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From protest to politics: Killings of unarmed Black men has ignited a political movement in Minnesota

By Ingrid Ferlo –

Hip-hop artist OSP (left) and 5th Ward candidate Raeisha Williams (center) discuss politics and policing with Al McFarlane during a recent taping of “Conversations with Al McFarlane.” The episode airs on radio at KFAI 90.3 FM and on television on SPNN (St. Paul) and MTN (Minneapolis). SPNN

Hip-hop artist OSP (left) and 5th Ward candidate Raeisha Williams (center) discuss politics and policing with Al McFarlane during a recent taping of “Conversations with Al McFarlane.” The episode airs on radio at KFAI 90.3 FM and on television on SPNN (St. Paul) and MTN (Minneapolis). SPNN

“Names such as Jamar Clark and Philando Castile have risen to celebrity status around the country and the world, (bringing attention to) police brutality and systemic injustice and the danger that Black men face.”

Those were the words of Al McFarlane, host of “Conversations with Al McFarlane,” which centered around issues of police, public safety and the dynamics of police and community interaction in Black communities. McFarlane was joined on the panel by Raeisha Williams, candidate for Minneapolis City Council 5th Ward, Jeremiah Ellison, also a candidate for Minneapolis City Council 5th Ward, musician and youth mentor Robert “OSP” French and chief inclusion officer for the state, James Burroughs.

French said the death of Castile brought about a movement that was being constructed through the endurance of decades of violent encounters between African-Americans and the police. He started the conversation naming various men that had found their untimely death at police hands.

“This is nothing new, this is an old page in the book,” said French, who said the historical implication between African-Americans and police brutality goes back to slavery when force was the mechanism used to keep slavery in place. He said the overseer mentality is still ingrained in police departments throughout the United States.

Williams was one of the main organizers in the 2015 occupation of the Minneapolis Police Department Fourth Precinct following the homicide of Clark at the hands of two Minneapolis officers. She said that it was an unplanned youth moment with a strong call to action by the elders of the community. Williams also was a leader in the protests and occupation of Gov. Mark Dayton’s home following the killing of Castile in July of 2016.

Ellison spoke about the impact Castile’s shooting had on him. Vocal and engaged in the Clark protests, he said he said the killing of Castile inspired him to become a leader in politics.

The movement was not without its dangers. Williams said she and other organizers were personally attacked, receiving death threats at home and on social media.

Ellison expressed that one of the most important consequences of the movement was propelling people who never had political interest into action. He said he saw people from different communities inspired that a change was possible. He said his focus now is finding ways to use policy to mobilize change so that the movement does not get caught into a crisis and response circle.

Burroughs said the movement following the killings of Clark and Castile brought about noticeable, measurable and permanent changes.

“I’m very proud of our community and those impacted by our community” said Burroughs .

According to Burroughs the Black Lives Matter movement fostered a conversation at the governor’s office on policy and legislation that can be used to prevent violent encounters between police and African-American community members. He said the focus now is on prevention and addressing the roots of the problem. He said training in mental health and defusing situations is going on at various levels of law enforcement as a result.

“For a long time no charges were being brought,” said Burroughs of past police shootings.

Williams believes there is a cathartic change that the African-American community underwent during the movement. She said organizers will also benefit from lessons learned during the movement on how to reconcile different voices from the young and elder members of the community and maintain fusion during dissent.

Ellison’s focus on prevention is by focusing on empowering African-Americans in areas that will help them have a sustainable living. He said that to prevent violence, the community needs to have gainful employment, housing and economic development that keep them moving forward.

“Conversations with Al McFarlane” airs on KFAI 90.3 FM on Tuesdays at 9 a.m., St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) on Tuesday at 9 p.m. and on MTN (channel 16 in Minneapolis) on Friday at 9 p.m.

May 1, 2017
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