Protesters disrupted a speech by Mayor Betsy Hodges at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on Thursday, prompting police to escort them out twice during the 80-minute event hosted by Larry Jacobs, director of the school’s Center for Politics and Governance.
The event was called “The Opportunity City: Progress Report for Minneapolis.”
The activists first took to the stage when Hodges started discussing the police shooting death of Jamar Clark and the 18-day occupation of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct. The disruption was about 30 minutes into her speech.
The protesters started shooting: “If Jamar don’t get it, shut it down.” One activist grabbed a microphone from the mayor and another tried to grab her notes from her hands.
“This is a disruption,” Jacobs said. “This is a violation of university rules. We ask you to desist.”
After police issued several requests for the protesters to leave, about a half dozen activists were escorted away from the stage. No arrests were made, however, said University Police Chief Matt Clark.
Jacobs later asked the mayor to address the protesters. Hodges is in the third year of her first term as mayor.
“How do you make sense of this,” he asked. “Is the opposition a sign that you’re off course, or is it a sign that this is what changes look like?”
Hodges responded: “This is what change looks like.”
She said she welcomes the critical voices.
“I appreciate very much the dissenting voices — I appreciate very much that people are having the challenging conversation, including challenging me, like what just happened,” she said. “That’s important if we’re going to make change. … My role is to use the tools that I have at my disposal — to use the levers of government to do what we can to move the agenda forward.”
Hodges noted that the work she’s focused on requires a long game. “I’m not after change, I’m after transformation and that takes time,” she said.
Jacobs pointed to the challenging nature of her agenda. “It’s a tough political project you’re engaged in,” he said. “The project you’re aiming at is structural inequality and that took decades, centuries to fall into place.”
When asked about the role of protesters and whether they need to be part of crafting compromise to be effective, she said protest alone can be effective, but even more so when it’s followed by work that advances an agenda.
“Disruption is a powerful tool,” Hodges said. “It creates an opening — it creates focus — and it creates an opportunity to get some things moved forward that might not have moved forward otherwise.”
The mayor also said that she remains open to working with people who have disagreed with her.
“My hand has remained extended to people and sometimes people have taken it and sometimes they have not,” she said.
Earlier in her speech, Hodges also highlighted the internal work of the city to address racial disparities.
Overall, the hiring of people of color has increased by 40 percent within city government during her tenure, she said. The most recent community service officer class, for instance, was 61 percent people of color. The Public Works Department has also had a lot of success recruiting more employees of color.
“That’s the kind of thing we can do as the city and pretty quickly we can see some results from that, and our workforce is changing at the city,” she said. “… My goal is to steep the DNA of the organization in equity because I know it is so crucial for the future of the entire city that we get this right.”