We are about 50 days away from election day, and currently, 65 homicides into the year, primarily young Black youth and young adults, make up those 65 lives that are no longer with us. We are on track to break a record, but not one worth celebrating, nor one worth glorifying. We have had countless press releases, public events where politicians and others alike have assembled to shake hands; we have taken the pictures, and we have heard the screams and cries of too many families grieving the loss of their loved ones to senseless gun violence. Yet, we have not responded to this chaos, nor have we taken the time to address these homicides head-on. We are in the middle of a WAR, and the causalities of this WAR are people that look like me, and I take this matter very seriously. I am tired of the press releases, the public assemblies that result in no change, and I am exhausted for the dozens of families that have to wake up every day with a piece of themselves missing from their lives. We can not continue to fail our residents, children, and ourselves by not acknowledging the issue.
We need immediate economic investment into our families and youth, especially those living in low-income areas of our community. It is no coincidence that Ward 5 has the lowest household median income in the entire city and has the bulk of the gun crimes in our city. On average, households in Ward 5 earn less than $35,000 annually, compared to $65,000 in Minneapolis’s city-wide average family income. Yet, on average, some families make nearly double what residents in Ward 5 earn- not accounting for that Ward 5 has more people living in the household than other wards. This income inequality is unacceptable and cannot be the norm if we want to see meaningful change in our city. It has to start with getting more money into the pockets of these families and youth.
One solution is to Offer tax-based incentives to businesses to expand operations in the city’s most undeveloped areas and provide start-up capital for small businesses to renovate and occupy vacant commercial spaces along the West Broadway corridor. For example, suppose the city agreed to finance a percentage of retail business loans, and a small business would approve to finance the rest. In that case, we could stimulate development and provide opportunities for small businesses to grow their operations, simultaneously creating more jobs on the north side and clearing the area of abandoned buildings in the process. Of course, the city would have to work closely with the fire department to ensure that the occupants comply with the building codes and make appropriate accommodations for new occupants.
Addressing the education disparities is paramount if we want to change the current realities we are dealing with in Minneapolis. Those realities are that nearly 77 percent of Black students attending MPS can not read, write, or do math proficiently. Let me put this into perspective- 77 out of every 100 Black students can not read, write, or do math after graduating from MPS. No longer can we allow MPS to work in silos that continue to fail our Black Students. Instead, we need to encourage collaboration between MPS and community organizations to offer additional tutoring services, after-school programming that promotes professional/personal development, mental health support, and offer an environment where students feel empowered and uplifted- not failed and hopeless. We can accomplish this by contracting out supplemental education services to community-based organizations with the experience and capacity to offer additional support to our students who are currently not receiving support from the MPS system.
Additionally, I would encourage more conversations and interventions between students’ engagement in violent behavior instead of ignoring the matter. These are all tasks the Office of Black Student Achievement should address. Finally, although I would not have any authority over the MPS system as a city council member, I would use my office as a bully pulpit to advocate for our students’ more robust and interactive education system.
Finally, we need a city budget that reflects the needs and values of the community and not the invested interests of a handful of people benefiting from the chaos in the city. Again, I have the academic experience and background to review and pass a budget that reflects those values and addresses the failures within our city departments, concrete solutions, not temporary fixes, are what our residents deserve, and that is what they will get.
If we want to slow the rise of violent crime in our community, we need to get serious about ensuring that a job and an opportunity becomes more accessible than a gun and a pound of weed. Anything short of that will continue the unprecedented amount of violence we have witnessed in our city.
My top priority as a public servant and neighbor is to see that my community make it home safe at the end of the day. This starts with focusing on peoples’ needs–like housing and employment stability–but there are also the day-to-day emergencies that must be addressed, and we have an obligation to ensure that that system works for everyone.
We need a system of emergency response that understands what kinds of emergencies the police are the best response to, and what emergencies need a new type of response–one that goes beyond the police-only model that produced George Floyd, Jamar Clark, Terence Franklin, and the list goes on.
We need to define the scope of the police, a scope that has broadened by the decade, to the point that nearly every 911 call that isn’t a fire or physical medical emergency gets a police response whether the situation truly calls for it or not.
The public health approach of the Office of Violence Prevention needs more investment–the aim is to target and treat cycles of violence before they get fully started.
Delegating traffic enforcement, homelessness response, and mental health emergencies to services more equipped to de-escalate, mitigate harm and create safety is a simple, easy, and necessary start to keeping people safe in our communities.
Those most affected by violence deserve to be at the helm of those conversations. There won’t always be agreement, but people should be given access to the truth and not fear-mongered into not asking hard questions or imagining a more just world.
I believe we need a complete rethinking of how we keep each other safe in Minneapolis–this means replacing MPD with a new Department of Public Safety, one that decenters police as the sole means of creating a safe community, and incorporates other forms of emergency response into its model of public safety. Our modern reform discussion has its roots in the 1919 race massacres in Chicago–known as Red Summer–and hasn’t really advanced in the subsequent 100+ years.
Often, going beyond the police-only model has been done in small bursts. We’ve seen Violence Prevention style programs be as or more effective in reducing violence in communities, only for them to disappear once violence goes down. These initiatives should grow, and they should become a regular part of how we keep people safe.
We should be reducing the role that police play in punitively regulating behavior that is generally nonviolent (such as chemical dependency, to give one example) and requires a different approach to actually solve the problem being faced.
To address public safety concerns, in 2020, I sued the Minneapolis Police Department for violating the city charter, and eight additional friends and neighbors joined that suit. On July 1, 2021, the Hennepin County District Court ordered a Writ of Mandamus which orders the Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Frey to “Immediately take any and all necessary action to ensure that they fund a police force” of at least 730 sworn officers or more if required by the 2020 Census to be published later this year, by June 30, 2022.
I support having an MPD that is sufficiently and adequately staffed and trained. I support police reform that looks at redirecting non-police calls. I support two programs that are currently implemented by the Hennepin County Behavioral Health Department to address public safety issues:
1) Police Department Embedded Social Worker. Target population: mental health calls, repeat caller to 911, low level criminal behaviors, people who could benefit from social service support — referrals to social worker-data review, care coordination, link resources — ongoing support with housing, economic benefits and mental health and chemical health treatment.
2) 911 Embedded Social Worker Pilot Project. Maintain public safety, decrease risk to officers and residents — bring expertise and resources to mental health calls — allocate resources in the most effective and efficient manner, resolve the callers’ immediate need and underlying drivers. These programs are being implemented in Bloomington, Plymouth, Minnetonka, Brooklyn Park, Hopkins, St. Louis Park, Crystal, New Hope, Robbinsdale, and at The University of Minnesota.