The October 26, 2017 Public Forum on Park Policing and Equity put together by Russ Henry and his colleagues was a confident step toward healing the relationship between the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board and communities of color in the city and the Park System. If you’d like a primer on how seriously the current and previous MPRB Commissioners mishandled issues of racial disparities, time after time, listen to Nekima Levy-Pounds’ speech to the forum, watch this video, and peruse the Affront Series on New Hughes – Old Shoes. Cynthia Wilson remains one of the most vocal and active advocate for racial equity in Minneapolis Parks, especially in employment and management. Her participation in the forum underscored that should Russ and the rest of the DFL-endorsed, progressive Park Commissioner candidates join Brad Bourn, incumbent Commissioner from District 6, on the Board, the days of arrogant disdain, blatant racism, and the culture of retaliation will end. Nekima acknowledged Wilson and highlighted her work for justice within the Park System.
Our 3 Part distillation of the Q&A portion of the forum continues with the second audience question of the evening. The questioner worries that focus on racism distracts from a more general examination of power dynamics that impact everyone in an organization. An academic version of All
Lives Power Dynamics Matter. Cynthia’s response was to remind her of the reality of racism in our society – today, then examine its root in worry and fear. Whether a Devil’s Advocate or otherwise, the question became the basis for a discussion after the forum. The power structures and dynamics that concern the questioner are imposed by the larger western culture and capitalism in which we all are immersed. But, I am firmly convinced that even if we were able to evolve our culture to a point where money, wealth, and capital were no longer relevant, bias against others based on, race, bigotry, and fear would still be here. On the other hand, if we were able to dispel all hatred and bias from human culture, we would severely limit the ways that cruel, predatory humans can abuse others with hierarchy and power dynamics. Just because it is a fact that humans will kill other humans, we still work to ban automatic weapons and rocket launchers because we have collectively decided that some tools are too powerful for general use. That’s how I see dismantling white supremacy, it won’t change the reality of capitalism, but such would take away one tool of oppression.
The discussion about Urban Park Rangers continued with Ricardo Levin-Morales (MPD 150), Carlos Zinghre, and Cynthia Wilson. Levin Morales describes the differences between Rangers and Police. Zinghre reminds us that culturally relevant programs and promotions could be as simple as keeping a few guinea pigs at the Rec Center, but only if Park Management and Administration pay attention to people from the neighborhood. Wilson talks about the need for the putative Park Rangers to have training in “Humanity 101”. It seems essential that recruitment of Urban Park Rangers be separated from that of Park Police. I suggest a parallel organization, rather than transition or replacement of Park Police. Build the relationships between Rangers, the Parks, and local communities so as to obviate the need for Park Police response as much as possible. Reform, retrain, experiment with restorative justice in the Park Police, but keep them distinct from the Park Rangers.
Ricardo continued to drill down into the police model in detail and delineated why the MPRB should separate the Parks from the Police. Carlos suggests that the new MPRB that will result from election 2017 should investigate the non-profit corporations that work in the Parks, particularly those headed by current Commissioners. If that sounds like Save Our #1 Parks PAC and the conservative corporatists footing their bills, then I have been successful. Cynthia wants the new MPRB to fully address the issues raised by the NAACP review of the Parks that has been aggressively ignored by the current and ex-Commissioners. The same ex-Commissioners that tried to distract voters from understanding why they lost so soundly at the city convention by spreading disinformation and negative ads. But let’s not forget why 6 of the 9 current MPRB Commissioners are not running any more and why 2 of the 3 incumbents are struggling to stay on the Board. It wasn’t pesticides, or crumb rubber, it wasn’t even cruciferous vegetables, the stalled Urban Ag Plan, or the green-lighted Loppet. It was – and is- the steadfast denial of racial bias in the Park System by the out-going Commissioners and principle members of Save Our #1 Parks PAC. I urge candidates endorsed by that organization to call members out on their historical indifference to workers like Cynthia and Carlos and adamant refusal to address racial bias in the Parks.
Another softball for Levin Morales. He urges us to rethink what we want to accomplish in the public green spaces in our city. Do we want Police in the Park? Should we consider alternatives or parallel organizations. Carlos tells a couple stories about police, including a ride-along with MPD during which they chased people out of Cedar Park. Cynthia reiterates that appropriate humanity training is necessary for the Park Police. i cannot help but contrast, once again, this discussion and the divisive disdain of the current MPRB to the very same issues raised by the same people. This could be our future, Minneapolis. Please vote accordingly.
That is the end of the Park Policing and Equity Forum video. Although I may be working on an epilogue as you read Part 3. Check out Parts 1 and 2 for the full analyses. You still have a chance to help realize the kind of future represented by this forum. Vote on November 7. Then help us hold the winners accountable when they take office.