Serving the community: an interview with LaTrisha Vetaw, freshman Ward 4 councilmember

Photo by Chris Juhn LaTrisha Vetaw (center) watches the television as her votes come in on Nov 2, 2021.

Introducing a new Mpls Council majority: People of Color

The Minneapolis City Council will have a majority of BIPOC members starting when the newly elected members take their seats in January. Over the next few weeks the MSR will give our readers an opportunity to get to know them and their thoughts on the pressing issues in the city, especially as these relate to Communities of Color.

This week we begin with the representatives of Minneapolis’ predominantly Black North Side, starting with LaTrisha Vetaw.

MSR: Tell our readers who you are, where you come from, and what makes you tick as a person?

Vetaw: I’m LaTrisha Vetaw. I moved to Minneapolis over 30 years ago. I originally came from housing projects in Chicago. I currently work as the director of health policy and advocacy here in North Minneapolis at North Point Health and Wellness Center. I’ve been there for 15 years. 

I’ve worked with a lot of Northside youth and faith leaders, building coalitions around public health. I serve as the vice president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. I was elected to that four years ago and I am finishing out my term. I live in the [4th] ward with my husband. 

So yeah, working in this community for 15 years, living in the ward. Actually, my family, my single mom moved here with her three kids. All three of us live in North Minneapolis. 

My sister lives in Ward 5, and my brother and his family live in Ward 4, and so does my mom. So my family is here, my nieces and nephews, they’re all here too on the North Side.

What makes me tick? I’m super passionate about the North Side. I love community. That’s what makes me tick the most is really being a servant to the community. 

I grew up with so few resources, and my mother needed a lot of help, a lot of assistance, not just with programs, people, stuff like that—we needed food stamps, we needed low-income housing, we needed food shelves sometimes, clothing shelves. We needed so many resources because my mom was a single parent. I just love being in community and showing up for community. 

MSR: Would you say that experience will make you a good council member for your ward?

Vetaw: I think so. I think a lot of the challenges and the highlights that I’ve had in my life, you know, these people in this community have had the same and similar. The North Side is a great place because it lifts you up, but then it’ll knock you down. You know you have some hard times on the North Side, but then you have the most memorable times as well.

MSR: What would you say are the major issues facing your ward?

Vetaw: Safety is the first thing. That’s all people talk about. We knocked on over 8,000 doors during this campaign, and safety was it. Whether that’s traffic safety [or] safety dealing with gun violence. Traffic safety and just the violence that was happening in the community were a big, big deal. 

So I would say safety as a whole. People want to feel safe and welcome. That’s the number-one thing.

Housing is a huge part of safety. If folks don’t have a warm home to go to on cold nights, they’re more likely to have other issues happening in their families. Housing is a big issue.

Economic development and stability, the income of folks in the ward. The opportunity to have businesses and the essentials in the ward is another big issue.

Related Story: Aggressive advocacy for North Side needs: an interview with CouncilmemberJeremiah Ellison

MSR: Which of those would you say is the most pressing issue facing your ward?

Vetaw: Safety. When you think about those three issues- and when I started running I talked about those three things all the time, and it just turned into only talking about safety, because if people don’t feel safe you don’t have good housing resources, you don’t have businesses investing, so safety is it. In the beginning people had great ideas, they were talking about all kinds of stuff. By summer after, you know, several children being shot doing what kids do, it was all about safety.

MSR: What was your stance on all three ballot questions?

Vetaw: I voted yes for the strong mayor. I saw that as a good accountability measure. With this last administration there was a lot of passing the buck, and I saw the strong mayor ballot measure as an opportunity for us to create a structure where people had to be accountable for their decisions and we couldn’t play the blame game. I also saw it as an opportunity for me to have more time to spend with my constituents in Ward 4.

[On ballot question] two I voted no, that was the public safety question. I was a strong no on that. We have real issues with violence in Ward 4, in the North Side as a whole. The violence that’s happening over here, there was no way we were going to vote for a vague amendment with no plan, no details, no way. We would be hurt the most by this amendment no matter what.

The rent control one I did not vote for either. First I thought, wait, this is a joke, right? Because they could’ve just done a study. It wasn’t rent control. We didn’t automatically go into rent control. That was for the council to direct staff to do a study, [that] was that ballot amendment. While I continue to oppose certain forms of rent control, I just think there’s other ways. Rent controls are not proven to be effective.

How do you plan to hold the police accountable?

Vetaw: We have to have people at the table—people who voted yes and who voted no [to ballot question two], people who represent these communities, law enforcement, and elected officials. 

I think the body camera stuff  has to be documented. We have to make sure that officers have their cameras on at all times. Some of the measures that have taken place already, low-level traffic stops, that kind of stuff. Accountability on why you pulled your gun out. 

Now they’re asking for reports on why you took your gun out of the holster. That’s never happened before. And what we’ve seen here in Minneapolis, if you commit a crime, you get charged! 

You’re an officer, but you can’t have this situation where we watch you kill a man and nothing happens, you just go back to work. That’s a big issue. That [solution] has to happen at the State [level]. The arbitration, the charter that the union is covered under, has to happen at the State level. And the mayor said he’ll be pushing, and I’ll be pushing with him.

MSR: Can you elaborate a bit on what you think can be done and plan to do to stem youth violence and criminality?

Vetaw: What I know is effective is giving those young minds something to do, and having them earn something. We piloted a program this year at the park board called Imagine Your Future, where there were 17-24-year-olds—I think it could be 23-year-olds—but these were kids who maybe had had some troubles, and you know they weren’t “squeaky clean” kids. 

They got an opportunity to attend some workshops and classes over the course of two months that talked about financial literacy, just general life skills, you know, just some general activities. And during those eight weeks they got to earn a job at the park board, that was the big payoff. A full-time job for some, a part-time job for others. 

That was such a beautiful program. And it kept those young people focused on positives. They were given mentors. They were given something to look forward to.

MSR: What are your thoughts on the cause of so-called “Black on Black” violence, and how can it be stopped?

Vetaw: I can’t answer that question. The only answer I could have to that question is talking to the community about their needs. Because what I think we get wrong as a society is trying to have one answer and one fix to everything, and the needs are very specific to individuals. 

You can ask me what I need and it can be very different from what my sister needs. So I don’t have the answer to that, that’s something that we have to work on in community to achieve and tailor it to the specific person. 

Some people may need housing and a job. Some people may need an I.D. I know that when I had struggles in my life, what helped me was an individualized approach. It wasn’t like, “Oh, go take this class and go do that.” I really had to sit down and talk to people and understand who I was and what my needs were, and what my future goals were. 

So when I think about violence, I really do think, in my mind, when we find out that someone is, like, when a young person is arrested or found with a gun or something, my mind says we need the opportunity to talk to them and find out exactly what’s going on in their lives and tailor our resources to their needs. 

That’s how you stop people from doing the same things. That’s how you really get to the root of it, is when you understand individual needs. 

RB King welcomes reader response to