I recently had a chance to spend nine days in New York City, where I had lived for 18 years. When I left with my three-year-old girl, shortly after the tragedy of 9/11, my primary regret was that I was leaving a city with such intermingled diversity of communities.
I was pleasantly surprised to return to Minnesota in 2002 to find much greater diversity than when I had left. I picked an elementary school (Whittier International) that had greater diversity than my neighborhood school (Kenwood). However, as I navigated around New York City recently, sharing subway rides and sidewalks and coffeeshop spaces, it hit me hard to recognize how segregated my experiences in Minnesota actually are.
The Minnesota Women’s Press office is on West Broadway — a main artery in North Minneapolis. We have been surrounded by speeding cars, overdoses at the bus stop and parking lot across the street, and gun violence. It is a decidedly different environment than that of my home ten minutes away.
As I ponder the three major amendments on the Minneapolis ballot on November 2 — having spent the better part of the last six months learning from various people about public safety solutions and concerns — I have formed a few strong opinions that I would like to share, as publisher of a magazine that focuses on justice, equity, healing, and ecosystems.
- My city, and the state of Minnesota, will not change unless we give more respect to the lives, experiences, and voices of people who are not white. This might seem an obvious statement, given the trauma that awakened more of us on May 25, 2020. I do not think our state would be in the segregated shape it is in today — in education, income, housing ownership, access, safety, health — if we had people more representative of Minnesota’s demographics developing policy and making funding decisions. How many of us vote for lived experience when given the chance?
- Many continue to equate political experience and leadership as innate strengths of white men. This is partly why Minnesota Women’s Press was founded in 1985. While there has been progress, positions of power continue to be entrusted mostly to white people. Why do we think that is?
- Our October theme about gender-based violence — and several other stories we have been doing since the pandemic began — reiterate that when it comes to caregiving and healing, we rely on underpaid women and people of color to do the heavy lifting. When it comes to the notion of “protection,” why is there a tendency to fall back on the idea that law enforcement — rather than early intervention and prevention — is the answer that deserves the bigger budget? If we gave as much of our public funding to healing trauma as we do to policing and incarceration, we would have safer communities. Why do we continue investing in the same approach?
- I believe a collaborative approach, while very difficult to implement, reaches stronger solutions. Can we elect people who believe in the power of grassroots conversations — and actually have them? I was impressed with what I learned about the St. Paul Public Safety Commission.
What is city leadership?
A recent Star Tribune endorsement for mayor took a pro-business approach to who should lead Minneapolis, which provides more financial resources to the state than any other city. [The city council and mayoral candidates who answered our question about public safety are here.] I took offense to the implication that city leadership is more about business than residents. Two comments bothered me enough to prompt this editorial of my own.
Mayor Frey was given a lot of credit in the editorial for not being intimidated by protestors who asked him to defund the police. While strength in the face of opposition is admirable — I also think it is arrogant that a large group of community members who care deeply about public safety are not part of the solution. The editorial also applauded him for “standing up to a City Council with other ideas” — a council that is elected (and voted out) to represent its constituents.
The editorial board quoted Frey: “I haven’t caved. I’ve refused to compromise on what I feel is best for Minneapolis.” Why would an endorsement for mayor not include the values of listening and taking steps with others to find solutions?
Who decides how our communities feel safe?
The other editorial comment that bothered me: “Will voters … elect a council with a majority of serious-minded representatives or one controlled by the ideological passions of activists? … [Minneapolis] can let itself be guided toward prudent reforms by traditional progressive values, or it can go in reckless pursuit of radical visions detached from reality.”
To that comment I ask: What are “traditional progressive values”? Why are ideological passions of activists who care about public safety a bad thing? What are prudent reforms, when it comes to transforming a police culture that has always been enabled for lack of accountability?
The system we have has not had public conversations about how to transform our city in public safety, even after the very horrific and public police murder of George Floyd. The editorial said Mayor Frey is said to have the skills and experience to heal the city — and criticized then-mayor Betsy Hodges in 2017 for failing to improve public safety — but I do not see evidence of that. With 13 elected members of the City Council, representing their communities, the public conversation has not started. I believe it is reckless to think the vision we have for public safety now is effective.
My own radical vision of reality:
The editorial pointed out that we need a mayor not beholden to a “reckless pursuit of radical visions detached from reality.”
- There is a proliferation of guns (around the country, and currently increasingly used by young men in Minneapolis). Let’s publicly talk about where they are coming from.
- Let’s station the best BIPOC peace officers and resource agents from the community at Merwin Liquors nearby, where drug activity and shootings take place. Let’s fund a strong team of formerly incarcerated people to intervene there in an attempt to reduce violence.
- Let’s truly invest in healing trauma, as they are doing in Baltimore.
- Let’s talk about what we are doing as one of six cities in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice.
- Some of our readers, in a summer survey, noted their vision for improving public safety. Top vote-getters: Reduction of poverty, improvement of mental health services, sexual assault and domestic violence prevention programs. Lowest: Policing work. Let’s talk about how the city budget is supporting these solutions.
St. Paul recently convened a five-month process of 48 stakeholders who listened to hundreds of community members about public safety recommendations. As Acooa Ellis, co-chair of the St. Paul Community-First Public Safety Commission, put it recently in an essay for us, the commission recommended developing an Office of Neighborhood Safety — “to foster crime prevention and a deliberate space to engage neighbors and community-based organizations in the work to ensure that all residents feel safe.”
What conversations are planned in Minneapolis?
Our Voter Education section will soon include an exploration of Questions 1 (city charter), 2 (public safety department) and 3 (rent control) on the Minneapolis ballot.
Black Votes Matter MN has produced a voting guide that offers details on candidate priorities in Minneapolis and St. Paul around housing, economic justice, and police accountability reform. It includes information about the park board and board of estimates and taxation candidates in Minneapolis; the mayoral and school board candidates in St. Paul; a few key races in Hopkins, Mounds View, and Golden Valley; and general information about ranked choice voting, among other details.