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Mpls. Black Community: Voices Have Been Ignored on Many Levels

Black residents of Minneapolis say, aside from trust issues with police, many neighborhoods are perceived by the rest of the state as too violent, but the need to build stronger communities has been ignored. (Adobe Stock)
Black residents of Minneapolis say, aside from trust issues with police, many neighborhoods are perceived by the rest of the state as too violent, but the need to build stronger communities has been ignored. (Adobe Stock)
May 29, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS - Beneath the protests against Minneapolis police sit layers of fear and frustration from the city's black community. Residents say these feelings have been around for years, and could take a while to result in real change.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer has reignited cries from African-Americans that they're routinely victimized by authorities. Robin Lewis, a lifelong city resident and neighborhood organizer, says it ranges from deadly encounters to racial profiling.

She adds that for a black person, the trauma lingers.

"It breaks people down," says Lewis. "It brings fear among our own community where we live. It brings mistrust. People will tell you, when you're driving, all of a sudden the police are behind you - you get scared."

Residents point to previous concerns about most Minneapolis officers choosing to live outside the city as creating communication gaps.

Mayor Jacob Frey is urging non-black residents to consider these longstanding concerns. And the city's police chief has previously said recruiting more minority officers can help, but where an officer decides to call home is not as vital as character.

Residents say a lack of investment by financial institutions to help build communities adds to their frustration. Activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, who lives on the city's North side, says instead of having local banks invest in minority-owned businesses, they get help that comes with good intentions but isn't always useful.

"You look at North Minneapolis," says Armstrong. "There are far too many nonprofit organizations that deliver services to people, and not enough that focus on the economic well-being of the people who live here."

Armstrong says there's a serious void in these communities when it comes to jobs that provide a living wage, preventing black residents from advancing in the workplace.

Lack of Connection with Officers

A 2017 Star Tribune analysis found that only about eight percent of Minneapolis police officers live within city limits. Small business owner Kevin Aldwaik says, as a person of color, that doesn't sit well with him.

"Basically, we're a job for them," says Aldwaik. "We're just a paycheck. 'I gotta do my hours and get the heck out of there.'"

He adds he has seen improvement in how officers communicate with people of color when they're the focus of a complaint. But he feels systemic change must be a priority.

Robin Lewis thinks establishing trust will take a long time, because - based on her encounters with police - officers have a built-in mindset when interacting with minorities.

"It's more of they talk at you," says Lewis. "Minneapolis cops will come up to you with this grandeur of, like, 'You need to listen to me.'"

Lewis and others say that mindset helps to underscore perception issues with the rest of the state about these neighborhoods - issues they feel can lead to the dehumanization of black residents.

Mike Moen/Dan Heyman, Public News Service - MN