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 talk with Ward 6 newcomer Jamal Osman.
MSR: Tell our readers who you are, where you come from, and what makes you tick as a person.
Jamal Osman: I’m a Minnesotan and a Somali. I moved to St. Paul when I was a teenager as a refugee from Somalia. After college, I started working on behalf of renters as an advocate with their landlords. That’s the experience that really carries me in this work on the council.
I saw people in Minneapolis who needed someone to fight for them, to carry their voice, and work for the things that can make their lives better. I’m a happy dad, a lucky husband, and the best FIFA player on the council.
MSR: What makes you a good council member for your ward?
Osman: I’m an advocate for renters and refugees, and I live in a ward with over 90% renters that is one of the centers of the refugees and immigrants in Minnesota. Since being elected, I have also grown to appreciate the responsibility I have in representing the heart of the Native American movement on Franklin Avenue. There is an incredible diversity in this ward, and I am excited to keep advocating on behalf of every resident.
MSR: What do you see as the major issues currently facing your ward?
Osman: Every major issue facing the city! The gun violence we are experiencing now throughout the ward is unacceptable. Homelessness and encampments are too common in the areas I represent. Opiate addiction has been a raging epidemic in the East African and Native communities for far longer than COVID has been around.
Much of the commercial space I represent was damaged in last year’s uprising and unrest and it needs help rebuilding. The lack of affordable housing and the lack of housing for families is a challenge that basically everyone who lives in my ward is dealing with in one way or another.
MSR: What would you say your priority is for this term?
Osman: I came on to the council because of a special election in 2020. I now need to be a part of helping figure out what the new system of government looks like and how to make sure we can deliver City services for constituents.
On a policy front, I am going to continue to work on affordable housing, supporting renters, and economic redevelopment and opportunities for the ward.
MSR: What was your stance on the three ballot questions in this election?
Osman: I was opposed to the strong mayor question. The voters decided to vote in favor of Question 1, so now my job is to figure out how to make this new system work as well as it can for them, and to use as much power as I can to make my constituents’ lives better.
I came around and ended up supporting the second question on the Department of Public Safety because of the experiences I had trying to get an organized and directed response to complicated issues like homeless encampments and gun crime. I don’t think the loss of this specific proposal can blunt the need and the broad community desire for fundamental police reform.
I was in strong support of the question on rent control. It was the most popular thing on the ballot city-wide, and clearly voters said that they want to see movement on this issue. The ward I represent is almost all renters, and I’ve heard too many stories about what they’re experiencing with rent hikes and unconscionable living conditions.
So we clearly need to put up rails to help guard residents from bad actors. I’m also aware that in the process of that we need to make sure that we continue to build new housing, that we give property owners the means and incentive to keep their buildings up, and that we don’t drive away good operators.
MSR: How do you plan to hold the police accountable?
Osman: [Questions to consider are:] How can the council’s legislative process be used towards pursuing reform and accountability? What are the parts of the Department of Public Safety that resonated with voters? What didn’t? How can we advance those ideas?
MSR: What can be done to stem the problem of youth violence and criminality?
Osman: This is a huge issue in the ward. It has to be a holistic issue addressing addiction, opportunities for youth, interrupting violence, and creating strong communities. We need to make sure kids know where they are going home to, that [their] home has stability, and that when they wake up in the morning they have dreams and ambitions they can work towards.
The answer lies with us at the City, in the schools and parks, with community partners, and with our other government partners at the County. Concerns about the youth, the opportunities they have, and the struggles they face are easily the issue I hear about most.
MSR: In your opinion, what is the cause of so-called “Black on Black” violence, and how can it be stopped?
Osman: I disagree with the premise. Almost all violence is done by people close to us, partner violence most notably. But also, most violence in the East African community is against East Africans; most of the violence in the Native American community is perpetrated by other Native Americans.
It’s something that needs a holistic response. We must get kids off drugs, healthy, and working towards a career or education. We need to make sure that neighbors have safe places to live. The City must work with its partners to make sure that our social services safety net is strong and catches our neighbors who need help.
I am also conscious of the challenges presented by the tension between African Americans and East Africans. I’m looking forward to working with African American colleagues to find ways to strengthen the bonds we have and embrace each other’s communities.
MSR: How does your cultural background as a Somali man help you as a council member who is representing a large Somali constituency? What are the different needs and issues that this community experiences that you understand?
Osman: Obviously, it gives me an understanding of the issues facing Somalis and East Africans in the ward and because of my history in the community, I have a lot of family, friends and contacts who share with me the news and needs of the community.
Unique to the East African community is the perniciousness of opiates in our community and how we must build much of the community awareness and response to addiction issues. Addiction is just one aspect of a person’s mental health, and they can both overcome it and be productive members of our community. I am committed to making more investments in addiction and opiate outreach in the East African community.
There are other issues around business development, housing, and community engagement that all need a robust answer and a leader who is bringing the voice of the community with them. I always try to be that leader.
Abdi Mohamed is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com.