Park Board planning vote to eliminate Martin Luther King Jr. Park as potential site
The president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board planned to hold a vote on Feb. 2 to eliminate the possibility of constructing an off-leash dog area at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Board President John Erwin said he believed enough commissioners would vote with him to eliminate MLK Park as a potential site. He said he is committed to finding a new site before summer for a dog park in the Sixth District, which includes both sides of I-35W in South Minneapolis.
Erwin, once a supporter of the proposed dog area at MLK, made his decision a few days after an extremely contentious Park Board meeting in which one person accused the board of racism and another made threatening comments.
A group of mostly black and mostly elderly residents from Minneapolis and the suburbs have remained adamantly opposed to the proposal, saying it disrespects King’s legacy and insults the civil rights movement because dogs were used to attack black protesters.
Throughout several meetings leading up to the contentious Jan. 19 Park Board meeting their protests had remained civil.
When the Park Board did not vote to eliminate MLK Park as a potential site in the Sixth District at that meeting, protester Al Flowers shouted repeatedly, and accused the board of racism.
“I hope the children shoot them damn dogs,” said Spike Moss, an opponent of the proposal.
Moss also made comments during a public input period that some took as inappropriate and threatening.
“It’s time for you to respect our humanity, or we’ll thrown down the way you throw down on us,” he said. “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 sit here dignified and educated people, but you come with viciousness. When our people tell you no, you disrespect us the way you always have.”
Erwin said the dog park issue was dividing the community, not bringing it together, and that is why he wanted to remove MLK Park as a possible location. But he stressed that Moss’s comments, while “reprehensible,” did not persuade him in his decision.
“I condemn the words of an individual who advocated violence at our last meeting,” Erwin said. “His words did not affect my decision.”
District 4 Park Board member Anita Tabb said she was “disappointed and outraged at the behavior.”
“It’s an issue that people are very impassioned about on both sides. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “But for goodness sakes, can’t we be better than North and South Vietnam? Does it have to be a war?
The likely elimination of MLK Park disappointed the group of Southwest and Southeast residents who have been working for more than two years to get a dog park in the Sixth District, which has the second most licensed dogs in the city but no dog park. The other five districts have at least one dog park apiece.
Members of the task force had a vision of using the area along the I-35W sound wall — which is about 4 percent of all the park’s land — as a place for dogs to run free. They said they hoped to take a common spot for late-night drug deals, prostitution and muggings and turn it into a place where community members could come together and get to know one another.
Task force member Brook Lemm-Tabor said the group of residents was planning to ask for MLK Park to be eliminated as well, but Erwin sent out his statement first.
“Even if that were truly the best place, it just wasn’t going to be a place people felt safe anymore after the animosity that was exhibited at the meetings and what we felt were outright terrorist threats,” she said.
Since the beginning, Lemm-Tabor said, task forces members went to the surrounding neighborhoods on both sides of 35W, handing out flyers and information cards. They posted messages on telephone poles. They notified all surrounding neighborhood groups and sent press releases to local newspapers. One couple even put a sandwich board over their dog and walked it through the neighborhoods.
“We’d love to have worked with these folks early on if we had only known,” she said. “We thought we were hitting all the bases with making sure everyone knew about things, but obviously we failed.”
DFL State Rep. Jeff Hayden represents the district where MLK Park lies. Hayden is black and he and his wife have two dogs. Their home is just across I-35W from the park.
He commended the task force for their work, but said it was the Park Board who should have been more active in reaching out to the black community early on.
Hayden applauded Erwin’s decision to remove MLK Park from consideration. He condemned the violent comments made about shooting dogs, but he added that many in opposition to the dog area are elderly people who fought to name the park after King and felt as though the park was not honoring King’s legacy the way it should.
Erwin said the Park Board will vote on forming a Citizens Advisory Committee that will choose a new site for the off-leash dog area at the Feb. 2 Park Board meeting — after this edition of the Southwest Journal went to press.