The Edina City Council has charged the city’s Human Rights & Relations Commission with leading a community conversation about issues surrounding race and policing.

The council voted unanimously June 16 to issue the direction after receiving numerous emails from residents encouraging the dialog.

“I’m seeing the volume of these. It has not begun to dissipate,” City Manager Scott Neal said.

The emails came from residents who are “very concerned, genuinely concerned about – I won’t call it police reform – but I’ll call it our policing practices,” Mayor Jim Hovland said, referencing the use-of-force continuum as a popular area of concern.

Large community conversations around racial justice are not new in Edina. The discussion came to city hall in 2016 after a black man was arrested for walking in the street on Xerxes Avenue while the adjacent sidewalk was under construction, an incident that was captured in a viral video that sparked local outrage.

That led to the formation of the Edina Race & Equity Task Force, which in 2018 issued 21 recommendations for improving race relations in the city in terms of law enforcement and other aspects of the community. The topic of race and policing saw renewed interest after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Among those calling for a community conversation about race and police is Edina resident Anthony Nderu. A message from Nderu to the city council was included in materials compiled for the June 16 meeting.

“When you are privileged because of your color, it’s important to listen to those who are not so privileged in your community,” wrote Nderu, who noted he is black. “Let’s make our community safer. We have heard of some stories in Edina, and we hope we too can address this issue. My biggest fear in Edina is the police.”

Councilmember Mary Brindle reported attending a conversation circle about the topic in a driveway in the Rolling Green neighborhood. Of the approximately 20 families assembled, at least five were African-American, she said.

One parent talked about having to tell their teen son how to dress when he goes out to avoid trouble, Brindle mentioned. “There are things that I didn’t even think about that are very real for other people in our community,” she said.

Brindle added that the death of George Floyd has “really gotten our attention, and it’s really caused me to stand up and take notice and decide, if I’m ever going to figure out how I feel about this, it’s now. But this conversation was a really good first step in figuring it out.”

“We each search our consciousness these days,” Councilmember Ron Anderson added.

Regarding a community discussion, “we’ve got some hard work ahead of us as a group, we know. It’s appropriate work,” Anderson said. “ … I think we’ll be better people for it.”

Councilmember Kevin Staunton seconded the notion that much work lies ahead. “This is one thing and this is a good start,” he said, “but it’s a long road, and we should be doing lots of things to support that.”

According to Hovland, some community members have asked the city to adopt the recommendations that are part of the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, which lists eight policies police departments can adopt to reduce the harm they can cause. Those policies are already in place, Hovland said, explaining he confirmed that fact after talking with Edina Police Chief Dave Nelson.

The policies championed by “8 Can’t Wait”:

• Ban chokeholds and strangleholds

• Require de-escalation

• Require a warning before shooting

• Exhaust all alternatives before shooting

• Duty to intervene – Require officers to stop a colleague if they are using force inappropriately

• Ban shooting at moving vehicles

• Require a use-of-force continuum

• Require comprehensive reporting

Aside from relaying messages from residents concerned with law enforcement practices, Hovland voiced support for Edina Police, too, observing that most professions don’t get judged by the actions of their worst personnel.

But with law enforcement, “it’s apparently a different story, and so there’s morale to be thinking about, too,” he said. “We’ve got a great police force with wonderful people working for us in the city of Edina, and we need to be mindful of what they’re going through as well, and thinking about what they’ve chosen for their profession. So many of them are here to protect and serve and be living up to that oath.”

But regarding the community conversation that awaits, “I’m eager to have that next step,” Hovland said.

– Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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