Community anger in north Minneapolis over the police shooting of Jamar Clark is a force in the 2017 Minneapolis City Council races. That was apparent this past Thursday as activists and residents had an opportunity to directly question City Council candidates about stopping police violence.
The candidates forum hosted by Neighborhoods Organizing For Change (NOC) touched on many issues — including raising wages and fixing racial disparities, with community residents telling their stories and asking questions.
NOC members listened carefully to the answers the candidates gave; the group will be making endorsements in the Minneapolis City Council races.
Incumbents attacked for not supporting or joining Jamar Clark shooting protests
Video at top: Ward Four forum with candidates Phillipe Cunningham, Stephanie Gasca, Marcus Harcus, Council President Barb Johnson and Phillip Murphy
Video below: Ward Five Forum with candidates Jeremiah Ellison and Raeisha Williams
The incumbent in the Ward Four race is City Council President Barb Johnson. She has four people running against her. She drew the ire of the community in 2015 when she cast the lone vote against repealing a pair of ordinances that police had used disproportionately to arrest minorities. She was also one of the council members who called for an end to protests after police shot and killed Jamar Clark. Community anger was still apparent; Johnson was heckled as she spoke about the city’s response to the police shooting of Clark and the resulting protests.
Johnson said she was really proud about how the city handled the demonstrations, with the exception of how a white supremacist opened fire on protesters. The shooter, Allen Scarsella, was recently convicted of assault. “I think that it’s important to understand in the trial that just happened, the hardness in people’s hearts. My eyes were opened by the words and the actions of people at the Fourth Precinct. And so I appreciate the people who demonstrated there. And I want to make sure that our police department does do things that change the way they interact with communities of color.”
Most of the candidates running against Johnson found fault with her and the city’s handling of the protests.
“The response of the city to shut down the occupation the way that they did was wrong,” said candidate Stephanie Gasca, drawing cheers from the audience at New Creation Church. “I was out there in the early morning hours with many of you in this room as we watched in tears, our community members be criminalized. As the bulldozers came through, like they often do in our community and had no regards for us and for justice that we needed. And we need to change that. We cannot continue to criminalize our way out of the fact that we don’t have resources and the access to the opportunities for our people to thrive in the city of Minneapolis. We also need police accountability because we don’t have that right now.”
Marcus Harcus said Johnson was a “typical tough-on-crime politician,” which makes her “complicit with building this system of mass incarceration.” Harcus said he has been a victim of police harassment and racial profiling. “I was assaulted by police a couple blocks from where they killed Jamar.” He said the protests taught him that “we’re not alone. There are a lot of us who are fed up with this.” But even with a large show of force like the protests, “if we don’t have the right leadership on the city council, it’s not going to amount to any type of change. So that’s why we need to take over these local legislative bodies.”
Harcus says the police department needs more than reform. He wants to “radically reconstruct them. We need to completely change the way law enforcement does their job.” If elected, he promised to “shut the police down and hold them accountable for these continued abuses.”
Phillipe Cunningham was an activist and working in the Minneapolis Mayor’s office during the protests. He faulted city hall for withdrawing into “crisis mode,” which isolates it from the community. “What the city needed to do was engage with the community and just create space to be in conversation.” Cunningham said before solving problems, “we need to acknowledge the generations of trauma and anger.” That’s needed to repair the “broken trust between the community and city hall.” He said his experience in working with youth development as part of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper would would be an asset because so much of the violence in Minneapolis is from young people.
Phillip Murphy said he was at the Fourth Precinct protests for a week. He thinks Police Chief Jenee Harteau is on the right track with the community policing training she’s implemented. He thinks the deescalation training police are taking will “help heal the community of North Minneapolis.” However, “there’s no simple solution,” said Murphy. “This is a broad reaching community and everybody has conflicts.”
Council Member Blong Yang also faced criticism for his actions during the protests. Like Johnson, Yang called for the end of the protests. His chair sat empty at the forum for the Ward Five candidates. But his challengers, Jeremiah Ellison and Raeisha Williams, were there.
“Blong Yang didn’t show up ever at the occupation,” said Williams. “Our representative for this city council, for this ward, should have showed his face.” Williams, who was at the Fourth Precinct protests from “day one,” said she would have been there if she was the city council member for Ward Five. She said she would have held a town hall meeting asking, “what do you need from me and how do we move this forward.”
“I don’t think giving men from the suburbs guns is going to help northsiders feel safe,” said Ellison. He said police erred when they decided to get violent. When they did, the number of protesters went from just a few “to three thousand people outside their door and we know how the rest of it went.”
Like the Ward Four forum, the Ward Five forum covered many other issues including high housing costs, limiting rents and reparations.
The NOC-hosted forum was co-sponsored by ISAIAH, TakeAction Minnesota, Communication Workers of America, Children’s Defense Fund, Black Votes Matter MN, Minneapolis Mad Dads and 15 Now Minnesota.
To see what the candidates said on various issues, here’s a list of the topics and the time they happen in the video.
Ward Four Forum
2:03 Opening statements
9:17 Minimum wage
20:40 Super bowl: Because the wealthy make so much more than the poor, what will be done to ensure this multi-billion dollar event will benefit people of North Minneapolis?
28:53 Jamar Clark shooting – Police community relations
41:01 Housing – high prices.
1:02:41 What is your plan to reduce youth violence?
1:08:22 Garbage burner in Minneapolis.
1:13:20 How to make vacant lot housing programs benefit northsiders.
1:17:08 Why are you running? Why should we choose you? What will you do differently?
1:21:45 Closing statements
Ward Five Forum
1:25 Opening statements from candidates
4:15 Minimum wage
11:17 Super Bowl: what does it mean to north Minneapolis?
15:01 Policing in wake of Fourth Precinct protests over Jamar Clark shooting
30:40 Rising cost of child care
35:45 Limiting rents
37:15 How to address violence from shootings
39:26 Access to clean air and renewable energy
42:09 Reducing the power of Minneapolis police department
43:58 Other public safety models outside of current policing system
47:00 Next steps to lift up young people
49:15 Closing statements