What does “racial healing” look like? Minneapolis leaders need more clarity

Here’s the pattern: Another tragic injustice happens against a black or brown body. People take to the streets. Law enforcement cracks down. Civic leaders call for “racial healing.”

When I read “racial healing,” I am reminded of the powerful way Christine McCleave defined it in her recent blog Healing in these Traumatic Times. McCleave is an enrolled citizen of Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation, CEO for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, and a member of the city of Minneapolis’ recently formed Truth and Reconciliation Workgroup.

Healing requires “that we acknowledge the harm, the injustices, and what those who have benefited from the injustice have gained,” she writes. But healing also requires “that we transform the systems of inequity and oppression into systems of equity and liberation AND abide by the promise to do no further harm.

The City of Minneapolis has pledged more than $10.5 million to support “racial healing” in the 38th & Chicago area, also known as George Floyd Square.

It doesn’t appear city leaders have a clear understanding of what “racial healing” means.

George Floyd Square.

The city of Minneapolis referenced its $10.5 million racial healing plan at a Feb. 12 news conference, where city leaders reiterated their intention to reopen George Floyd Square after the Derek Chauvin trial.

Residents have kept the intersection closed since Floyd’s May 25 murder. Reopening the Square would be controversial. The loose-knit group of area residents issued a Justice Resolution last August with 24 demands they say need to be met before the Square reopens.

Neal Baxter, a George Floyd Square volunteer, got curious about how the city planned to spend the $10.5 million for racial healing. He got the spending breakdown from his councilmember:

  • $4.75 million to reconstruct the 38th and Chicago intersection for planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) improvements
  • $5.5 million for the Commercial Property Redevelopment Fund for the area.
  • $300,000 to work towards reconciliation, economic inclusion, and transformational racial healing (split with the neighborhood near 27th Avenue South and East Lake Street that experienced heavy damage during the uprising over Floyd’s death.)

While Baxter volunteers at the Square, he speaks for himself, not in any neighborhood capacity. He said with the exception of the $300,000, the proposal doesn’t seem to reflect racial healing.

BRT as racial healing? Photo: Metro Transit

Baxter, who is white, lives in the Bancroft neighborhood and works at the Uptown Lunds. In good weather, he walks through the Square every day.

Baxter previously served on the city’s capital planning committee and now serves on the Pedestrian Committee. He knows the history of the city’s BRT plans and the D-Line. (It will run from Brooklyn Center to the Mall of America, passing through 38th and Chicago. It will replace the No. 5 bus.)

The city committed to the D-Line about five years ago, well before Floyd’s murder, Baxter said. The $4.75 million “is clearly old money,” money the city was going to spend anyway.

The city is pursuing the D-Line for two reasons, neither of which are racial justice, he said. The D-Line is supposed to address downtown congestion and reduce air pollution.

“Being a bus rider, I’d say that’s an equity issue more than a healing issue,” he said of the $4.75 million. “I don’t know where the healing comes in.”

Neal Baxter

The biggest chunk of money in the city’s racial healing package is $5.5 million for a Commercial Property Redevelopment Fund.

“I look at it as a commercial thing,” Baxter said. “It has nothing to do with healing.”

The city is dictating the terms of racial healing instead of engaging the neighborhood in conversation about how they view racial healing. That kind of neighborhood conversation would be messy, messy work. There wouldn’t be consensus about what racial healing is. People always have different opinions. Still, conversations are a key part of racial healing, letting people speak their truth and be heard.

The city proposal also included $300,000 to work towards “reconciliation, economic inclusion, and transformational racial healing.”

That’s more on target, but it’s a small amount of money split between two neighborhoods.

At the Feb. 12 news conference announcing plans to reopen the Square, City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said: “These measures are intended to maintain public safety as we continue to address the necessary goals for justice and healing from trauma.”

Jenkins has not responded to interview requests to explain how the city’s $10.5 million proposal promotes racial healing. I will print her response if and when I get it.

From the outside, this package looks like something thrown together to try to make the city’s response look more substantial than it is. People see through that.

At the same time the city says its investing in racial healing, it and the state of Minnesota have created a massive military-style response to the Derek Chauvin trial.

Anticipating unrest, the city and Hennepin County plan to spend $1 million just for barricades, fences and prison-style barbed wire. The city will increase the number of officers and expects the support of an estimated 2,000 Minnesota National Guard members.

The city is preparing to repeat the same old pattern: The system fails to hold officers accountable, civil unrest, a law enforcement crackdown, then more calls for “racial healing.”

This isn’t working. We need something bigger.

The $10.5 million in bus stops and building rehab won’t stop the cries for systemic change in policing and the economy.

The city’s Truth and Reconciliation Workgroup has a lot of work to do.

Full disclosure: Curtiss DeYoung and Jim Bear Jacobs Jacobs are both members of the Workgroup. Curtiss DeYoung is the CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches, which is home to Healing Minnesota Stories. Jacobs is the founder of Healing Minnesota Stories and the Council’s Director of Racial Justice.

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