Disconnect is between board and communities of color, says commissioner
Protesters from the community vow that they will continue attending Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) meetings until their voices are fully heard. “I want all human beings who are sick of this to stand up,” proclaimed Minneapolis NAACP Spokeswoman Raeisha Williams last week standing across the street from MPRB headquarters on West River Road.
According to a NAACP Minneapolis press release, “Members of the Minneapolis NAACP, POCUM (People of Color Union Members), Minneapolis City Employees Local 363, Park Board Employees, and dozens of community members attended the MPRB meeting to express concerns and opposition to a proposed agreement with the Loppet Foundation to take full management of Theodore Wirth Park in North Minneapolis.
“The proposed agreement between MPRB and the Loppet Foundation could take living wage jobs away from community members and privatize the park,” continued the release. “Concerned residents and community groups believe that this will further limit access to economic opportunity for people of color and potentially eliminate equitable jobs,” as quoted by Cathy Jones, second vice president of the Minneapolis NAACP and POCUM member in the press release.
Raeisha Williams, her mother Rosemary Nevils, Emily Flower and her 17-year-old daughter Davina Newman were escorted out of the building, briefly arrested and given citations from Park Board police during the September 7 meeting. The four also were told by officers that they cannot enter the building for one year, said Williams during the September 8 press conference, which the MSR attended.
“I asked [the officer] was this a verbal warning, and he said it was,” reported Williams.
However, a Park Board spokesperson told the MSR via email last week that none of the four persons were barred from the building. “There were 10 people removed from the board room,” explained MPRB Communications Director Dawn Sommers. “Those cited were told they could not return to the building for the remainder of the evening. There was no citation issued for trespassing…[but they] were told [that] if they did return to the building that evening, they could be subject to a citation for trespassing. No trespass orders were issued to anyone involved by Park Police.”
Sommers also provided a written statement from MPRB President Anita Tabb, as well as a video clip from the September 7 meeting. “Audience members received multiple warnings that those who engaged in disruptive behavior would be removed from the room and subject to arrest,” wrote Tabb.
Williams charged that she and the other three were “targeted” by the board, a charge also supported by others who attended the meeting.
“Why they were targeted, I don’t know,” said Jones. The meeting room “was packed with over 100 people” and the four who were taken out “weren’t the loudest in the room.”
Williams, Jones and others who spoke to the media demanded an apology from the Board, all charges dropped and the resignation of MPRB Superintendent Jayne Miller. They argued that Miller and the commissioners are working together to suppress their voices.
“They just want to continue doing business as usual,” added Jones. “They won’t silence our voices.”
“This Board is the most dysfunctional that I have ever seen,” said Flower. “They have no interest in the desires of the people of this city.”
During a phone interview, Park Board District Six Commissioner Brad Bourn last week told the MSR that he doesn’t believe that the four persons were singled out, and he did not support any arrests. “I do think people shouldn’t be arrested and detained for practicing democracy. I think it is wrong that we kick people out of rooms that we disagree with,” he explained.
“Brad Bourn has supported us from day one,” observed Williams.
Bourn, however, did not support the group’s demand for Miller’s resignation: “It is my fault and the fault of my colleagues,” because Miller takes direction from the board, he pointed out. “I don’t know if her resignation is the right solution. The Board has as much authority or as little authority as we choose to take up.
“This board does delegate a lot of authority to the superintendent,” continued Bourn. “If people aren’t satisfied with the executive leadership, which would be the superintendent, and is not satisfied with the job that she is doing, that absolutely still comes back to the Board. If they come to the Board to express that and the Board doesn’t do anything with that, that is still the Board’s fault.
“The problem is that we [as the board] are not giving the superintendent the right direction that a lot of folk in the community feel we should be giving her,” said Bourn. “Right now I think the Board is giving her some bad direction, particularly in engaging with communities of color in more productive dialogue.”
“We have stood through 13 meetings to tell them enough is enough,” added Jones.
“During the last 13 meetings, there has been a need to temporarily recess Board meetings six times due to these disruptions,” said Tabb “There are well established rules and processes related to Open Time and these rules have been shared with community members at the beginning of each Open Time period since May.”
Williams last week accused the Park Board of playing “cat and mouse” with community folk who come to speak at the meetings. “They don’t want to hear us…not wanting to really look at the issues and work with us.”
“I certainly wish that the Park Board [would] be more respectful and the folk protesting be a little more respectful,” surmised Bourn. “But I think it is unfair to arrest people who strongly disagree with you, especially on an issue that’s so heated.”
Williams pledged that she will be at the next Board meeting.
“If my legal adviser encourages me to do it, I will go back with the support of the community,” added Flower.
“I think we have a board that is — maybe not intentionally but — certainly has a disconnect with some communities of color that we should be building better relationships with,” said Bourn. “I think the changes people want to see at this point are really at the ballot box. I think the underlying issue that the community has is with the elected leadership of the Board.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org