed for disorderly conduct during a protest at another board meeting last year.
Park Board employee Cynthia Wilson, who supports the NAACP boycott, said the board has used its powers as an independent governing body to push out people of color. Wilson has previously criticized the board and said that earned her a “double demotion.”
But the Park Board statement issued Wednesday said, “It is unfortunate that a group of individuals is confusing personnel issues with issues of racial equity. These disciplinary measures have been reviewed multiple times internally and externally through the civil service process, court system and or other investigative agencies.”
As of March 2016, people of color made up slightly less than one-quarter of park employees.
The Park Board, once a leader for black representation among Minneapolis public officials, is now all white. A shake-up is likely, however, with multiple candidates of color running for election to the board in November, and four incumbents choosing not to seek another term.