Minneapolis in retreat on civil rights

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Mayor R.T. Rybak addressed Minneapolis Tuesday morning on “Conversations with Al McFarlane” which broadcast live from the Minneapolis Urban League at Plymouth and Penn Avenues in North Minneapolis.

“I wanted to clarify issues around my budget recommendations for the Civil Rights Department,” Rybak told a crowd assembled for the live radio broadcast on KFAI 90.3FM and online at www.kfai.org.

But the Rev. Randolph Staten, co-chair of the Coalition of Black Churches/African American Leadership Summit, and Tyrone Terrill, former director of St. Paul’s Human Rights Department, warned the mayor and the public that dismantling, disabling, or derailing the department in any way would have dire consequences for Black people and other people of color in Minneapolis.

“We feel Minneapolis and Minnesota governments are in retreat in protecting the civil and human rights of citizens,” Staten said. “But this is the land of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. Minnesotans have fought hard and long to keep civil and human rights at the top of the agenda. Rather than transfer complaint investigations to the state Human Rights Department, which is also facing dire budget problems and which has lost the trust of the people, Minneapolis should maintain and strengthen its commitment and capacity to enforce and protect civil and human rights.”

Staten said Rybak should not act as though Minneapolis has no problems in the civil rights area. He said African American policemen in Minneapolis have filed lawsuits against their employer, the city, alleging discrimination based on race. He said the city still remains under a court order regarding police civilian review required by a Justice Department ordered mediation.

He said contract compliance for construction projects that require hiring of minority workers and use of minority contractors go unchallenged and unenforced, meaning that companies that discriminated against minorities in city-awarded contracts of $2 million, get rewarded with more contracts worth $10 million or more.

Staten cited formal reports by University of Minnesota researchers who concluded “excessive noncompliance, failure to implement consequences, lack or clarity and resources to operate a capacity” convey a lack of sincerity and absence of a commitment by the city of Minneapolis to fulfill the mandate prescribed in the Minneapolis Civil Rights ordinance.

Staten called on the mayor to abandoned recommendations to restructure the department by shifting some of its functions to the State Human Rights Department, an agency that is beleaguered, underfunded and burdened by historic inability to adequately serve the residents of Minnesota.

“To burden the State Human Rights Department with the caseload of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department would sink the state agency further in a spiral of dysfunction precipitated by doubling caseloads if Minneapolis ceases to protect the civil rights of Minneapolis residents,” Terrill said.

Rybak called the Civil Rights Department an important part of the City that works to ensure fair treatment for all the residents and visitors of Minneapolis. He said Minneapolis has a strong history of providing justice and equality and he said Minneapolis “will not abdicate that role for as long as I am Mayor.”

However, Rybak said, every city department will be undergoing a significant reduction in order to maintain a balanced budget.

Cutting everything in the Civil Rights Department equally would mean that everything would be underfunded and all parts of the department would be ineffective, he said.

The Civil Rights Department’s three programs are the Civilian Review Authority, Contract Compliance and Complaint Investigation.

Complaint investigation is also done by the State. Rybak said if forced to choose which services to continue, it should be those not provided by the state.

But critics called that analysis classic double talk often used by politicians to derail and dismantle programs and protections affecting Black people.

“The the State has an accounting department,” Staten said. “Why not transfer all accounting and administrative services to the State Department of Administration to save money and avoid duplication of services.

“What about the Minneapolis Health Department? What about Public Safety functions provided by the City and by the State?” Staten said Black people and people of conscience must demand that protecting the civil and human rights of the residents gain higher priority, particularly in the unsettling economic environment that is creating challenges for city and state budgets.

“Gov. Pawlenty has proposed that the State Human Right Department could take over complaint investigation and we should actively explore that transfer option, which is why I made that proposal,” Rybak said.

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