Civil rights activist Levy-Pounds enters 2017 mayoral race

Civil rights activist Nekima Levy-Pounds speaks during a press conference Tuesday at the Minneapolis Police Department 4th Precinct, where the former Minneapolis NAACP president said she will run for Minneapolis mayor in 2017. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Civil rights activist Nekima Levy-Pounds announced her bid for Minneapolis mayor Tuesday.

The former St. Thomas law professor and Minneapolis NAACP president made the formal announcement in front of the 4th Precinct police station in North Minneapolis. It came on the anniversary of the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark, a black man, by a white police officer.

Levy-Pounds touted her leadership during the occupation of the 4th Precinct after Clark’s death and her work in getting Minneapolis’ spitting and lurking ordinances repealed. She said she would bring a “paradigm shift” to the city and called for an overhaul to Minneapolis’ criminal-justice system as well as racial and economic equity.

“We have an opportunity in the city of Minneapolis to demonstrate what racial solidarity really means,” she said.

Levy-Pounds said she intentionally chose Nov. 15 as the day to make her announcement, because the events surrounding Clark’s death further catalyzed her passion for civil rights activism. She criticized Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janee Harteau for “rubber stamping” the police department’s policies and procedures that she said contributed to Clark’s death.

Clark died of a gunshot wound to the head after an early morning struggle with police outside of an apartment building on the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue North. Police say Clark refused to cooperate with orders to remove his hands from his pockets and reached for officer Mark Ringgenberg’s gun. Witnesses said he was handcuffed, a claim Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman found not to be true.

“The violence that they approached him with ultimately led to his death,” Levy-Pounds said. “No resident of the city of Minneapolis should face abuse at the hands of police, and police should not be sent a signal that they can kill with impunity.”

Levy-Pounds called on people to run against elected officials who “have not done an effective job at bringing about equity within our city.” She also called on attorneys to challenge Freeman for Hennepin County Attorney, criticizing him for “acting as a defense attorney for officers who killed Jamar Clark.”

She said people came out of their comfort zones during the 4th Precinct occupation for the greater good, an environment “we can cultivate in the city every day.”

“A tragedy should not lead to people coming together across racial, ethnic, economic and socioeconomic lines,” she said, adding that the MPD has experienced more pressure in the wake of Clark’s death.

She noted the pressure activists have put on City Hall in the aftermath of Clark’s death, highlighting the role they played in getting the City Council to withdraw a proposal to spend $605,000 on improvements at the 4th Precinct.

“That was a major victory,” she said.

She said that as mayor she would continue to scrutinize laws that could be disproportionately affecting people of color, such as the spitting and lurking laws.

“We would not just accept the laws and policies in place and assume that they’re okay,” she said.

She said she has not decided if she would seek the DFL endorsement, despite “voting DFL consistently” since moving to Minnesota. She said there needs to be chances within the party, adding that the endorsement process is not always effective when new communities try to get their share of political power.

Levy-Pounds was joined by about several dozen supporters for the press conference. The 40-year-old worked as a professor at the University of St. Thomas law school for 13 years and also served as president of the Minneapolis NAACP. She has also served on the boards of multiple local nonprofit organizations such as the Minneapolis Foundation and Catholic Charities.

Multiple supporters spoke in favor of her campaign Tuesday, including several clergymen, incoming Minneapolis NAACP president Jason Sole and Raeisha Williams, who will be running for the Ward 5 City Council seat.

Levy-Pounds’ announcement comes just less than a year before the election. Mayor Betsy Hodges will seek re-election in 2017, her communications director confirmed but has not formally announced her bid.

Hodges defeated 34 candidates to become mayor in 2013, the second under the city’s ranked-choice voting system.