The Minneapolis City Council budget hearing Wednesday started with the usual plea for consideration from your Average Citizen. She wondered politely if the city couldn’t find some money to buy acorn-shaped streetlights outside the neighborhood cupcake shop.
The poor woman had no clue as to what was about to happen.
What followed was a passionate, often moving, sometimes puzzling, sometimes crazy procession of speakers allied with Black Lives Matter. There were cogent pleas for justice for Jamar Clark, the unarmed man who was shot by police during a domestic abuse call, and there were completely believable stories by several people about how they have been treated poorly by police officers.
But those stories were buried in the fog of untethered rants, irrational logic, outright threats, rampant swearing and loud screaming into the microphone. When one puzzled woman who said she was there to talk about “streetlights and stop signs” expressed dismay that Black Lives Matter had commandeered the meeting, she was shouted down by the same people who frequently chant “this is what democracy looks like.”
Democracy apparently is only for those who agree with us, and it was a mess Wednesday night, mostly because of one of Mayor Betsy Hodges’ dumbest moves in a long while. Roughly two hours before the hearing, she sent out a news release saying she and Council Member Blong Yang were adding two amendments to the budget, setting aside $605,000 to “accelerate training in the Police Department and make safety and accessibility improvements at the 4th precinct.”
This would be the same precinct that had been occupied by BLM, until they were evicted by police. There are a lot of smart people at City Hall, so I can’t fathom why someone didn’t stop the news release and the amendment, or see this chaos coming. It was a decision at the crossroads of tone and deaf.
To BLM, “safety and accessibility improvements” might as well have been “machine gun turrets and moats.” They stormed the meeting.
The money, Yang said later, was for repairs to damage caused by the protesters and for some improvements already in place in all the other precincts.
No matter, the move was seen by the hundred or so protesters as a reward to the cops who Maced them.
“Red meat,” said Mel Reeves, sitting outside the council after he delivered a thoughtful critique of the amendment. “That was red meat.”
So the amendment was dropped and BLM can claim victory, but rest assured those “safety and accessibility improvements” will happen, tucked into the city budget in some nebulous language that suggests it’s going to help the kiddos.
Speakers ranged from a thoughtful black 16-year-old girl, to a few white seniors. Their stories were at times moving. But here’s where the democracy part gets messy: Some of the speakers were sadly uninformed or just plain unhinged. These are the people who drive away those who largely share BLM’s concerns, but find their tactics counterproductive or destructive.
Some speakers demanded that the $605,000 go to create specific programs in north Minneapolis, most of which already exist and were funded by the very budget in question. Some demanded that the police station be abolished because “we can police ourselves,” only to be followed by another speaker complaining that the police didn’t respond fast enough the night protesters were shot.
Jeremiah Ellison refused to face the council. Instead, he faced the gallery and said that politicians are people who will shake your hand and kiss your baby, then slit your throat. Interesting observation, coming from the son of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who the week before stood in support of the mayor’s decision to stop the occupation of the police station.
At times, the meeting got surreal. One man demanded absolute silence, then played a recording of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous dream speech. He would have let it go on all night, but council President Barb Johnson literally cut off Martin Luther King.
“Can we wrap it up please?”
That wasn’t even the strangest moment. Council Member Alondra Cano played to the crowd, accusing the council of six women and seven men of being misogynist. Perhaps the applause was worth her future inability to get any cooperation to effectively serve her ward.
Several speakers said they had campaigned for some of the council members, and the mayor, and will now actively campaign against them. Particular scorn was reserved for the mayor, Yang and Johnson.
After the meeting, Yang was blunt: “If this is the political discourse we are going to have, get ready for the consequences.”
Here’s the reality: Yang won without the support of the DFL by motivating a wide range of people who actually vote. Johnson is popular with loyal residents who value frank talk and public safety.
“I’m dubious about their threats,” said Larry Jacobs, a political-science professor at the University of Minnesota. “I doubt there’s much experience running for office and the process of winning elections, which requires coalitions and focused organization to identify and turn out voters over a number of months, from nomination to general election.”
Plus, he said, BLM’s “tactics and tone will attract support [for] opposition.”
In other words, the speaker who said she represented “thousands of voices” might be right.
But it’s a fair bet that thousands more are represented by the woman who came to the meeting wanting acorn-shaped streetlights in front of the cupcake shop.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin