Hodges, Harteau talk safety in Cedar-Riverside

Participants discussed homicide, racial inequality and education opportunities.

by Nick Wicker

Public safety-minded residents filed into the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood’s Brian Coyle Center to talk with the Minneapolis mayor and police chief on Thursday evening about community attitudes toward city officials.

While Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau touted proactive police recruitment, affordable family housing and neighborhood relations initiatives, some in the crowd voiced skepticism and concerns over the city leaders’ work.

The meeting, moderated by community member Degha Shabbeleh, focused on topics of public safety, but citizen speakers raised a broader set of issues.

For example, members of the Somali American Autism Foundation said the area’s constant presence of police lights and fire trucks is harmful for the neighborhood’s autistic children.

Harteau said the city plans to continue providing its emergency crews and law enforcement officials with instructions on how to interact with autistic citizens.

Another resident from the crowd of about 150 addressed Hodges with concerns that 2008’s “Blueprint For Action” — a city-implemented strategy aimed at curbing violence — lacked Somali representation and input. The resident said the measure wasn’t curbing violence between the neighborhood’s youths.

Hodges said that the plan has its flaws and may require updating.

“While we’ve had successes, we’ve realized more clearly that there are needs specific to the East African community,” she said at the meeting.

The mayor then highlighted policies like a proposed $1 million budget for affordable housing and the continuation of the Community Service Officer program that encourages Somali recruitment to the Minneapolis Police Department. She also pointed to recent hires in the city’s communications and neighborhood relations departments.

Some attendees held signs that questioned police accountability and suggested racial profiling within the city department.

Hodges — who wore a hijab at the gathering — said at the meeting that she, too, is worried about racial inequalities in Minneapolis.

“That is what animates me when I get up in the morning, and that’s what I reflect on at night,” Hodges said.

At the meeting, Shabbeleh said the event’s two-hour duration was not enough time for the community forum, adding that she hopes the mayor and police chief return to the area soon for another community discussion.

“We need more of this. This was too short,” she said.