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

Photo from Ellison Facebook Jeremiah Ellison

An interview with Jeremiah Ellison, incumbent Ward 5 councilmember

Editor’s Note: 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.

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

Ellison: I’m born and raised on the North Side of Minneapolis. Just got elected to my second term on the Minneapolis City Council. I am deeply motivated by the creativity and resilience of the North Side, and I want to see people on the North Side, working-class people especially, thriving and being supported by and amplified by their city government.

MSR: What makes you a good council member for your ward?

Ellison: I have a sense of what the real issues are. I’m studious. I am someone who aggressively pursues policy that supports the North Side no matter how unlikely I am told it is to be passed.

MSR: What do you see as the major issues currently facing your ward?

Ellison: Well, number one, especially these past few years, is we have a gun violence problem. And I think that all evidence points to that having been exacerbated by the pandemic, and for George Floyd, and we have to figure out if we know what caused this or what sparked it. I’m hoping that can give us some insights into how to end it.

Second, I think affordable housing. Dignified, stable housing is critically important on the North Side to prevent gentrification.

I think thirdly, North Side businesses being able to own our commercial corridors. Individual businesses, small businesses that are on the North Side whose owners and workforce live on the North Side, are able to own the very corridors that fuel our hyper-local economy. That hasn’t been the case in the past, I started making that the case last term and I plan to continue on that work this term.

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

Photo by Chris Juhn Keith Ellison and Jeremiah Ellison scroll through a tablet as he watches the city council election results come in on Nov. 2, 2021.

MSR: What would you say your priority is for this term?

Ellison: I would say all three of those issues.

MSR: What was your stance on the three ballot questions in this election?

Ellison: I was one of the authors for ballot question three [on rent control and stabilization], and so I was very much in support of that, and I’m glad to see that not only was I able to author that question but that it passed, and the people of Minneapolis agree. 

Question three opens the door for the city to pass a rent stabilization or rent control policy. The reason that’s needed is, you know, people will tell you that the average rate of rent increases is around 2-3% annually, which certainly can be true. But when you look at who that’s mostly true for, that’s mostly true for market-rate rents, market-rate units. 

When you look at people who are in the bottom third, or even the bottom two-thirds of income earners in Minneapolis, their rents are rising at much higher rates than that. And so the reason we need a rent stabilization policy is for the poorest residents of Minneapolis. 

They’re seeing their rents rise 30%, 40%, you know, 100% over the course of five years or less. So we need a rent control policy to prevent the rapid and unregulated rise of rent in our city.

I was a supporter of question two. I still think that question two was our real chance to pursue changes to public safety and that anyone who thinks that we are gonna be able to pursue real transformation and even reform now that question two has failed, I think that folks are maybe not seeing the full picture. 

I was against question one, and I know that question one prevailed. I think that this is important for readers to know: Question one is absolutely going to give vast authority, including the quality of constituent services, and hand it to the mayor. 

That is a realm that has traditionally been in the purview of the council member, so I’m gonna figure out what this new red tape looks like, and I’m gonna cut through it as best I can. But I think it’s important for readers to know just how much of the entire City function is now delegated to the mayor.

MSR: How do you plan to hold the police accountable?

Ellison: The strong mayor amendment passed, and so the people of Minneapolis have said that they don’t really want the council to have a say when it comes to police. So I think that that question really rests exclusively with the mayor. I will continue to advocate for accountability, but I also have to recognize that I have no legal authority. The people of Minneapolis said they want the mayor to solve this problem.

MSR: What can be done to stem the problem of youth violence and criminality?

Ellison: I don’t think we should leave it just to the parks, but I’m hopeful that we can also make investments towards youth employment. But youth employment and youth activity are gonna have to go hand in hand when it comes to curbing this issue. 

We also need to look at some of the results of our basic income, universal basic income pilot program and say, you know, does offering a basic income and guaranteeing a basic income to certain families help stabilize those parents and put them in a better position, instead of having to run and work multiple jobs, be present in their home in a way that I know most parents want to be? 

So I think that we have to invest not just in the kids and in their employment and their activity, but we have to stabilize their guardians as well. We can’t stretch people incredibly thin and then expect them to have the capacity to account for their teenager at all times.

We can’t force people to be living in economic despair and then judge them when they’re working three to four jobs in order to avoid eviction and homelessness and then point the finger at them when their kid gets wrapped up in something that they shouldn’t have been. If we want families to be cohesive and we want kids to live productive lives, then we have to put our money where our mouth is.

Stable Schools is a program that we started I think three or four years ago, and I’m excited to see us continue that program and continue investing there. It’s a program that helps us stabilize families, kind of to my earlier point, who are on the cusp of homelessness and who have a kid in our public school system. 

So I think we owe it to families to continue that investment because if someone is stable in their living situation, that is going to lead to better outcomes for them in school. But if a kid is going to school hungry and they just slept in their parents’ car all night, we know that kid is not going to be set up to perform well in school. If that happens long enough, then we’re not setting people up to live the kind of lives that they deserve to live.

MSR: In your opinion, what is the cause of so-called “Black on Black” violence, and how can it be stopped?

Ellison: Violence happens between communities. White people overwhelmingly commit crimes against other White people. Native people overwhelmingly commit crimes against other Indigenous people. Do we describe a White person who commits a crime against another White person as a “White on White” crime? No. So if “White on White” crime doesn’t exist, then I cannot entertain or validate the notion of “Black on Black” crime.

Crime occurs when people live in proximity to one another and are desperate and have needs that they are willing to harm other people to meet. So let’s meet people’s needs. When people cause harm, they do need to be held accountable, right, but what does accountability mean?

Accountability doesn’t mean we just punish you. Accountability means that we get some justice, we get some remedy for the person you harmed, but also that we work with you to make sure that you don’t cause harm in the community again. 

If all we do is punish you, then we haven’t really set you up for success. In fact, we may have put you in a more desperate situation and have made it more likely that you will commit harm to the community in the future. 

So, I think that if we want to get a hold on rises in crime, we have to ditch any notion that there is some sort of unique phenomenon such as “Black on Black” crime, which is a ridiculous notion. We have to understand and ask ourselves why people are committing crimes at all, and how we can not only hold them accountable when they harm people, but set them up in a way so that they don’t have to harm people again. That is how we are going to commit safety in our city.

RB King welcomes reader response to