An interesting thing happened on October 26, 2017 at the Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis, MN. A leading candidate for 1 of 3 Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board City-wide Commissioner At Large seats organized and hosted a public forum on Park Policing and Equity. Russ Rooster Henry did what the previous MPRB never considered. He invited those that have serious questions about the employment and resource distribution systems in Parks, especially with regard to racial inequities and economic disparities, to speak, share their stories, and express their hopes for a better Park System. That it took place as the PAC thrown together by ex-Park Commissioners and a supporting cast of cronies was found spreading disinformation and smearing the DFL endorsed MPRB candidates that swept the old guard at the city DFL endorsing convention in July says a lot about the old ways of dysfunction, division, and dismissal. That the same ex-Park Commissioners responsible for Save Our #1 Parks PAC were the subject of much of the discussion at the forum because of their heavy-handed, authoritarian, and racially biased approach to running the Minneapolis Parks was unacceptable to Nekima Levy-Pounds, Raeisha Williams, Cynthia Wilson, and Carlos Zinghre, to mention those that participated in the forum. These powerful people were joined by host Henry, moderator Joshin Jimcali, and police researcher, Ricardo Levin Morales from MPD 150 for a deep discussion about the intersection of race, power, and police in our Parks.
Regular and astute readers of New Hughes – Old Shoes will recognize these names and faces from our deep dive into the summer of 2016 at the MPRB; The Affront Series. Russ had organized a sustained push to get the MPRB to ban Round Up that Spring and overlapped with the testimony about the Loppet Donation Agreement and racial bias in park management and administration. Let’s just take a moment to step back and look at what has happened in Minneapolis using the Forum as a macrocosm. The 2017 election cycle has been driven by the local level activists from Our Revolution, the progressive wing of the Democratic (DFL) party and the local level activists for racial justice and police accountability. This forum brought those groups together for a serious discussion of critical issues that require sustained solutions. This was a model for the kind of coalition government that we can make work in Minneapolis. Progressives plus Justice. But all that political strategy aside, the forum was something like a reunion for the stars of our videos about the MPRB. Imagine if this were more representative of how the Park Board dealt with difficult and complex issues, than how it was when Liz Wielinski, Anita Tabb, Scott Vreeland, and the rest of the ex- and soon to be ex-Commissioners were still
ruining running the Parks. When I hear testimony from Cynthia and Carlos about retaliation and retribution by the Bosses for making waves, I think about what might motivate ex-Commissioners in the process of being swept from office to tear down what they do not understand and to silence those that they do not want to hear. They do not know how to do anything else. They are like befuddled dogs. Still doing the tricks after the rewards have all gone. If you don’t believe me, let Nekima Levy-Pounds tell it.
Just over 1 year ago, Raeisha Williams and her Mother were ejected from a Park Board meeting along with Emily Flower and her daughter Davina Newman. Emily, Davina and Raeisha were arrested by Park Police. Now she is a candidate for City Council in Ward 5, a business owner, and entrepreneur. Imagine if the MPRB had followed Brad Bourn’s advice and held something like this forum years ago, instead of succumbing to the fear mongering Rasputin selling them the services of his law firm and shutting down dissent. Where Tabb and the her cohorts cut the microphones and called the police, Henry and his colleagues set the stage and called the people.
We’ll dive into the rest of the forum in Parts 2 and 3 with Ricardo Levin Morales, Carlos Zinghre, and Cynthia Wilson speaking about police, Minneapolis Parks, race, and challenging the status quo. Meanwhile, let’s start at the end with one of the two spontaneous questions from the audience. Partly because the questioner gave voice to my own thoughts, albeit with a distinct legal twist. I had hoped that the first question would be for the participants to define “equity” in their own words. I take it to mean something like acting in a socially, civically, and economically just way, but it is one of those words that means as much or as little as those using it define it to mean.
You can get a jump on the next two posts by watching the rest of the forum in these clips sorted by question.