Recently, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) reopened its insanely resisted branch/satellite office in St. Cloud. Having the state’s only branch MDHR office further verifies the community’s pathologically racist conditions.
Demands for reliable discrimination investigations and redress began nearly 30 years ago because St. Cloud’s most abundant natural resource is racism. City Hall, employers and local politicians resisted discrimination investigation’s from outside the community. Instead, City Hall created a pseudo complaint service called the Human Rights Commission (HRC)
With so much to hide, dissuading complainers, diversionary tactics or ignoring obvious racism were objectives. “Since beginning to develop a plan to deal with diversity in early 1998, many successful programs to encourage tolerance and fight prejudice have come into being,” said Human Rights coordinator Paula Engdahl. Encouraging tolerance was the claim. Diverting attention from local racism was the intent.
The HRC was disbanded. “Because of the problems spurred from previous members concerns about the role in addressing complaints, some minority community members have called for the city to hire an investigator who comes from a minority group to pursue complaints of human rights abuses.” (“Plan would retool rights group,” St. Cloud Times, December 27, 2000).
City Hall was thrilled when financial support for a branch MDHR office was refused by neighboring communities (with few Blacks and far fewer racism complaints). Ex-St. Cloud Mayor John Ellenbecker promised “a public response to claims that the city has not effectively referred discrimination complaints to the proper state and federal authorities.”(“Wanted: Voice of human rights,” St. Cloud Times, September 18, 2003)
As a community of dedicated racists, the last thing City Hall wants is complaints of discrimination aggressively and competently investigated. Unrelenting pressure from Muslim Somalis, the Lester Collins’ led Council on Black Minnesotan’s and the Council on American-Islamic Relations forced the hiring of Baba Odukale, a skilled trustworthy Black lawyer. (Human Rights chief brings new energy,” St. Cloud Times, April 17, 2004)
Odukale changed the deceptive strategy called HRC to a reliable advocacy service. Despite his effectiveness, Odukale later resigned protesting City Hall’s efforts to limit and undermine investigations.
Next, City Hall hired more cooperative Richard Cousin. Supposedly, there were “200 charges of racism since the office opened, Sept. 1, 2010.” One MDHR headquarters staff member said St. Cloud’s favorable discrimination complaint outcomes were only “13 percent.” Racism complaints were undermined. (“Discrimination issues keeping Cousin busy at Human Rights office,” St. Cloud Times, April 4, 2012; “Lack of documents hurts office,” St. Cloud Times, September 30, 2015)
“The office has handled a handful of complaints since it opened in November , but the St. Cloud area doesn’t generate a disproportionate number of complaints compared to other Minnesota cities of similar size,” Kevin Lindsey said. “In 2013, there have been 96 cases closed from Stearns, Benton and Sherburn counties.” (“Dayton calls for St. Cloud human rights office,” West Central Tribune, September 22, 2015)
After Somali students began defying St. Cloud racists, which prompted numerous federal investigations and scathing national news coverage, City Hall couldn’t stop MDHR’s branch office. In retaliation, City Hall restricted MDHR access. St. Paul’s MDHR office is the most reliable. If possible take complaints to St. Paul MDHR headquarters.
“St. Cloud’s Regional Human Rights Office is open only the first Wednesday of every month beginning Nov. 4.”
Myrle Cooper is a retired faculty member at St. Cloud State University.