Edina took a big step Tuesday night to create a sense of belonging for people of color in the suburb.
The City Council approved a task force’s report outlining the steps it recommended the city take to correct “long-term racial inequities.”
“I know there are people in our town that don’t want anybody to be left behind,” Edina Mayor James Hovland said during the meeting. “We’re not going to let that happen. We want to be an inclusive and engaged community.”
The report was the result of more than a year of work by the Edina Race and Equity Task Force, a group assembled by city officials in response to a viral video of an Edina officer handcuffing a black man in October 2016.
The final report of nearly 200 pages includes 21 recommendations to address racial discrimination in all facets of the city, from its Police Department to its parks and facilities.
“In 2016, Edina’s city council recognized long term racial inequities have manifested in our community for decades,” the report says. It concluded that all the recommendations should be implemented.
The lack of racial diversity within the city and in local government was one of the report’s biggest themes.
Only 2 percent of Edina’s residents are black, according to U.S. Census data, and there are no members of racial minority groups on the City Council. The report says there are “few to no people of color” on city boards and commissions.
Task Force members recommended that the city increase the number of people of color and multilingual residents in local government positions “to more closely reflect the demographics of Hennepin County.” About 13 percent of the county’s residents are black, according to the census. They also asked that the city update its affordable housing policy to explicitly mention creating a diverse population.
The report was blunt in describing the relationship between the Edina police and the city’s minority residents. “There is significant concern about police conduct with people of color,” it says.
Some Task Force members and residents who were surveyed said they had experienced or witnessed racial profiling by police, and added that there was a disproportionate number of interactions between police and people of color. Many said that the city did not respond well to reports of discrimination, if at all.
“Additionally, police suspicion is perceived to be racially motivated in situations where people of color are in high-income neighborhoods and when people of color are in possession of expensive goods,” the report states.
The Task Force encouraged the department to analyze its interactions by race and share its findings publicly, and to form a resident board that would review alleged police misconduct. It also asked the department to train officers on implicit bias and microaggressions, which it defined as “indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination.”
Task Force co-chairs Jessica Kingston and James Pierce presented the recommendations to the council Tuesday. Council members and those in the council chambers applauded the group and when the report was approved.
“It is emotional, to think that people feel they’re not included and not welcome,” Council Member Mary Brindle said, breaking down. “It certainly isn’t an intent. So thank you for making a way forward.”
Kingston, who is also the director of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity in St. Paul, said she was impressed with the city’s quick work to form the task force following the viral incident in 2016.
“The fact that Edina brought together a response to an incident that really opened people’s eyes … so quickly, that hasn’t happened historically,” she said.
Although stemming directly from that viral video, Kingston said that the intent of the task force was never to pit the community against the police.
“It was about … ‘How do we create a culture in this community where everyone feels respected?’ ” she said. “Making sure we were looking at this from multiple facets in different areas in the city changed that narrative.”
Edina’s Race and Equity initiative was comprised of 30 community members, eight of whom were on the task force, according to the report. Conversations were facilitated through the Citizens League, though the policymaking nonprofit did not contribute to the recommendations.
The Task Force will continue to meet through June. City staffers will review the report and are expected to create an “operational plan” based on the group’s recommendations that would be enacted in December.