Activists interrupted the second of two recent city-hosted community forums on public safety, deriding an engagement process they said produced plenty of talk but little action.
“It is a tragedy in the city of Minneapolis that we keep on doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, a 2017 candidate for mayor who took control of the microphone partway through the April 10 event.
Like several others who spoke up at the gathering, Levy-Pounds said it was past time for the city to take steps toward police reform and officer accountability. Speaking to a room that included City Council members Alondra Cano, Andrea Jenkins, Jeremy Schroeder, Phillipe Cunningham, Linea Palmisano and Steve Fletcher, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other city officials, she said “over-policing” was harming parts of the city, including the North Side.
“Too many police and not enough jobs is fueling the prison-industrial complex,” Levy-Pounds said.
Officially a special meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety and Emergency Management Committee, the forum drew about 200 people to the gymnasium inside Sabathani Community Center, located just across Interstate 35W from the Kingfield neighborhood. Cano, the committee’s chair, welcomed participants by describing the gathering as a chance for community members to identify their priorities and share their vision for public safety.
Forum participants gathered around tables meant to foster small-group conversations among eight to 10 people. But the meeting got off track before those conversations even started, during a lengthy period of introductory remarks by members of the City Council.
That was when Chauntyll Allen strode to the front of the gym and told the audience that change would not come from sitting in a room.
“We know we have problems. They’ve been hearing us for years and years and years on the same issues,” said Allen. “We are tired. And how many of us are going to get gunned down in the streets while you keep having these meetings?”
Allen described herself as a member of Black Coalition, a group named after the clothing label founded by Minneapolis activist Tyrone Williams. The 33-year-old was shot and killed April 3 in the Near North neighborhood.
Williams attended the first of the two public safety forums, held March 28 on the North Side, in which he described attending meeting after city-organized meeting on public safety as “like psychological warfare to me.” In a video of his remarks posted online, Williams said it “feels like being set up” when community members repeatedly show up at the events and share their time and energy seeking solutions only to be let down by the city’s lack of action.
“We need more jobs in North Minneapolis instead of police,” Williams said, adding that young black men in his neighborhood got involved in crime “because, systematically, this hasn’t been a place for them to win.”
Black Coalition member Satara Strong said they disrupted the meeting as a way of honoring Williams’ memory. She said city officials “deliberately disrespected him” when they went ahead with the second forum.
“It’s not that we don’t need more community input,” Strong said. “It’s more like we give community input over and over again.”
She added later: “So what is the point of having another focus group meeting when all you’re going to do is continue to talk about solutions and then not utilize them? There’s no point.”
The activists’ speeches were interrupted briefly by a tussle with several members of the audience, including former mayoral candidate Al Flowers, who shouted “Stop black-on-black violence” over the activists’ call-and-response chant. The Rev. Jerry McAfee of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church joined the cluster of activists and audience members in a heated engagement that was broken up when Chief Arradondo and several others stepped in.
Flowers also attempted to shout over an impassioned, impromptu speech by John Thompson, who became a prominent local voice for police reform following the 2016 shooting death of his friend, St. Paul Public Schools employee Philando Castile, during a traffic stop in St. Anthony. Flowers told Thompson to “Go back to St. Paul.”
Whatever his disagreement with the other speakers, McAfee agreed with them that the Minneapolis Police Department was in desperate need of reform. He describe the department’s culture as “rotten” and said the police union, led by Lt. Bob Kroll, had too much power.
But McAfee also said the issues facing his community went beyond safety and policing.
“What about homelessness?” he asked.
He, too, expressed his impatience with city leaders.
“Every solution you need, you have it,” he said. “You won’t implement it.”
Levy-Pounds said she’d been frustrated at the forum held two weeks prior on the North Side when she and others asked Mayor Jacob Frey about plans for adding officers to the police force. Based on reports from the Star Tribune, it appeared Frey was considering increasing the force by 100 officers at an estimated cost of $10 million.
Frey, who attended a portion of the Sabathani event before leaving to get to another meeting, dispelled those rumors at the outset.
“I just want to be very clear: That’s not happening this year, that’s not happening next year,” Frey said, adding later: “That’s not a thing.”