comments from Ward 1 Councilmember Margaret Rog
Dear residents of Ward 1 and beyond,
The murder of St. Louis Park resident George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis last month was a horrific crime for which justice must be served. I extend my deepest condolences to all who mourn his loss, and the loss of so many other black lives.
This terrible event in Minneapolis is generating questions from St. Louis Park residents about policing and racial equity in our own community. Many residents are eager to know where we stand on these critical issues.
I don’t have all the answers, of course – not even close. But given the deep desire of many residents who love this community to understand and to engage, I’ve crafted some responses. These responses are from my perspective, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of other council members.
How do we approach policing in SLP?
The St. Louis Park Police Department utilizes a community-oriented policing model, which focuses on “building partnerships in the community to solve problems and quality of life issues.” Community-oriented policing has a long history in the U.S. and has both supporters and detractors in terms of its value and effectiveness. From what I know today, this approach has engendered positive relationships with a broad range of people and organizations across our community. Our PD also benefits from an active Police Multicultural Advisory Committee that advises on how to best serve all people who live, work, or travel within SLP.
In a four-part presentation to City Council in 2017, SLP Police Chief Mike Harcey provided information on recruitment, hiring, and training of police officers, as well as department policies and procedures regarding biased policing, use of force, and other topics. You can view slides from those presentations here.
I have confidence in the culture and training of the SLP PD. I also believe, as do others, that we can improve. In coming days, city staff will be providing more information on our policing model and practices and sharing it via our city website and social media channels. To receive these communications via email or text, sign up here.
What are we doing, as a city, to promote racial equity and inclusion?
A default response to this question might be, “We hired a racial equity manager.” And it’s true that we did, in 2018, hire an experienced professional to guide us toward our goal of greater equity and inclusion in SLP. But her work is our work – city staff, elected officials, and residents are the ones who will perpetuate or disrupt the status quo of racial disparities that have shaped what our community looks and feels like today.
Our neighborhoods, for example, are part of this legacy. Did you know that only one percent of owner-occupied homes in SLP are owned by black residents, while 95% are owned by white residents? Homeownership allows people to build wealth and equity for themselves and their children, among other benefits. This disparity in homeownership today is undeniably correlated with historic policies and practices created to keep people of color out of communities like St. Louis Park, particularly certain neighborhoods.
It’s important for white people to understand this history better in order to become actively anti-racist. There are many resources on anti-racism out there; here’s one list.
St. Louis Park’s racial equity manager has been working with city staff and council to help us understand our own racial bias as leaders and decision makers. Racial equity staff are also working with community members to elevate all voices in the community and in decision-making processes. There are numerous efforts underway in our school district as well, including a project called HOPE Speaks at Peter Hobart Elementary here in Ward 1.
Listening and learning are critical actions to advance racial equity in our community and society. If you are a white person, please learn about and talk with your friends and family about race.
A straightforward way to support historically disenfranchised communities is to patronize businesses owned by people of color and indigenous people (POCI). Here’s a list of POCI-owned businesses in St. Louis Park and here’s a list of black-owned restaurants in the Twin Cities.
On a related note, if you haven't already, I encourage you to check out this mural being installed at 3540 Dakota Ave. S. (the former Bikemasters building) facing Hwy 100 and the future SLWRT line in the Historic Walker Lake District. Designed by GoodSpace Murals with input from the community, the mural celebrates historic buildings, people, and industries in SLP and includes symbols of hope for the future. Among the residents depicted are Woodfin E. Lewis and B. Robert Lewis, African American men who moved to St. Louis Park in the 1950s and 60s, respectively. Woodfin Lewis was a nuclear physicist and Honeywell employee who, soon after moving here with his family, was asked to leave the city because of his race, and did.
I’ll be putting out another update next weekend with information on the status of engineering projects, facility openings, policy discussions, and other city-related business.
In the meantime, be well, stay safe, and stay in touch.
I send out a monthly summary of city-related news to Ward 1 residents and interested others, posted here. If you’d like to receive it via email, let me know here.