I was surprised today when the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee voted to take public comment on what is happening at the 4th precinct.
While I appreciate that members of the public were able to address a Council Committee on the situation at the 4th precinct today and voted to allow it, I was very concerned and confused about the timing and the motivation. The comment period was added at the last minute (during the Committee meeting) to an agenda that had been set days before. There was no general notice to the general public about the opportunity, although it appeared that a few people knew about it before hand. So, we allowed some members of our community, and the Police Federation president, to address the committee and have their views broadcast, without giving other members of our community any notice that this opportunity would be occurring. I am certain that many people throughout the city would have made time to come and speak on this topic. Indeed, it is the fact that this is such a critically important, complex and controversial issue that I am even more concerned about this action today.
Clearly, the police shooting of Jamar Clark and the protests that have followed are of deep concern to residents throughout the city. Many residents are anxious for a chance to share their concerns, views and ideas with their elected city leaders. A thoughtful, well planned and well facilitated listening session certainly seems appropriate. In fact, it might offer a chance for the Council to help people listen to each other, better understand their differences, and in doing so, move closer to finding common ground to help us move forward towards finding solutions, resolving conflicts and setting a course to reach the values and goals we all share.
Even if we just wanted to have a conversation about the situation at the 4th Precinct - and, as or more importantly, the REASONS that people are protesting - that's something that would be very much worth our committee's time. In fact, my staff, with my support, raised just such an idea at the Public Safety committee's last agenda setting meeting, but it was decided that the committee would not do that. So, I was especially surprised by the last-minute decision to open time up and to be addressed by the Police Federation president and a few, seemingly forewarned or invited residents.
I believe that most or all of my colleagues have had the opportunity to meet and talk with protesters and with organizers of Black Lives Matter, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Minneapolis NAACP and others who are part of the protests since the shooting of Jamar Clark. Perhaps too few of us have taken that opportunity. And now, today, it seems like the Council went a step further, declaring that not only won't some of us go on our own to engage in a discussion with the protesters, but we will actively hide an opportunity for them to address us openly, and only make that opportunity available to a few people.
After the meeting I was struck at how untransparent and even embarrassingly antidemocratic this decision was. When I got back to my office I had to check on the goals and values we voted unanimously to support last year that were intended to guide our work over the next 5 years. Among the 6 related to How We Work I found these:
Engaging the community - All have a voice and are heard.
Building public trust - We work in an open, ethical and transparent manner.
Collaborating - We work better together as one team. We are a valued partner in the community.
I know these are aspirational and we will not always hit the mark, especially when working in stressful situations. Today was likely one of those times. Today we heard a few voices. Tomorrow, and in the days and weeks ahead, I hope we can do better.
I also had to pull out my handy pocket sized copy of the constitution I keep on my desk and reread that first amendment.
If our goal is to protect "the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," we clearly missed the mark today. I am concerned that we actually may have had a chilling effect on free speech. As we complain and worry about the current location, are we providing and offering any alternatives? As we welcome in those with grievances about the protesters themselves, are we as welcoming of those with grievances who are protesting or who are supporting those protesters?
If our goal is to peacefully end the occupation of the 4th Precinct (a goal that I believe many of my colleagues and even some inside of the protest movement itself may share), I am concerned that today's actions by the Council may have made that outcome significantly less likely. The only way today's committee meeting made any sense was as an attempt to provide cover for, or put pressure on us for, clearing the 4th Precinct by force.
I hope we avoid that, and I was glad to hear the Mayor this evening on the radio assuring us all that she has not ordered any kind of action to end the protest and that she is not planning on doing that. I appreciate her patience, and I appreciate the community's patience in this.
I believe that we all benefit from an active and engaged electorate. Free speech and the rights of the people to organize and work for change have led to some of the greatest accomplishments and social reforms in this country's history. Democracy is not always easy. It is not always convenient, efficient, clean or tidy. But I believe that there is no better alternative.
A standard line at protests is "this is what democracy looks like!" I'm not sure that today's meeting of the Public Safety committee was.