It is the elephant in the room that people don’t want to talk about: the ongoing street violence affecting so many African Americans in this country due to the dysfunctional institutions, leadership and policies that allow caste-like barriers — bad schools, few jobs, drugs, crime — to remain in place and foster violence.
It is alarming. It is frightening. But so long as these dysfunctional institutions, leadership and policies hide behind the lie that they can’t be fixed, they won’t be, even though the fixes are readily in sight: education, jobs, housing.
The mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak, recently announced that Chuck Wexler and the Police Executive Research Forum would be brought back to Minneapolis to advise on developing strategies to deal with Minneapolis’ violence, as if the extent of the violence is the issue. Until the dysfunction of our institutions, leadership and policies is fixed, violence won’t be fixed.
Let’s look at a couple of cases of violence’s impact: Priest, Jones and Johnson, three young African Americans gunned down in a variety of ways two days apart, one in North Minneapolis and two in South Minneapolis. Frightening is the hardship that extends throughout a violence victim’s family and friends.
Black unemployment is double that of whites and even higher for teens and 20s Black males. Equal access to education and jobs is shrinking, as seen in the lack of stadium hiring of minority contractors and laborers. Add to that the failure of tornado recovery, and a fix of “status quo containment” as the new form of “roundup” won’t work.
Mrs. Helen Williams is the only person in Minneapolis we’ve seen who backs up her caring with action, who is there, being extremely effective in helping victims’ families with funerals and burials.
Example: Mr. Priest stayed in a refrigerator of the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office for over eight days because the family had no help or assets and were under threat of harm and death. Mrs. Williams then became involved. The family was forced to abandon a church setting and instead held the funeral in an open area at a cemetery in Northeast Minneapolis.
Mrs. Williams and the family reached out to the Minneapolis Police Department. Without the intervention of Chief Tim Dolan, there may well have been a confrontation and attack on the funeral procession. The effort by Mrs. Williams to coordinate the graveside service and the commitment with the chief of police providing protection reminds us of what frightens us all, potential violence even for victims’ loved ones.
There were no TV cameras there, no major newspapers. There were just the loved ones of the deceased, terrified and in fear for their lives. MPD, under Chief Tim Dolan’s orders, allowed for a level of comfort and protection.
I don’t know how Chuck Wexler will address these issues. But when people lack the assets or benefits to lay a loved one to rest because of economic hardships in the community (especially among “the last to be hired and first to be fired”) and must also live in threat-induced fear, we all need to take a look at the future of the African American participation in the American Dream.
The HBO series Wired ended with the shooting of a major African American character by a nine-year-old African American boy, almost like in continental African unrest. What will Chuck Wexler do to contribute to ending the dysfunctional institutions, leadership and policies impacting on our community that can prevent such little boy “fighters” rather than blaming the community?
On March 30, 2011, Governor Mark Dayton and his cabinet lowered the drawbridge and crossed over to North Minneapolis to talk about a better life and opportunity for African American residents. They crossed back over the drawbridge, drew it up, and haven’t been back.
Should he and his cabinet lower the drawbridge and return, I urge them to talk to a person like Helen Williams, and starting with her to begin a dialogue that will help create a positive path to safety and comfort, education and economic development in Black communities.
African Americans have earned the right to ask that the dysfunction of the institutions, leadership and policies preying on them be fixed. We have earned the right to be a part of the great American Dream, the Minnesota Dream. A first step is treating African Americans with dignity and respect while lowering the drawbridge to institute inclusion, not containment and roundup.
Ron Edwards hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm, and hosts Blog Talk Radio’s “Black Focus V” on Sundays, 3-3:30 pm and Thursdays, 7-8:30 pm, providing coverage about Black Minnesota. Order his books at www.BeaconOnTheHill.com. Hear his readings and read his columns, blog, and solution papers for community planning and development, at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com. Columns are archived at www.theminneap olisstory.com/tocarchives.htm.