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Minneapolis will create a commission to confront history of racism

The City Council passed a resolution Friday that will establish a truth and reconciliation process to address ongoing inequities among Black and Indigenous residents.

The City of Minneapolis has passed a resolution that will begin the process of documenting the city's racist history and addressing the city's ongoing inequities among residents who are Black and Indigenous. 

The resolution, which City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins introduced on Wednesday and the City Council passed on Friday, describes some of the city's racist past – from lynchings, redlining and forcing people out of their homes to build the city and a freeway – and current inequities among Black and Native Americans, which are among the worst in the country. 

The resolution also establishes a working group that will explore the creation of what's called a truth and reconciliation process. 

“Defining a more just future requires an honest and thorough understanding of our past, and that’s the process we’re undertaking,” Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement Friday. “By refusing to ignore an often painful history, we commit ourselves to creating that future. I commend Council Vice President Jenkins for her leadership in carrying this important work forward.”

Truth and reconciliation processes have happened all over the world, including in South Africa after the Apartheid and in Sierra Leone after its 11-year civil war, as a way to acknowledge what happened and start to move past systemic injustices. 

Advocates in the U.S. have also called for a national truth and reconciliation commission following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Politico reported.

“We are in some very difficult and challenging times in our city and our nation,” Jenkins said in a statement Friday. “We must tell the truth and then begin to address that truth.”

With the passing of this resolution, Minneapolis is now among the first major U.S. cities to being this process, the Minnesota Reformer said

The goal of this is to start implementing solutions to specific harms that created and perpetuate racial disparities, focusing on healing with historical Black American descendants of slavery and Native American/Indigenous communities. 

A working group, which will be led by the city's Division of Race and Equity, will lead the effort to explore the formation of a truth and reconciliation process and recommend an approach for establishing the framework for a commission, which is due to the Minneapolis City Council's Policy and Government Oversight Committee in January 2021.

The working group is tasked with researching different models of truth and reconciliation commissions and work to understand the impact the process could have on the city and the people who live there. 

The working group will consult with local and national experts in this process, community leaders and people skilled in conflict resolution. 

This resolution is the latest action from the Minneapolis City Council after it passed a resolution in July declaring racism a public health emergency in the city. With that resolution, the city committed to action steps to dedicate more resources to racial equity work.

Minneapolis' racist history

The resolution lists several wrongs that have been committed against Black and Native Americans in Minneapolis and Minnesota's history, which contributed to the wide disparities the communities experience today in terms of income, homeownership, incarceration rates, homelessness and education.

Among the things the City of Minneapolis recognizes in its resolution:

  • Indigenous nations have lived on this land since time immemorial and the land itself carries historical trauma – Dakota people were forced from their land for the building of Minneapolis, and only started returning to their native land when they were forced off their reservations in the 1950s.
  • The largest single-day mass execution in U.S. history happened in Minnesota, when 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862, meanwhile the Minnesota territory's first governor, Alexander Ramsey, declared Dakota people “must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State.”
  • The City destroyed a vibrant Black neighborhood to build Interstate 35, while African Americans who tried to buy property were redlined, destroying their communities and those who lived outside of the redlined areas were terrorized by white residents. 
  • "Racism against African Americans and American Indians" includes "historical, individual, internalized, interpersonal, institutional, systemic and structural" which continues to this day and has transformed "to ensure the concentration of material, power and resources in the hands of white-bodied individuals"
  • Black and Native Americans are overrepresented in prisons and among the homeless population, and are three times more likely to live below the poverty line than white families.

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