The race for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District has heated up over the last few weeks and become quite contentious as the DFL primary nears. Challenger Antone Melton-Meaux has mounted a campaign against incumbent Ilhan Omar that has caught the attention of the national media. Adding to the controversy surrounding the race has been the amount of money from outside the district that has been contributed to both candidates. The MSR wanted to give voters a chance to hear from the candidates one more time before the August 11 primary.
MSR: Why are you running for office?
AM-M: I love the District and I care about our community. We have significant challenges in the 5th District, like closing the achievement gap in our public schools, especially for children of color, and making sure we have affordable housing.
I want to minimize the effect of COVID so we don’t make that crisis worse. We need to address the lack of long-term quality housing for renters and make sure we have access to capital in marginalized communities to become homeowners. Homeownership is the pathway to generational wealth.
MSR: What is the difference between human rights and civil rights?
AM-M: Human rights is about universal rights and the ability to move freely identifying and honoring people’s heritage and lineage.
Civil rights is the process of addressing the systems of change. Voting is a civil right. [Civil rights involve] assurance that the mechanisms of government are accessible and fair.
MSR: Why is it important to address human rights issues?
AM-M: We have to address all issues that speak to who we are as human beings. I have been dedicated to that work as a full-time mediator. I have done a lot of work with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights.
What’s important is the protection of someone’s identity or origin. We are a country of broad diversity and immigrants. If we are not supporting human rights, we are not supporting the foundation of what this country is about.
Related Story: Rep. Ilhan Omar makes her case for re-election
MSR: What’s your response to studies that have shown the 5th District as being the worst place for Black people to live?
AM-M: If we are the worst or the fifth worst, it’s all pretty bad. The murder of George Floyd has amplified these problems. When you talk about education or affordable housing or access to affordable health care, even food security, I think it speaks to systems that have been put into place without awareness of their consequences. For example, public schools.
We have not been serious about closing the education and achievement gap. Why are we not putting resources into place and investing in early learning? Research has shown that early learning is the best investment in our children’s future by far. For every one dollar we put into it, we get seven dollars in return.
Government should step in and work with school districts. It’s no wonder the Black community and others have no trust in government, because government hasn’t shown up for them.
MSR: What kind of problems has COVID-19 created for the district? And what can be done to fix them?
AM-M: The problems are deep and wide. All the numbers I have seen have shown that the African American community has been hardest hit. COVID has hurt us physically, but it’s hurt us in other ways as people are losing jobs and businesses are shut down, which is especially impactful to small businesses. They have to pay their rent or lease and there is no rent forgiveness.
We should make sure we are trusting science so we can get to the root of the disease, making sure people can get PPE, hand sanitizer, soap. We just need to protect ourselves. We need more resources to keep us afloat. I’m in favor of extending unemployment benefits.
I am in favor of hazard pay for our essential workers. I am in favor of rent and mortgage forgiveness for families that are in need.
On the business side, we need to spend more on small business. More money for the Paycheck Protection Program. I talked to small business owners on Lake Street, and they feel left out. We have to invest in these businesses. The next round of money needs to go to businesses that were left out in the first round.
MSR: In the wake of George Floyd, how do you suggest dealing with the issue of police violence?
AM-M: It’s a multilayered problem. At the federal level, we can work to demilitarize the police. They have access to armored vehicles and grenade launchers. We are not living in a police state and should not be treated like enemy combatants.
We need a uniform standard across the country to address police brutality. We should end qualified immunity, which is a legal structure created by judges, which makes it almost impossible because of the standard of proof to have a successful misconduct case against a police officer. We need to eliminate that so that police officers can be held accountable.
And then lastly we have to end sexual violence by police officers, which is the second most common complaint against the police. There is no such thing as consent when in the custody of police officers.
We need something that allows the collection of data on a federal level. On the local level, the police function should be more narrowly tailored and focused. Presently, homelessness is criminalized and so are mental health crises. Private prisons are the number-one provider of mental health services.
We need to invest more in our public schools and community schools that have wrap-around services that give extended support before school and after school for parents that are working. Have health services provided for students to make sure they have adequate health care and supportive housing if necessary, but also direct relationships and partnerships with counseling and career services for parents.
That is the way we transform public safety with an acknowledgment that we must have some kind of dedicated police function.