As the Minneapolis metropolitan area and the nation grapple with the death of St. Louis Park resident George Floyd, St. Louis Park Councilmember Nadia Mohamed reflected on her own emotional reaction.
“I know that we’ve been sad, angry and hopeless, and for me it’s exactly in that order – it’s always been that order,” Mohamed said toward the end of a virtual June 1 council meeting. “This week has amplified those emotions, even more than usual.”
She discussed the trauma that black Americans face that has continued for generations. As a Somali American immigrant, Mohamed said, “I’ve only been here for 13 years. I’ve only known what it means to be black for 13 years.”
People protesting the death of George Floyd are seeking justice, she said, turning the discussion to what St. Louis Park leaders are doing to provide justice in their community.
She told council members and city staff on the call, “I want us to take this time to kind of reflect on how we carry on our business here in St. Louis Park because all of us – every single person on this call – has some sort of influence, some sort of power and makes decisions that affect everybody.”
She added that city leaders cannot simply respond by saying, “We don’t kill black people here.”
Mohamed recalled being told that the main job of council members is to provide safe water, roads and sewage treatment.
However, she said, “It should not be striving for the basics.”
The job description for council members or police officers may not specifically include racial equity, but she said, “These are things that we will ourselves to do so because we feel it’s the right thing to do.”
While some people’s instincts may be mainly to protect their immediate family members or neighbors, Mohamed said, “I really want us to extend that instinct to anyone that we meet and anyone that we’re serving.”
While she said she has felt hopeless in trying to figure out how she can change Minneapolis – the city in which Floyd died while police pinned his neck for nearly 9 minutes – Mohamed said she realized she has influence in her own city. City leaders need to reflect on unintentional actions that create pain, she indicated.
“Unintended consequences hurt just the same, damage just the same,” she said.
St. Louis Park Racial Equity Manager Alicia Sojourner has been conducting meetings with city staff members to discuss the situation, said City Manager Tom Harmening, who noted some staff members live near the location of Floyd’s death. About 60 employees participated in a listening session. City staff identified resources available and advice “on how to get through difficult times like this,” Harmening said.
Mayor Jake Spano said, “We’re looking out for not just our residents right now but also our staff who are in the midst of all of this.”
Councilmember Rachel Harris noted she reached out to young men in her ward who are African American.
“One of them wrote back to me and shared that he still feels scared driving while black, and it broke my heart,” Harris said.
Spano said he has been fielding many questions about the city’s work relating to racial equity.
“We’ve got a long ways to go, but yes, we have been working on this,” he said.
The city’s racial equity statement says, “If the practices, programs and services of the city are not fair, inclusive and equitable to all, the potential of the community and those it serves is diminished. From an elected, appointed and staffing perspective, our organization does not mirror the community. We will strive for racial equity by building understanding of the issues in our organization and intentionally and proactively take measures that break down barriers to a just and inclusive community.”
With Sojourner’s assistance, the council crafted a statement responding to Floyd’s death that says, “The St. Louis Park City Council extends its condolences to the family, friends and neighbors of St. Louis Park resident George Floyd, who died Monday, May 25, in Minneapolis in an encounter with the Minneapolis Police Department. We will be watching carefully in the coming days as further steps are taken to bring those involved in Mr. Floyd’s death to justice. We ask all St. Louis Park residents to take this time to listen to one another and to consider thoughtfully how we can continue to further racial equity and inclusion to help ensure horrible incidents like this never happen again. In the meantime, to our black community and all communities of color, we want you to know we are here. We hear you. We are listening.”
Details of the city’s racial equity efforts are detailed online at stlouispark.org/our-city/race-equity.