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BLM Amplifies Calls to End Racism in Fargo

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Members of the Black Lives Matter Fargo/Moorhead chapter, which was established in 2016, say Fargo encourages a diverse population but doesn't follow through to welcome the diversity. (Faith Shields-Dixon)
Members of the Black Lives Matter Fargo/Moorhead chapter, which was established in 2016, say Fargo encourages a diverse population but doesn't follow through to welcome the diversity. (Faith Shields-Dixon)
June 24, 2020

FARGO, N.D. -- Black Lives Matter members in the Fargo area say recent protests demanding systemic change are only the beginning. They say they'll keep pressing local leaders and community members to help end racism.

The protests in Fargo following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota largely have been peaceful, but also have seen some tense moments with law enforcement, including a demonstration on May 30 that turned violent.

BLM organizer Frederick Edwards said the ways in which law enforcement and city leaders have responded to the demonstrations show deep divisions with the Black community.

"So for me, I think that the trust has been broken, because they see us as the enemy," he said. "They see the protests as a thing of violence, as a thing of obstruction."

Edwards said they're especially troubled over disparaging terms the police chief allegedly used to describe protesters, discovered in an e-mail obtained through a records request. The City of Fargo did not respond to a request for comment before deadline. The mayor, who has been criticized for issuing an emergency order in the protests, has pledged to renew talks with groups such as Black Lives Matter. A formal discussion could happen as early as today.

Still a Disconnect, Despite Dialogue

The group laid out specific demands, including a ban on officers using chokeholds, in a recent meeting with the city. But fellow Black Lives Matter member Lenard Wells said no matter what Fargo leaders pledge to do, it still feels as though the city is trying to control the situation, rather than work alongside the groups.

"I feel like I can walk through the city of Fargo without the police saying anything," he said, "but if I come out here and put my fists up in the air and walk with some more brothers and sisters in solidarity, then it's a problem? It's unfair."

Other BLM members in the Fargo/Moorhead area say they're fed up with being racially profiled by community members, as well as law enforcement. Disparities within the criminal-justice system recently were highlighted in an ACLU report. In North Dakota and neighboring Minnesota, it said, Black people were nearly five times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Educating an Unwelcoming Community

Kiara Jackson, president of the Black Student Association at North Dakota State University, said they also need a buy-in from all levels of the community to chip away at racial barriers. She said Black residents sometimes feel "used" by being encouraged to come to Fargo -- only to feel ignored once they arrive.

"You say that you want to welcome your people, but when the people get here, you're not making them feel welcome," she said, "and that's exactly what Fargo, North Dakota, does."

Jackson said Fargo also needs to establish more diversity in educational leadership and add more Black-owned businesses.

Those calling for action say they're also taking action themselves. Faith Dixon, who works as a day-care provider in Fargo, said her facility helps to educate young children about the history behind Black culture -- something she feels often is overlooked in school curriculum.

"When they're young, their minds are more open," she said, "so, getting them at the pre-school level really opens up their understanding of other cultures."

Any discussion in the region about eliminating institutional bias usually is met with strong resistance, said Jamaal Abegaz of the Red River Valley Democratic Socialists of America.

"Suddenly," he said, "equality becomes too expensive, or it takes too long."

Abegaz said these issues spread beyond Fargo and stretch across North Dakota. He and others with the local movement said they feel the state also is neglectful when it comes to fully acknowledging the state's Native American culture.

While they haven't held any direct discussions with Gov. Doug Burgum, some of the activists have said they have received an optimistic tone about working the office on addressing these long-standing issues.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND