After dozens of people testified in support of senior programs and affordable housing Wednesday night during the first public hearing on Mayor Betsy Hodges’ proposed 2016 city budget, a community organizer asked the City Council to acknowledge the pain so many are feeling in the wake of the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police.
Ron Harris, a community organizer with North Minneapolis-based Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, asked City Council members to show that they care about what has happened to Clark. The budget hearing took place as tensions ran high at demonstrations outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct.
“Right now we have a huge section of our community who is really grieving,” he said. “They are grieving right now because the loss of a young black man, unarmed who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. While the details of that investigation are fuzzy — what led up to it all is unclear — what is abundantly clear is that another young man has lost his life at the age of 24. … This community is literally begging the elected officials and the other city leaders to show that they care.”
Harris said there’s a community that doesn’t feel part of the “One Minneapolis” often touted by Mayor Betsy Hodges and other city leaders as an aspiration for the city.
“Just show that you care about this community as much as you care about stadiums, high rises and all the other wonderful things about our city,” he told Council members. “They are just asking for a little bit of sympathy and a commitment to help alleviate some of that pain.”
Several Council members went to show support for protesters at the 4th Precinct after the budget hearing. Many activists questioned why Hodges was not there with them and a group went to her house to confront her about her whereabouts. Hodges’ husband Gary Cunningham defended the mayor’s record when confronted by the group.
Hodges met with protesters and neighbors Thursday to discuss their concerns and communicate her priorities and compassion for the situation.
“By god, I give a damn,” she said during the meeting. She also asked what she could do to help address their concerns.
In a Facebook post, City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) had this to say after she returned home from the 4th Precinct: “Peace and support to all who are still out in the cold. … I am so frustrated by many things that happened today. I think the videos and photos speak more than what I can say right now. This is not the city I want to live in. These are choices and we need the MPD to start making better choices. I saw moments of very good progress and officers de-escalating and remaining calm then steps backwards. I am thankful that no one that I know of was seriously hurt though many people were suffering from mace and from being hit by rubber bullets. Today was unacceptable. Tomorrow must be better.”
During the budget hearing, housing advocates also called for more city investment in affordable home ownership opportunities for people of color.
Rebecca Lucero, policy and community engagement manager for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, noted that Minnesota has one of the largest racial home ownership gaps in the nation.
“In Minneapolis the home ownership rate for white households is around 59 percent compared to 23 percent for households of color — and that’s shameful,” she said. “The budget proposed makes it looks like there is more invested in ownership housing development than there really is. Most is actually investing in maintaining empty lots.”
Hodges has called for a 3.4 percent tax levy increase for the 2016 city budget — a $1.22 billion plan.
The proposed budget includes $13 million in affordable housing initiatives, including $1 million to increase affordable housing options for families.
The City Council is scheduled to begin markup on the budget Friday, Dec. 4 at 1 p.m. The Council will hold another public hearing and then vote on the budget Dec. 9, 6:05 p.m. at City Hall.