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Leaders unveil united Black legislative agenda

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Jeff Hassan, minnpost.com

Leaders from across the Twin Cities Black community unveiled a united Black legislative agenda to address Minnesota’s racial disparities.

“We are at a pivotal moment in this state, both with some of the largest racial disparities in the country, and in a movement when Black people from communities across the state are demanding not only equal treatment but equal opportunity and equal investment,” said Anthony Newby, executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. “The legislature had three priorities starting out this session – Real ID, Iron Range unemployment, and racial disparities. The first two have been addressed. Today, organizations from across the Black community have come together in an unprecedented way to present the united Black legislative agenda in a pragmatic proposal to improve the quality of life for Black Minnesotans.”

The three core priorities outlined in the group’s agenda are economic justice, criminal justice and Black immigrant justice.

“For decades, economic priority has been given to many other communities and regions of the state,’ said Jeff Hassan, executive director of the African American Leadership Forum. “We can no longer afford to allow the crisis of chronic unemployment and lack of access to capital in Black communities to continue. It must change. This agenda will help put us on a path of more inclusive and just Minnesota for its Black residents.”

Organizers with Black Lives Matter and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change spoke of the need for a ban on private prisons, a ban on grand juries for police-involved criminal proceedings, sentencing reform and voting rights restoration.

“Minnesota has one of the highest rates of people under correctional control in the country. It’s time to end Minnesota’s alarming trend of criminalization of Black people,” said Asha Long, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. “Our communities need economic investment and opportunity, not prisons. We need policies that will hold the police accountable, not allow them to escape responsibility. This agenda will allow us to begin investing in economic opportunity for Black communities, restore voting rights to those with a previous criminal history, and begin to address police accountability.”

“To many, the Somali and East African community are seen as threats, problems, or communities that don’t share the values of Minnesotans. This is far from true,” said Mohamed Farah of the Somali Community of Minnesota. “The Somali and East African community aspires for the things all Minnesotans aspire to – economic opportunity for themselves and their kids, safety in knowing they can go to dinner at a restaurant without fear of being harassed or assaulted, and security in old age. This package helps ensure that the immigrant Black community here in Minnesota has equal access to all that Minnesota has to offer.”

Leaders stressed that the list did not claim to represent every need of the Black community saying education, housing, environmental justice and many other issues are also important.

“This is not a definitive list of what the Black community needs, but a starting point for the 2016 legislative session,” said Newby.

Numerous supportive legislators were also in attendance, including Minnesota’s three Black state legislators, Sen. Jeff Hayden, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, and Rep. Rena Moran. Following the April 6 press conference, legislators and community members joined a discussion to talk about legislative priorities. More than a dozen legislators joined the discussion including House DFL Leader Paul Thissen.

“Many Minnesotans came to the legislature to raise up their voices in unison to demand that their legislature take action this session to address the unacceptable racial disparities in our state. We must listen. And more importantly, we must act,” said Thissen. “It’s not enough to merely acknowledge that racial disparities in our state are a problem. We must follow through with real solutions that create opportunity and economic security for Minnesotans of color who are being squeezed in an unbalanced economy that favors the wealthy few. With the clock ticking on the 2016 session, we call on the House Republican Majority to get serious and get moving on this vitally important priority for Minnesotan’s future.”

Organizations that co-created the legislative agenda include African American Leadership Forum, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, Council of Minnesotans of African Heritage, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Somali Community of Minnesota, and the Minneapolis Urban League.

April 11, 2016
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