Confrontations escalate over city council’s plans for East Phillips site
A Hennepin County judge issued an injunction on Friday, Feb. 24, preventing the demolition of the Roof Depot on East 28th St. and Longfellow Ave. in East Phillips while the decision is being appealed. The injunction comes after new support from some of the Native American community’s most powerful leaders, an occupation of the Roof Depot site, and a caravan to City Hall on Thursday, when the city council failed to cancel a demolition contract with the approved vendor.
The injunction, granted by Judge Edward Wahl, is conditioned on the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) raising a $10,000 bond for the City to pay the costs of maintaining the building, which it is not permitted to demolish during the appeal. EPNI has two weeks to raise the bond, which may increase if “the appeals process gets drawn out” and “if [the City’s] expenses get out of hand,” said Wahl in making the ruling.
Judge Wahl also requested that EPNI try to get the Court of Appeals to expedite its ruling, while acknowledging the City has done its due diligence in ensuring the project won’t harm the community. EPNI and neighborhood activists are concerned that the project, which involves demolishing the abandoned warehouse and expanding a facility that will see an increase in diesel-fueled vehicle traffic, will harm the community.
The project, which has been planned for the site since 2015, remains a Superfund site. Neighbors and activists say pollution extant in the neighborhood, particularly from vehicle traffic and an asphalt plant, has resulted in deaths of residents both young and old.
“We’re tired of being the sacrificial zone,” said Little Earth resident Cassie Holmes at a press conference on Wednesday denouncing the project. “We are tired of burying our children because of this.”
Council President Andrea Jenkins, who does not represent the East Phillips neighborhood, said in a phone call with the MSR on Wednesday that this project will benefit the community because it will provide a job training center and three-and-a-half acres of land for the community to develop as they wish.
“I think this project will not only clean up the soil, but it will also provide living-wage job-training opportunities—driving heavy equipment, garbage, snow plows, training people to be maintenance workers on water [mains], fixing the sewers, public works jobs that we need to run our city,” said Jenkins.
Activists at the Wednesday press conference reiterated their desire for self-determination, saying the jobs being offered by the City are not what the community desires. “The City has never really responded, never been interested in the community’s vision,” said Robert Lilligren, CEO of the Native American Community Development Institute and a 36-year Phillips resident.
To stave off demolition, activists attempted to occupy the Roof Depot site in a ceremony on Tuesday morning, calling the occupation “Camp Nenoocaasi,” which means hummingbird in Ojibwe. They successfully occupied the site for 12 hours, until Minneapolis police officers cleared protesters, reportedly in a militarized fashion.
Eight of the occupiers were cited and released without paperwork at a nearby homeless shelter, with at least one protester, Rachel Thunder, saying she was injured by a police officer as she was being detained.
On Thursday, City Councilmember Jason Chavez, who represents the East Phillips neighborhood, successfully introduced a measure to reconsider the demolition contract. However, the measure failed in a 6-6 vote and led to confrontations between activists and opposing city council members shortly thereafter.
The movement is gaining support at the state level. State Senator Omar Fateh (62, DFL) introduced a bill to funnel $20 million to the East Phillips Urban Institute to develop their urban farm. Fateh also plans to introduce a bill prohibiting polluting industries to remain in East Phillips.
Representing the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors, a consortium of 25 organizations that serve the Twin Cities Native American community, Marisa Cummings, president and CEO of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, read a statement at Wednesday’s press conference opposing the Roof Depot demolition and hoping for the City to work with the community to develop a collective vision for the site.
“The membership of MUID believes there is a better community-led, green initiative to be pursued that will better mitigate the negative social determinants of health caused by environmental racism,” said Cummings in a statement. “We consider governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.”
Leave a Reply