Russ Henry and the people that helped him organize the October 26, 2017 public forum on Policing and Equity in the Parks did a spectacular job bringing together some of the most important voices on racial disparities to speak about how these underpin many, of not all, of the critical issues facing Minneapolis in the immediate, near, and long term. Even if one can do the mental gymnastics necessary to imagine a pressing issue that it not impacted by race and white supremacy those acrobatics will fail when it comes to solutions, because no real solution can ignore economic, racial, and identity-derived disparities or not work to ameliorate the lasting impacts on the most vulnerable residents of Minneapolis. It is the pink elephant in the room, as Cynthia Wilson says.
The forum and the video content; the people and their words had powerful impact. Through the forum, Russ sought to build bridges and reseed the earth scorched for so many years by the ex-Commissioners and the MPRB administration. But do not let me leave you with the impression that the forum was simply a staged political act meant to show up the MPRB Commissioners that have been slurring the DFL endorsed progressive candidates. It was much more. At the root it was a healing event. The forum was Russ doing what needed to be done and in his way, pushing issues forward. Any old politically astute candidate could have put other candidates on a panel and talked about police and equity. Far fewer would have included out-spoken Parks employees, Cynthia Wilson and Carlos Zinghre, Ricardo Levin-Morales, who has prepared a performance review for the first 150 years of the Minneapolis Police Department – MPD 150, a City Council candidate in Ward 5, Raeisha Williams, previously arrested at an MPRB meeting in 2016, and a candidate for Mayor, Nekima Levy-Pounds, who was so disrespected by the ex-Commissioners that the President resigned. Russ was flexible and kind enough to give the speakers an open stage and allow direct audience participation.
The first clip features an audience member stepping up to ask the most basic and important question, what is “equity”? Cynthia agrees that it is a buzzword it mean practically anything and so it means nothing. Wilson references her theme of the evening, “the illusion of inclusion”. Carlos underscores her conclusions by pointing to the Equity Statement from Superintendent Jayne Miller that has done nothing to help him or any other targeted employee, but provides a convenient decoy for questions to pointed to answer in public.
Where the first clip reexamined equity, the next features Ricardo Levin Morales deconstructing “Park Policing”. Why do we have police in our parks, when we all know that Rangers belong in the Parks? Ricardo picks up on an idea that MPRB At Large candidate Devin Hogan has brought into the campaign, moving away from Park Police in favor of Urban Park Rangers. After listening to Ricardo talk about what he has learned during the research with MPD 150, I think it is clear that the putative Minneapolis Park Rangers must not be envisioned as a kinder, gentler rendition of the police model for keeping order. The cleanest break with the police universe are new Park Ranger Posts, filled internally and externally with recruits from neighborhoods and neighborhood parks. The MPR program could answer the concerns raised by Carlos Zinghre, by providing a new career path in the MPRB for community members and people from the neighborhoods around the parks. The funds for building the MPR could be redirected from excessive consulting contracts and bloated administrator offices. Does such bloat and largesse exist on a systemic basis? Follow Carlos’ advice and investigate it. Cynthia Wilson put aside discussion of resources, to emphasize the need for a change in leadership at the MPRB. This forum in particular, and the 2017 campaign in general, reiterate that change is coming to Minneapolis. Nekima calls it a paradigm shift and she is right on target. The October 26 Forum was a macrocosm of what our municipal government might look like in the new paradigm. It was not an illusion. It was a promise.
The Parks Board operates as an independent, “quasi”-branch, of municipal government. The MPRB controls nearly 15% of the land in the city. The MPRB has a police force and the power to issue bonds; to borrow money in our name. Yet, few informed voters in Minneapolis realize that the 9 Commissioners on the Board serve elected office. The MPRB may be the best kept secret of one of the country’s best #1 Park Systems. Walling off that kind of authority and control of a $100 million annual budget from the prying will of the people appears to have been a primary purpose of current and previous MPRB leadership. The Save Our #1 Parks PAC and the right wingers paying their bills, underscore why so many contractors are chattering for more work and continued largesse, and why so many players that have already been voted off the island are plotting return. If I have contributed to one successful aspect of this election season, it was bringing more awareness of the MPRB to Minneapolis voters. We all know what kind of rot takes hold in the shadow of democracy. That is how holding the MPRB accountable begins. With us. We’ve heard it from all 3 DFL endorsed MPRB candidates for Commissioner At Large – Russ Henry, Londel French, and Devin Hogan – people have the power in the parks. They understand what the current and previous Commissioners deny. Power is from the people and we do not own the land.
The last clip in Part 2 was the first question of the forum. It was a way for the panelists to introduce themselves and an opportunity for Raeisha Williams, Carlos Zinghre, and Cynthia Wilson to tell their personal stories about how MPRB management and administration have treated them over the years. This could be a watershed moment for Minneapolis governance, community, and culture. Running the camera at the event, chatting with people afterwards, it was almost possible to hear a distant, or deep, crack in the facades so meticulously erected to keep such voices as we amplify here from ever reaching our ear, let alone a stage. That a mere smattering of candidates for any office attended or made an appearance and even fewer were represented by confidants or staff, was not unexpected. The forum focused on two topics that most politicians would rather take care of with pablum, bromides, and broadsides. I commend those that stood with Russ, the panelists, and speakers, you’ve helped us realize what our city might become. Now its time to listen to Cynthia talk about purpose and repression. I’ll single out Bill Shroyer, candidate for MPRB Commissioner in District 5, because his was to only response I was able to record before we had to leave the building. He is also a Parks employee, a strong supporter of Cynthia, and a union leader. Chris Meyer (District 1) and AK Hassan (District 3) were there, others may have been, as well. According to my sources, all current, past, and candidate MPRB Commissioners were invited. Tempting as it is to ponder why certain people might not attend, or take kindly to, the forum on Park Police and Equity including the people that spoke to their experiences with the Board and particular ex-Commissioners, it is crunch time in an election that the shadowy centrists and conservatives appear to be losing more soundly with every attack ad and financial report, so perhaps they were busy campaigning for the status quo, or plotting the next retaliatory strike.
We’ll walk through the rest of the video in Part 3. If you want to jump ahead, you can find links to all the video from the Public Forum on Park Policing and Equity in Part 1.