Emotions erupt at latest dog park meeting

Emotions erupted at a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meeting Wednesday night, as one opponent to a proposed off-leash dog area in Martin Luther King Park accused the board of being racist, while another made threatening statements to commissioners.

The meeting became so heated that the Park Board called police. When the two officers showed up a few minutes later, the crowd had calmed.

In the end, no action was taken on the dog park. One commissioner, Jon Olson of North Minneapolis, attempted to eliminate the possibility of a dog area in MLK Park. His attempt to suspend the rules and allow for a vote against the off-leash dog area failed 5-2.

The failed attempt incited anger from dog park opponents, who are mostly black. Several attendees began singing “We Shall Overcome.” When the board attempted to continue the meeting, activist Al Flowers shouted from the back of the room, calling the Park Board “racist.”

Another opponent said he hoped that "children shoot them damn dogs."

At issue is a proposed off-leash dog area in MLK Park in the Kingfield neighborhood of Southwest. Members of the black community are up in arms over the proposal, saying it disrespects King’s legacy and insults the civil rights movement because dogs were used against black people during protests.

The proposal was brought forth last summer by a group of residents who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the park. They want to use a small piece of land behind the tennis domes — about 4 percent of the total park space — as a place for people to bring their dogs.

Dog Park supporters say that area, in the shadows of the I35W sound wall, is a common place for drug deals and prostitution. Supports like Ben Harris and Rebecca Horton believe it can be transformed into a place to strengthen a community.

But a group of opponents want the proposal scrapped. They’ve been protesting the park since September, when they say they were first made aware of the idea.

“It’s time for you to respect our humanity, or we’ll throw down the way you throw down on us,” said Spike Moss, an opponent of the dog area in MLK. “Sometimes we need to bump your head because we can’t talk to you. Sometimes we need to act a fool and go to jail because we can’t talk to you. You set here dignified and educated people, but you come with viciousness. When our people tell you no, you disrespect us the way you always have.”

Olson, at the end of the meeting, said he was disappointed by the board’s continued consideration for a dog park at MLK Park. Many of those opposed to the off-leash area are in their 70s and 80s, and he said it’s unfair to expect them to keep coming to the meetings in the cold of winter.

“We will prevail. It’s not going to be at King Park. And I’d just like to tell people that they’re wasting their time if they think they’re going to get it there,” Olson told the crowd. “Because if you think people are upset now, you just wait. Now it is time to get angry. Now it is time to rise up and let your voices (be) heard.”

Not all of the opponents to the proposal were so animated. Sandra Richardson, for example, spoke at the meeting next to Ben Harris, a dog park supporter. While the two continue to disagree on the idea of a dog area in MLK Park, they asked the board to allow them to continue to work together to form a Citizens Advisory Committee that will choose the best place for a park.

Harris and Horton said they have not ruled out the possibility of an off-leash dog area in a different South Minneapolis park, but they want to continue the process they started two years ago. They believe they can still work with the MLK-CIA group to set up a fair Citizens Advisory Committee that will choose the best site for an off-leash dog area.

The Park Board is scheduled to take up the dog park at its next meeting on Feb. 2.

View a video of the meeting here