The year 2019 in the Twin Towns of Minneapolis and St. Paul turned out like many other previous years: It was the best of times for some and the worst of times for others.
There were some gains, although those were not as notable as the losses. And for lots of reasons, Minneapolis and St. Paul were featured in yet another study indicating that all is not well for Black people in the Metro area, as it was again rated one of the worst places for Blacks to live.
Beginning in January 2019, the Twin Cities revealed itself to be a tough place for almost anyone down on their luck. Homelessness made the news as many Native Americans seeking shelter formed an encampment near a highway. This was an embarrassment to Minneapolis, but no lasting solution was found. In fact, the situation has been made worse by the recent fire at the former Drake Hotel, which displaced nearly 200 people.
The overwhelming majority of the families who sought temporary shelter at the Drake were African American. It remains to be seen if the African American community will rally to their aide. So far the Minneapolis Foundation has taken the lead along with the Minnesota Red Cross. Donations have poured in, but what those people really need is permanent shelter.
The Minneapolis City Council adopted policies attempting to ease the burdens placed on renters, especially those with criminal records. The council sensibly allowed potential renters who had run afoul of the law to get a fair chance and not have their record held against them if at least seven years had passed. They also sought to have a bit more affordable housing added to the mix by requiring developers of large projects to set aside six to eight percent of their apartments for affordable housing.
Violence was yet again an issue as young Black men filled with internalized self-hatred and rage shot and killed one another in the streets of the Twin Cities. St. Paul set records this year with its death toll resulting from such violence.
While seemingly mystifying to most citizens, the prevalence of this kind of violence is the outgrowth of a system not designed to absorb everyone. Social psychologists like Frantz Fanon have explained the phenomenon as the outgrowth of seeing others of their kind as the oppressors rather than the system that is actually oppressing them. Minneapolis saw an increase in this activity as well, but St. Paul attempted to be more proactive by holding community forums to discuss what could be done to halt the killings.
St. Paul schools made the news as a teacher called out students using the “N” word.
Racism and race relations were part of the news surrounding the MLK holiday as Jordan High School withdrew from Minneapolis Roosevelt High’s annual MLK basketball tournament. According to them, they would have been a “distraction”: Jordan High had been accused of racism as the result of some of its students displaying a very large Trump banner in its stands when the Roosevelt team visited earlier last season.
Domestic violence made the news as a family murder-suicide before Thanksgiving raised many questions and concerns in local media. However, it appeared that not as much attention was paid to the killing of Raven Gant by a former boyfriend and the father of her child.
Local activists and community members rallied to make sure that Raven’s life was honored and she would be seen as more than a victim. Her death also gave rise to impassioned pleas that community members face and address the scourge of domestic violence.
Twin Cities police departments were no strangers to violence this year either as they felled quite a few, most under questionable circumstances. The most questionable was the killing of Isak Aden by several south suburban police departments including Eagan, Burnsville and Bloomington.
Mohamed Noor was found guilty in 2019 of killing Justine Damon Rusyck in July of 2017. The verdict caused a stir in the Somali and the greater African American communities, because many felt Noor was only convicted because he was Black, Muslim and Somali. Others supported the verdict because Damon Rusyck had done nothing to justify being shot, saying, “Right is right and wrong is wrong” no matter what the color or the politics.
Minneapolis Police Federation head Lt. Bob Kroll and his fellow officers wore Cops for Trump shirts as they literally embraced President Donald Trump when he campaigned in the city in October. Trump disparaged the Somali population insisting that “Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers,” inferring that the Somali population was a burden and a problem. The cops’ embrace of Trump and his thinly veiled anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-POC platform raised questions about their ability to enforce the law fairly in those communities.
In the development arena, construction dominated downtown while many complained of still seeing too few Black faces even on street restructuring funded with City dollars. The Minneapolis City Council decided to redevelop 40 acres of public land in their controversial Upper Harbor Terminal project, which will include an outdoor amphitheater.
The council claimed it polled the community and made Upper Harbor plans based on community input, but that has been hotly disputed. The debate about what should be developed on the land is likely to continue.
The lack of a real affordable healthcare system reared its ugly head as two Minnesotans perished because they could not afford the insulin needed to control their diabetes. The state legislature, after being cajoled by victims’ families and others, promised to pass legislation to provide emergency financial assistance to those who cannot afford their insulin. As the year ends, this promise remains unfulfilled.
Speaking of healthcare, Hennepin County Medical Center was caught apparently making guinea pigs of people experiencing mental health issues. They were using the powerful drug ketamine on emergency patients as part of a hospital study without their consent.
Also on the health front, no real solutions were brought forth to curb the opioid and heroin crisis gripping the state, especially the Twin Cities. However, unlike the crack epidemic, local efforts were made to view the problem as a health problem and not a criminal problem.
On a brighter note, the contributions to the community of the late MSR publisher Launa Q. Newman were acknowledged by the City of Minneapolis. From 36th Street to 42nd Street on 4th Avenue in South Minneapolis has been renamed Launa Q. Newman Way. And former icon and social worker Clarissa Walker was honored by having 36th street to 42nd street along 3rd avenue in South Minneapolis renamed Clarissa Walker Way.
The Twin Cities hosted the NCAA Final Four. The University of Minnesota’s football team led by North Minneapolis’ own Tyler Johnson finished with its best regular-season record in decades.
We at the MSR in the new year will continue to bring you the best and the worst of the events and happenings in the Twin Cities as we seek to educate, inspire, inform and, yes, sometimes advocate for Black people specifically, and People of Color, in general, as well as the disadvantaged, disenfranchised and underserved.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.