The Edina Human Rights & Relations Commission is laying the groundwork for a community conversation on race, justice and policing.
At the request of the Edina City Council, the commission discussed how to proceed with such a dialog during its June 23 meeting. In relaying the council’s request, City Manager Scott Neal envisioned the discussion as a “blue ribbon task force” that would report back to elected officials.
The endeavor is the latest action taken by the city amid cries for racial justice that have been renewed following the killing of George Floyd and other recent deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police.
The parameters of the discussion remain undefined, but it will amount to more than a listening session, according to Neal. “I know the council does not view this as a one-shot event,” he said, noting a sense of urgency. “ … I think this moment we’re in as a country is one we should try to tap into relatively soon.”
The discussion would supplement the work of the Edina Race and Equity Task Force, which in 2018 issued a report on a wide range of topics related to race relations in the city, including policing.
“There is significant concern about police conduct with people of color,” the report stated after a nearly two-year process that included a series of interviews and conversations with community members.
The report mentions stories from people of color who shared experiences of racial profiling and a perception they are subjected to a disproportionate number of police contacts, in addition to feelings of unease and insecurity when in affluent neighborhoods at night and fears of being followed by police.
With the Human Rights & Relations Commission planning to further focus on policing through a lens of racial equity, Commissioner Jasmine Brett Stringer called for substantive dialog that amounts to more than, “check the box that you had this conversation.”
Taking the pledge
So far, recent discussion has included an apparent commitment from Neal to the My Brother’s Keeper Pledge, which is being promoted by former President Barack Obama. The pledge, which municipal leaders throughout the country have agreed to, includes the promise of taking four actions: review police use-of-force policies, engage communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences and stories; report findings and review them with the community; and reform the community’s use-of-force policies.
The Human Rights & Relations Commission had sought to vote on a request that would ask Mayor Jim Hovland to take the My Brother’s Keeper pledge. However, Neal made the commitment himself during the June 23 meeting, explaining he’s the one to whom Edina Police ultimately report.
“I can tell you that I would take this pledge tonight. So I can commit that to you,” Neal said.
Several community members called into the meeting, which was held via videoconference, to voice their support for a formal conversation about race and policing. One of those residents was Felicia Franklin.
“As a person of color living in Edina I feel that things have been uncomfortable lately,” Franklin said, before referencing fears from late May and early June that the unrest sparked by Floyd’s death would spread to Edina. “ … How can we come together as a community to get to know each other so we won’t have those fears?”
Another commenter, Elizabeth Stevens, expressed hope after recently seeing an increased number of Black Lives Matter signs in Edina front yards.
With that kind of progress in mind, the Race & Equity Task Force issued a host of recommendations to the city, most of which are yet to be fully implemented or are part of a continuous process. One of those recommendations is to publish the police department’s use-of-force policy. That information was recently posted at edinamn.gov/1717/Policies.
Among other recommendations from the task force is that police collect racial demographic data on all stops and detentions. The feasibility of that task is being evaluated, according to the city’s latest implementation update.
Considering how much work the Race & Equity Task Force undertook, members of the Human Rights & Relations Commission requested additional assistance in their current task.
“This is way more important than to put on human rights to run it,” said Michelle Meek, who was on the task force.
Assistant City Manager Lisa Schaefer was adamant, however, that members of the public – not city staff – run the meetings, “because people are going to be more open and honest than they are necessarily with a staff member or police officer in the room.”
Stringer urged the city to hire a consultant to facilitate the dialog, reminding staff that the commission is comprised exclusively of volunteers. In the work of the Race & Equity Task Force, the services of staff, residents and consultants were tapped, Neal noted.
“I don’t anticipate having to do that same level,” he said, “but we will bring in the necessary support to make sure this initiative is going to be successful. We’re not going to let money stand in the way of moving forward.”
– Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent