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‘Reverend, you can lean on me’

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen


When Lake St. burned, Father Joe Gillespie gathered each night with others at the Church of St. Albert the Great in Longfellow. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Father Joe Gillespie’s first pastoral ministry was at Cook County Hospital in 1968. He moved from Minneapolis to Chicago, and started his new job with energy and enthusiasm. Then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, followed by violent anti-Vietnam War protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention. Chicago suddenly turned into a war zone.
When Lake Street burned in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Father Joe said, “Those memories of Chicago came pouring back.” He felt a sense of post-traumatic stress and abandonment, saying, “We had no police, fire department, or mail service; even the paper boy couldn’t come here.”
But Father Joe knew he had to stick around. Despite invitations from nephews in Plymouth and church administrators in St. Paul to take shelter with them, Father Joe didn’t go looking for a way out. The Church of St. Albert the Great in Longfellow is his home.
Instead, he gathered with neighbors and parishioners on the church grounds each night. Together they watched the Walgreen’s drugstore at the end of the block go up in pentecostal flames. Three dozen residents from Volunteers of America slept on the basement floor of the church during the curfew, fearing that their Lake St. residence would burn to the ground.
Father Joe walked up and down Lake St. every day during the week of unrest. Usually he walked alone, remembering places his family had frequented when he was a kid growing up in the neighborhood. His eyes welled with tears outside the ruins of the Town Talk Diner, where he had gone many times with his father. He could almost see himself and his three siblings sitting high up on stools, dangling their legs and sharing a single pancake.
Father Joe attended the Ecumenical Clergy March on June 2 with hundreds of other faith leaders, and walked the neighborhood streets once more. When the march ended at the George Floyd Memorial site, everyone was asked to kneel in silence. Father Joe dropped to one knee, but found he couldn’t stand up again unassisted. An African American woman nearby said, “Reverend, you can lean on me,” and helped him to his feet. That’s the way he sees it now. This is a time to lean in, lean on, and help each other stand strong.
The Church of St. Albert the Great recently reopened for services on Pentecost (the seventh Sunday after Easter) at half capacity. Father Joe explained, “Historically the early Christians had to celebrate in secret, just a few at a time. They celebrated in the catacombs so they wouldn’t be seen. They celebrated during the plagues. They just kept going. I guess you could say that we’re right on target.”

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‘We just want our lives back’

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

With three college degrees, Bunni ended up broke and homeless last December. She hopes to get permanent housing in September. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Bunni (last name withheld on request) has lived in Minneapolis since 2007. She moved here for college, and ended up with three degrees in art, business, and law enforcement.
Last December, she also ended up broke and homeless. There was nowhere for her to live, so she parked her van across from Powderhorn Park with her dog and called it home. From December to March, it was cold but quiet.
In the aftermath of the uprising, Powderhorn Park began to fill up fast. Eventually a group of Native American women decided to leave the park for safety reasons. They moved to a new encampment in the Longfellow neighborhood just for women, and she went with them. Bunni was formerly married to a Native American man. Of his community she said, “Once you’re welcomed in, you’re part of the family. We stick together in the native community. We share our last. We give until it hurts.”
There have been major problems in the start-up phase of the Longfellow encampment. Four ill-intentioned men, who self-identified as protectors of the women, were evicted by a coalition of encampment residents and Native American leaders on July 13. Almost 100 people descended on the encampment that night and literally shouted the four men out.
In the eight days since the encampment began, the residents find themselves starting over again – supposedly with a coalition of women leaders this time.
One of the greatest indignities about being homeless is the sheer visibility of it. Anyone passing by can see who lives there, and many stop to take pictures. Bunni said, “Not all homeless people are bad people, probably most of us aren’t. We just want our lives back. We’ve all had jobs, and lost them. We’ve all had homes, and lost them. Many of us have had children, and lost them.”
On the day of this interview, Bunni had just secured affordable, permanent housing which, unfortunately, wouldn’t become available until September. She said, “In addition to a roof over my head, I’m hoping for safety, recovery, and healing. I could really use your prayers.”

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1,000 MILES

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Terry Willis completes march from Alabama to George Floyd Square

Terry Willis, at center wearing a white and black bandana, is surrounded by throngs of supporters and media as he walks the last block of his historic 1,000-mile march from Alabama to the site where George Floyd was killed. (Photo by Jill Boogren)

On July 12, 2020, Terry Willis completed his 1,000-mile march from Huntsville, Alabama, to his destination in Minneapolis, 38th St. and Chicago Ave. S., where George Floyd was killed by police. As he arrived, the growing crowd was jubilant, chanting “Terry, Terry” and “One man, two feet,” Willis’ slogan for his journey. A trumpeter played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as an emotional Willis paid quiet tribute to Floyd beneath a canopy decorated with flowers that marks the site of his death. Willis began the trek on June 2, marching for “Change, Justice and Equality.” As he told reporters just before walking the final leg from the Mall of America that morning, “It’s for all of us to be seen as equals. That’s it. All of us to be seen as equals. That’s it. It’s so simple. So simple.” Mayor Jacob Frey issued an official proclamation naming July 12, 2020 Terry Willis Day.

On July 12, Terry Willis (wearing white headband) completed his 1,000-mile march from Huntsville, Ala., to his destination in Minneapolis – 38th St. and Chicago Ave. S., – where George Floyd was killed by police. As Willis arrived, the growing crowd was jubilant, chanting “Terry, Terry” and “One man, two feet,” Willis’ slogan for his journey. A trumpeter played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as an emotional Willis paid quiet tribute to Floyd beneath a canopy decorated with flowers that marks the site of his death. Willis began the trek on June 2, marching for “Change, Justice and Equality.” As he told reporters just before walking the final leg from the Mall of America that morning, “It’s for all of us to be seen as equals. That’s it. All of us to be seen as equals. That’s it. It’s so simple. So simple.” Mayor Jacob Frey issued an official proclamation naming July 12, 2020 Terry Willis Day. ~ by Jill Boogren

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Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

SLRJ volunteers and staff: (left to right) Lisa Dejoras, Deb Reierson,Michele Braley, Rebecca Miller, Aaron Powell, Marisa Helms, and Juan Sosa.

Michele Braley has been wrestling with the issue of justice for a long time.
She’s part of the Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice (SLRJ) group formed 18 years ago when residents of the two neighborhoods came together to explore how they could grow restorative justice practices in their neighborhoods.
“The creation of SLRJ is a story of grassroots volunteer engagement that I hope still inspires the community today. There were several earlier initiatives including a long-running peacemaking circle in Seward,” said Braley.
“After many conversations and much planning SLRJ received its first referral in 2005 for an incident of graffiti on a business in Seward.”
The Messenger asked Braley to explain what restorative justice is and how it works.

What is “restorative justice”?
Braley: While many people know restorative justice through the modern movement it is not a new idea. Restorative justice has its roots in Indigenous teachings. One of these influences, as I understand it, is the idea that harm between individuals is a breaking of relationships that requires the community’s assistance to repair. Another is that there is no one universal truth – the goal of restorative justice is not to respond to one “truth” (i.e. what law was broken) but to understand the harm caused, from each person’s perspective, and to work together to make a plan to repair the harm.
Another way to describe restorative justice is in comparison to the retributive system, the basis for our legal system. The retributive approach asks, “What law was broken?”, “Who did it?” and “What punishment do they deserve?”. Restorative justice asks, “What harm was caused?” and “What needs to happen to repair the harm or make things better?”. Restorative justice includes the community, not just the person harmed and the person who did the harm, in exploring how harm was caused and in solutions to make it better.
The murder of George Floyd has increased the urgency to go beyond restorative justice which responds to individual harms and look to transformative justice which emphasizes transforming the systems that contributed to the harm. An idea for transformative justice that is resonating with me as I think about the mission of SLRJ is for Hennepin County to decriminalize youthful behavior. We know from brain development research that making bad decisions is part of the normal journey from childhood to adulthood. Currently, children as young as 10 years old can be cited for breaking laws including shoplifting, trespassing, and property damage. What if we treated the behavior as a learning opportunity instead of a crime? Another example comes from New Zealand where youth who break the law are referred to restorative justice first, and then a small number of youth are transferred to the legal system. In Hennepin County the process is reversed – youth are entered into the legal system first, and then a few youth are determined to be a better fit for restorative justice.

How do you help bring about restorative justice?
We primarily work with youth referred by the Minneapolis Police Department and the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. The youth are given the opportunity to participate in a restorative justice process instead of having their citation referred to the juvenile justice system. We also work to build a more restorative culture through training and consultation for organizations that are re-thinking their policies around discipline.
We have worked with hundreds of youth cited for incidents ranging from small thefts to property damage in the tens of thousands of dollars. While the process is tailored to each situation there are standard elements. We meet individually with both the person who did the harm and the person who was harmed. Then, we bring everyone together, including supporters, community members and our trained facilitators, for the restorative conference. The conversation focuses on what happened, how did it cause harm, and the creation of a plan to “make things right.” Since makings things right also means not doing it again, plans to repair the harm might include activities such as enrolling in summer school, doing a job search, and doing career or college preparations.
Unfortunately, restorative justice has limits in making things right in a legal system that does not treat people equitably. In Hennepin County we have huge racial disparities in the juvenile legal system. While youth of all backgrounds break the law at similar rates, black and brown youth are disproportionately given a citation. While it’s preferred for youth to get involved in restorative justice instead of the legal system, as a community we need to commit to anti-racism and transformative justice to ensure that all people are treated equitably when they break the law.

Is this something done along with police or in place of police and the judicial system?
While most of our referrals have come through police citations – it’s important for the community to know that we do not need a citation to do a restorative process. Over the years we have received direct requests to help neighbors resolve incidents including graffiti, theft, property damage and assault. The person harmed did not believe a police citation would lead to a positive outcome for them or anyone involved. What they wanted was to speak directly to the person that harmed them.

How are you adjusting things in response to COVID-19, George Floyd’s murder and the loss of your building?
In mid-March we shifted to working from home. We are doing restorative justice processes through video technology and are continuing to respond to requests for virtual training and consultation about restorative justice. Like everyone, SLRJ is trying to make the best of a tough situation by continuing to serve youth and the community as best we can.
After 14 years of sharing an office with Seward Neighborhood Group, just over one year ago SLRJ moved into its own office and became an independent non-profit. Our new office was in the Coliseum building at Lake and 27th Avenue, which experienced substantial damage during the unrest.
We salvaged almost all of our furniture and program supplies, which are in storage as we work from home for the foreseeable future. Of course it was devastating to lose our first independent office – which was a reflection of the hard work and vision of everyone who helped grow SLRJ into a non-profit. On the other hand, the loss of our office forces us to reflect, with the rest of Minneapolis, on the ways our program and approach have not done enough to move our city towards equity for everyone.
When I went to my office to empty it out, I spent time reading the graffiti on the sides of the building. One image stays with me, “You didn’t like silence. Are we loud enough?” While we could dwell on the loss of our office and debate about who did the damage, I think it’s more productive to move forward with a commitment to deep listening and to deeper examination of how RJ and SLRJ can be part of moving our city towards greater equity.

How can people get involved?
Unfortunately, we are not currently offering any volunteer training. I anticipate there will be future opportunities for the community to engage with our program and vision. In the meantime, people can tell the City Council that they want restorative justice and Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice to be part of the solution to relying less on police. You can follow us on Facebook or drop me an email ( so I can add you to the list of people who receive program announcements. Individual donations are a large part of our budget. Currently we need to rely even more on individual donations as activities that normally generate income for us, such as trainings and presentations, are postponed.
SLRJ was created by this community and the future of the program will be shaped by this community’s desires and needs. Eighteen years ago SLRJ was a radical program. Now, restorative justice and the idea of helping youth in a community process instead of in court have become almost universally accepted. It’s time for the community to make SLRJ radical again. Maybe it’s time for Seward Longfellow Transformative Justice and a commitment from our community to change the legal system into one that actually brings justice for all.

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You don’t have to leave to seek help

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Local and national staff, along with Carmen Yulín Cruz (mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico), and Teresa Rodriguez, from Univision, who served as the emcee of Casa de Esperanza’s 35th Anniversary Gala, Adelante Esperanza in May 2018.

Casa de Esperanza offers hope, resources to help families live free of violence

Need someone to walk with you as you get out of domestic violence? That’s what Casa de Esperanza offers women, children and men.
It’s hard to nail down exactly what the Midway non-profit Casa Esperanza does because they do a little bit of everything.
Teresa Burns currently manages the Casa de Esperanza shelter, and worked as an advocate before that. “I have done everything from accompany a mom for her ultrasound to registering kids for school,” she observed.
Domestic abuse overlaps with every aspect of life, she pointed out, including physical health, safety, mental health, public benefits, education, criminal court, housing, and more. So Casa de Esperanza does too.
“Domestic violence isn’t an isolated topic. It impacts someone’s entire life. So our advocacy matches that,” said Burns.
“I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be part of an organization that has a dedicated group of advocates and other staff that give their all, each and every day. We believe community is the answer to ending domestic violence. We must all work together to make that happen,” stated Casa de Esperanza CEO Patti Tototzintle.

Rights and options
Casa de Esperanza offers Minnesota’s only 24-hour bilingual domestic violence helpline: 651-772-1611. Staff conduct an intake over the phone to help figure out what assistance is needed. In-person meetings are done at a location the caller identifies as comfortable and easy to access, observed Burns. Sometimes that is in their own house or that of a friend. Sometimes it is at a coffee shop that offers some privacy.
“The role of the advocate is to inform and to advocate,” explained Burns. The advocate gives information on options, and helps think through pros and cons. The advocate shares resources and encouragement. “Once a decision is made, our job is to help,” added Burns.
“Big picture, we make sure someone is aware of their rights and knows what their options are.”
Advocates attend order for protection hearings, accompany people to appointments, and help them navigate the various systems out there.
Staff work within the Hennepin County Domestic Abuse Service Center in the basement of the government center in downtown Minneapolis, and at the Bridges to Safety office at St. Paul City Hall.
Advocates help fill out and get copies of police reports, and offer walk-in hours at the Midtown Safety Center, 2949 Chicago Ave. across from the Global Market. (This office was damaged in the Uprising after George Floyd’s death.) They also collaborate with the Mexican consulate, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and the Tubman Center. They have staff at various high schools, including El Collegio (4137 Bloomington Ave.) and Longfellow High School in Minneapolis, and Agape High School in St. Paul.
Staff operate El Refugio, a 12-person shelter in St. Paul that is open to anyone in the state. While it is one of the smallest shelters in the state, it is part of the Day One network of service providers in Minnesota. They serve about 35 families each year in the shelter, and about 300 families overall through their programs.
Formed in 1982, Casa de Esperanza (or House of Hope) is recognized as the largest, most respected Latina organization in the country focused on ending gender-based violence and is increasing its capacity to respond to sexual assault and human trafficking. Through the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities, they offer training and technical assistance across the country; advance public policy initiatives; and lead community-based research on the intersections of domestic violence and Latina realities.
Casa de Esperanza staff work with clients to identify goals. They base their work on the belief that each person is the expert on their own situation. “I don’t know this person that is using abuse against you. You know this person. I’m here to talk through it with you,” said Burns.

COVID-19 effects
During the Stay at Home/Stay Safe order, phone calls have doubled, but most people are staying put for now. Domestic violence programs across the state are expecting an influx of calls after the order ends and people go back to work. They know they’re not hearing from people who are isolated, and don’t have the opportunity to make safe calls.
Calling for help is one of the things that sparks violence, Burns pointed out, and leaving is one of the most dangerous times for a survivor and children.
Some are using COVID-19 as a threat against their victims, which includes refusing to exchange children, and exposing others to the virus. Some threaten that if a call for help is made, they’ll say they have coronavirus so that no one will come assist the survivor.
If you’re experiencing physical abuse or property damage, Burns encourages you to take a photo and send it to a safe location such as a Google drive or a friend, and then delete it from your phone.
Police reports can be filed after the fact, and having evidence of scratches, bruising or damage can be part of that.
They can also be used when filing an order for protection (OFP), used when there is a romantic relationship past or present, the parties live together, or share children together. Another option is to file a harassment order, which has broader criteria than an OFP, or a No Abuse order.
Burns stressed that even with the Stay at Home/Stay Safe order, people can still seek shelter, and domestic violence programs are still operating across the state. Casa Esperanza has a webpage devoted to COVID-19 resources.
Organizations are partnering with hotels to offer more social distancing and to boost the capacity.
One of the most common things an abuser does is isolate a victim and block their ability to connect with friends and family, so Burns urges people to reach out to someone they haven’t heard from in awhile to check in.

‘All of us know someone’
“Statistically all of us know someone in an abusive relationship,” said Burns.
Domestic violence impacts all cultural and ethnic groups at the same rate of 28-33%, Burns said. “It looks different in every culture and country.”
For Latinas in the Twin Cities, domestic violence often has a component associated with the threat of deportation. “There are a lot of misconceptions about people’s rights, even when people have legal status and are doing everything according to the books,” said Burns. “There are a lot of fears and stories,” some related to the historic trauma migrant workers have experienced in Minnesota.
Language is also a barrier. Asking for help is hard, and asking for help in a language that is not your native language makes it even tougher. “The legal system across nations looks really different,” Burns observed, and many refugees come with a distrust of state institutions. Many people don’t know what their legal rights are, and don’t know that some things are basic human rights.
“People are able to seek protection under the law regardless of immigration status,” Burns said.

Why don’t they just leave?
“There’s not one specific reason,” stressed Burns. It’s a combination of factors.
Finances are one barrier, especially in an economic crisis when unemployment is high. “The idea of picking up and leaving – especially with children – may just be unrealistic,” she pointed out. Within the Latina community, many people are already working two to three jobs to make ends meet.
Plus it is often still expected that a woman will stay home, so she will need to build a whole new skill set to be formally employed. That might include language access, education and training – which costs money to get. Many Latinas had high-paying jobs in their home countries but can no longer work at those in the United States because they have to re-earn their certifications.
Throw in kids, school, and activities on top of the low-paying job and it can be very difficult. A two-bedroom apartment at market rate is $1,100 a month, and to afford that a person needs to make a liveable wage of $19 an hour.
Women don’t leave because things are not black and white, and there’s a lot of gray matter, Burns observed.
“Life is complicated. Abusive relationships are not abusive all the time.”
The partner who uses abuse isn’t always like that, she stressed. It isn’t that every minute has been miserable. There are genuine good times. So, the good memories and the idea that the person can change keeps women in a relationship. “We all have a desire to love and be loved. It’s normal for a person to be torn,” she said.
Burns continues to believe that people who use abuse are capable of change – if they want to and it is self-initiated.
That said, she thinks people instinctively know that leaving will be very dangerous, and they recognize there will be consequences to splitting up.
“A survivor once told me: ‘The physical stuff, the bruises go away with time. What someone has said does not,” remarked Burns.
Women are told,”You are too dumb to learn English. No one else will ever love you. I’ll kill you if you leave.”
This emotional and verbal abuse, along with the physical, financial, and sexual abuse, also work against a survivor when they try to leave.
What is abuse? “It’s power and control over another person,” explained Burns. Much of this is achieved through fear, intimidation and threats. They may be told if they don’t stay, their vehicle will be damaged. The partner may punch holes in the wall so that the other has to pay the damages, which affects their financial well-being and ability to get another apartment.
Those who do leave often suffer post-separation abuse when the children are used to manipulate and threaten the other parent. The person who uses abuse may also turn the extended family and church community against the survivor so that they are cut off from support and resources. They may harass them at work, via social media, through cyber stalking, and through text messages. Because they are co-parenting, the survivor can’t block the abuse.

You don’t have to leave to seek help
Casa de Esperanza staff are mythbusters.
One of the most common swirls around the idea of “abandonment.” If someone leaves the home in Minnesota, they will not suffer any consequences associated with “abandonment,” which is common in other countries, said Burns. In Minnesota, property is owned jointly by both married parties and remains that way even if someone leaves.
On the other hand, if a child is born to an unmarried couple, the mother automatically has full legal and physical custody.
Those who don’t want to get divorced for religious reasons can opt for a legal separation instead.
And maybe the biggest myth is that people don’t have to leave a relationship to seek help.
More at or call the 24-hour bilingual helpline at 651-772-1611.

Domestic Abuse
Service Center
>> The Domestic Abuse Service Center (DASC) serves people who are victims of actual or threatened violence committed by a person with whom they have had a romantic or sexual relationship, or people who have lived together.

>> At DASC, District Court staff will help people at no cost complete the paperwork requesting a temporary Order for Protection (OFP). Several other city, county and advocacy agencies are on site at DASC to help people deal with domestic violence. Free services also include access to police and city of Minneapolis or Hennepin County prosecutors for victims of domestic abuse; advocacy and referral for housing, counseling, and financial assistance for victim/survivors of domestic abuse; on-site playroom and interpreter services. Advocates from several culturally specific agencies are available.

>> It is located in the lower level of the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S 6th St. in Minneapolis.

Helpful apps
Casa de Esperanza is developing an app. In the meantime, here are two others to consider:
>> DocuSAFE is a free documentation and evidence collection app recently released by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).

>> VictimsVoice provides a legally admissible way for victims to document abuse incidents in a safe, secure, consistent, and complete manner through an annual subscription. Financial help available. It can’t be found in an app store but is available at

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Voices of an uprising

Posted on 27 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Holding space at George Floyd Memorial site

“Come. Bear witness,” says Roosevelt High School teacher Marcia Howard. (Photo by Jill Boogren)

In the weeks following the brutal killing of George Floyd outside of Cup Foods, the four corners of 38th St. and Chicago Ave. have become sacrosanct. Buildings are adorned with portraits of George Floyd, large and small. A sculpture of a Black Power fist stands in the middle of the intersection, another is secured against a bus shelter. Elaborate drawings and messages are painted on the street. Flowers and written tributes are arranged in broad circles, expressions of grief.
Each day people from all walks of life gather here from near and far to pay tribute, demand justice and march in community. Food is served from hot grills, music is played, families walk with their young children, talking to them about what they are seeing here. The space is ever evolving, changing daily, with placards and flowers placed under tarps when rain falls, then lovingly rearranged the following day.
Marcia Howard, who lives just a few houses away from the four corners, has had her eyes and ears on the site day in and day out, providing deeply moving updates to friends and community. Here, posted on her Facebook page on June 9 at 8:20 am, are her words describing this space:
“It’s a memorial, it’s a protest, it’s a repast, it’s a movement. The site of 38th and Chicago Ave. is many things at once. That space is being held as an autonomous protest site by the tireless efforts of the people who patrol for safety, provide medical care, distribute food, feed the mourners, provide music, and stand in solidarity every hour of the day. It is being held by all those who are here as a pilgrimage, and those here to take photos, or here to speak, while some are here to cry, while others are here to scream the names of our dead.

Marcia Howard has been posting updates from the George Floyd Memorial Site, often with a selfie of her own.

“This space is being held by all of these people. Depending on the hour of the day, the site of George Floyd’s murder looks and feels like Grand Old Days, or a Baptist revival, an art festival, a New Orleans jazz funeral, a block party, and the headquarters of the revolution. Yet, every hour that I am there, it feels like community. It takes all our presence to hold the space. Come. Bear witness. Listen to the voices demanding justice. Add your own so that we can be heard. Come one, come all. Say her name. Say his name. Say their names.”
Ms. Howard, as this beloved Roosevelt High School teacher is known, is on site multiple times each day, always wearing a mask because of the pandemic. On June 3, the day the three other officers present when George Floyd was killed were charged, she ran to the intersection, video rolling.
“They charged ‘em all. All of ‘em. Aiding and Abetting, and they upgraded the murder charge,” she called. Tears flowed as the crowd erupted in cheers. “All of ‘em! All of ‘em!” To which someone else called out, “Conviction!”
On one rare occasion, after going a whole morning without hearing his name, Ms. Howard set aside her teacher voice, raised a bullhorn and addressed the people gathered in front of Cup Foods.
“Everybody who saw that film knows [what happened],” she said. “Notice how secure this man was [referring to Derek Chauvin, as he pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck] that he would not get caught. That he would not get in trouble. That he smirked. And put his hands in his pockets… Do you understand the security of white supremacy that you have to feel to do something so egregiously wrong, so antithetical to your job as a police officer, that you don’t even feel… fear at all? At all?… I’m telling you now, Minnesota though, we gonna hold ‘em accountable, Yeah?”
With the crowd shouting “YES”! in agreement, Ms. Howard led the call and response that has become so familiar here and in marches throughout the city, the one she especially needed to hear that day. “Say his name.” “George Floyd!” “Say his name.” “George Floyd!” “Say his name.” “George Floyd!”

(Photo by Jill Boogren)

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‘We’re not going to go on with our lives the way things were before’

Posted on 27 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Protesters at Minnehaha Parkway and Nokomis Ave. serve as visual reminders


Nokomis resident Laurie Meyers protests at Minnehaha and Nokomis. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Stefanie Beniek is driven to be a visual reminder every Monday night from 5-7 p.m. at Minnehaha Parkway and Nokomis Ave.
The group of local residents started gathering at that corner shortly after George Floyd was murdered a mile away at 38th and Chicago, pulled together by Tanya Ketcham via a Facebook event.
“We’re still seeking justice for George Floyd,” said Beniek. “There’s lots of other people who have been murdered by police and we are seeking justice for them – like Breonna Taylor. We want to be out here. We’re not going to forget. We’re not going to go on with our lives the way things were before.”
Beniek and her husband, Tim Hereid, have lived near the Keeywadin school campus for 10 years.
In addition to helping organize the twice-weekly protests in Nokomis East, Beniek has been volunteering at the Calvary Food Shelf at Chicago and 39th. She’s also working with Acupuncturists Without Borders to start a clinic to help people protesting nearby process trauma.

Nokomis Community School – Wenonah campus second grade teacher Rebecca Priglmeier. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

‘Thank you’
The attendance at the corner of Minnehaha and Nokomis has waxed and waned since it started the week after George Floyd died. On nights when it is larger, such as the evening after George Floyd’s memorial, they have a moment of silence at 6 p.m. There might be a few speakers. Someone might roam around with a petition.
The response from passersby varies, too. On Friday, June 12, 2020, they received a lot of “thank yous” and fists held high from drivers and bikers. One woman yelled, “Thanks for keeping it in front of our faces.”
Being an ally
Nokomis Community School – Wenonah campus second grade teacher Rebecca Priglmeier is driven to protest because of her students, “who had to be witness to all of this, as if this year wasn’t hard enough.”
Priglmeier explained, “I think white people need to be allies. This isn’t going to change without everybody’s help.”
She pointed to the 88 people of color killed by police this year in the United States, and school shootings. “I want kids to not have to live in fear – especially not kids of color. It’s enough. It has to stop.”

Nick and Rebecca Kimpton, and their four-year-old daughter, Bea. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

‘We can no longer be silent’
Nick and Rebecca Kimpton, and their four-year-old daughter, Bea, stood with a large Black Lives Matter sign on Friday night, June 12. They bring their young daughter along because “it’s never too early to teach about race and teach them to be part of the solution,” observed R. Kimpton. They hope their daughter grows up to be part of the change.

“We feel like there is a lot of momentum right now and we want to keep it going,” said Rebecca. “Finally some real change can happen.”
They’re working to be more aware, and to talk to the people in their circle of influence – within their family, neighborhood, and workplace.
“Ever since the murder of George Floyd, we knew we needed to take a more active role in change in our city,” added Nick. “We’re here because now is the turning point in our society to dismantle the systematic racism. We know we can no longer be silent.”

Photo by Tesha M. Christensen


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Art heals the soul

Posted on 27 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Community healing mural is first to go up at George Floyd Memorial site on Chicago and 38th Ave.

Photo by Margie O’Loughlin

When artist and community activist Christopheraaron Deanes heard about George Floyd’s death, he went right to 38th St. and Chicago Ave. – but he didn’t show up empty handed. He came fully armed with art supplies, including a huge roll of canvas donated on-the-spot by Wet Paint in St. Paul.
He and his wife, arts administrator Cara Deanes, had reached out to the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC): a non-profit devoted to art forms produced by heat, spark, or flame and located steps away from the memorial site. They offered their space for whatever might come, trusting that something creative and engaging would emerge to support the community.
As it turned out, there would be heat, spark, and flame aplenty. Lake Street began to burn on Tuesday night, but the memorial site near where George Floyd was killed would remain almost completely undisturbed.
Christopheraaron and Cara Deanes knew how important it was to make a way for people to express their pain, frustration, and anger through art. They unrolled the nine-foot-wide piece of canvas and attached it to a fence at CAFAC.Christopheraaron made a loose sketch of an African American man with his arms outstretched – surrendering. Community members were invited to join in, painting, writing, touching the canvas.

Christopheraaron and Cara Deanes are Director and Coordinator for the ROHO Collective. Roho is a Swahili word meaning soul or spirit. The mission of the collective is to embrace, support and nurture artists of color. The artists involved strive to have a positive impact on the Twin Cities by making art that is a powerful force for unity, empowerment, and change.

Christopheraaron said, “The messages people painted helped them deal with the trauma they experienced and the internal turmoil we all felt from the murder of George Floyd. Everybody saw those last moments of his life over and over again. It took a lot of humanity away from us.”
The Deanes would return to the memorial site many times. When Christopheraaron was there on June 8, he said, “It seemed like the art community had really expanded. The names of people murdered by police were painted on the street, and those names went on and on. I was reading them slowly to my eight-year-

Roho Collective artists, along with members of the community, came together in peace and unity at the Chicago Avenue Fire and Arts Center to paint this dedication to George Floyd. Left to right: Cara Deanes, Christopheraaron Deanes, Sean Phillips, and Stephanie Morris-Gandy. (Photo submitted)

old daughter, one by one, and I started to cry. It broke my heart.”

Christopheraaron continued, “I felt like the healing process was starting for me, too. This is how we experience the power of healing through art; we believe it is with full engagement of our senses.”
“What does healing from trauma look like? For me it looks like people of color rallying: making statements and poignant gestures in the community. What does it sound like? It sounds like the ring of my white colleagues calling and texting to ask, ‘What can I do now?’ What does it feel like? All of the smiling, and crying, and laughing, and shouting – it feels like empathy and action are growing.”
When Christopheraaron first arrived at the memorial site on May 26, lugging paints and a blank roll of canvas, he said, “I had no idea what I was going to paint or what was going to happen. My wife Cara, who knows me so well said, ‘Just do what comes out.’ Hundreds of people participated in the mural making, and put the mark of their hands on the canvas. Tens of thousands of people have seen the community mural by now.”
He said, “Creativity isn’t a matter of the haves and have-nots. It isn’t the privilege of the young or a luxury of the old. It is an essential piece of humanity. Through art, we aim to empower everyone to changes their lives – and change the world.”
For more information on the Roho Collective and the work of Christopheraaron Deanes, visit The community mural at Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center will remain up indefinitely, until the Floyd Family collects it for their personal archives.

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ABOLISH THE POLICE: Local residents talk about why they support movement

Posted on 27 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Smoke billows from E. Lake St. and Minnehaha the morning after a night of fire. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Editor’s note: In an effort to support a conversation about a current initiative in Minneapolis, I talked to three local activists and Longfellow business owners about defunding the police for this article. There are also suggested resources within the article for learning more. We welcome signed letters to the editor talking about the pros and cons as you see them, as we know there are lot of opinions about this initiative and one article can only include pieces of the larger conversation. We will continue to cover this issue as it unfolds. Email

You can’t miss the sign at Moon Palace Books, three buildings down from the Third Precinct at 3032 Minnehaha Ave.

Moon Palace Books owners Jamie and Angela Schwesnedl support a change to the police and prison system in favor of one that is “actually designed to keep the people in our communities safe.” (Photo by Jill Boogren)

Before nine Minneapolis City Council members announced their intent to defund the police; before the National Guard was called to quell an uprising the size of which had never before been seen in Minneapolis; before 31 buildings in the neighborhood were burned and many more damaged; before countless peaceful protesters and journalists were injured – Moon Palace books had taken a stand.
Owners Jamie and Angela Schwesnedl have been active with and supportive of different organizations and campaigns for prison and police abolition for over 25 years.
“Many communities in our society have been prevented from functioning and thriving because of the police, and the institutions of white supremacy and predatory capitalism that the police protect and enforce,” the couple pointed out. “We absolutely need to figure out ways to keep all of our neighbors and communities safe. The Minneapolis Police Department was not created or designed to keep everyone safe, and it hasn’t functioned to do that.”
They support defunding and disbanding the police.
“Police forces in America have always served as slave-catchers for the Prison-Industrial system, which is a direct continuation of the brutal institution of antebellum slavery,” explained the Schwesnedls. “American police have grown increasingly more militarized, and use larger and larger amounts of city, county and state budgets, and have always functioned to terrorize communities of color, and enforce social control to protect the interests of the owning class, at the expense of workers’ rights.
“Instead of the lie that police exist to keep us all safe, we want systems that are actually designed to keep the people in our communities safe. We want systems and institutions that value ALL human life, including the lives of Black people, Indigenous people, trans people, women, people of color, etc.”
They added, “We feel terrible for everyone who lost businesses that represent countless hours and years of their labor and passion. And none of our businesses are as important as human lives that have been lost to police violence. Lives of Black people, Indigenous people, people of color.  None of our businesses are as important as putting an end to the trauma and suffering that police violence and intimidation has wrought on so many of our neighbors for so many years.”
As white, Euro-Americans, the Schwesnedls are currently working to amplify the voices of the groups and people leading the struggle on the ground, as well as providing some financial support, and making phone calls, sending emails, attending rallies, protests and meetings when they are able.
To learn more, they encourage people to check out groups like MPD150, Reclaim the Block, and Black Visions Collective.

Ricardo Levins Morales has been involved with MPD150 for years, and encourages people to go there for thoughtful answers and information on disbanding the police. (Art submitted)

Artist and activist
As an artist and an activist, Ricardo Levins Morales (3260 Minnehaha) has been involved with MPD150 for years.
In 1967 at 11 years old, Morales and his family left Puerto Rico and landed in Chicago during a time of great turmoil and police brutality. It was safer for him to walk the alleyways and take his chances with the gangs than to be on the streets and deal with the police, he recalled. “It was clear the police were dangerous people to be around,” said Morales.
One day the police shot a Black teen who was running home to catch a television show. “They said if he was running, he must have been running from a crime,” said Morales.
By age 14 or 15, Morales had started his life of activism and art when he discovered print making and screen printing. He’s been involved in labor organizing, farmers’ movements, peace activism, ecological work, international solidarity and more. “To me, they are really all the same thing: supporting human resilience in the face of hardship,” he explained.
He opened a studio at Minnehaha and 38th in 2009, and moved to his current location next to Peace Coffee two and a half years ago. Right now, Morales is giving away buttons to protesters that state: “Abolish the police, reform is not enough.”
As a Latinex man, Morales believes in the importance of solidarity with others who have had bad experiences with the police. This stands in contrast to the white racist narrative that believes if the cops are doing something bad to you then you must have deserved it, he pointed out.
What struck him about George Floyd’s murder was the “absolute indifference of this killer cop.” He said, “The police are essentially fulfilling the role lynch mobs did.”

Too broken to fix, only solution is replacement
Three years ago, on the 150th anniversary of the Minneapolis Police Department, MPD150 released a report detailing brutal practices baked into the formation of the department and tracking them through the years.
“We broke down how they interact everyday with people in crisis. They don’t do anything well,” said Morales. “You need grown-ups, not people who show up with tear gas and tasers and shoot at people. It’s all based on the mythology of how they supposedly keep us safe.”
Morales stated, “Having more cops in a city doesn’t make crime go down.” He pointed to white suburbs that have less police and policy brutality and less crime.
“People want decent homes, green spaces, parks for children. These are the basics of life that white suburbanites take for granted,” said Morales. When people have what they need, crime goes down. He supports using the millions spent on police in other ways to help people get their needs met, and implementing common sense solutions. Top on that list is stable housing.
Reforms instituted over decades haven’t work to fix police departments, said Morales.
On July 22, 2006, 19-year-old Fong Lee was shot eight times and killed by St. Paul Police Officer Jason Andersen. The gun authorities said they found nearby his body came from the police evidence room, Morales pointed out. “The officer was let off the hook.”
More training, review commissions, residency requirements – these simply do not work, said Morales. “It’s one of those entities so riddled with corruption, the only solution is replacement.”
He added, “There are a lot of people with solutions to problems that don’t involve killing them.”
If the mission is to help people, then the solution is to figure out what people need on a case-by-case basis and send those specific resources, such as mental health service providers, social workers, people trained in trauma and deescalation, victim/survivor advocates, religious leaders, and block clubs.
He encourages people to listen to what people of color are saying they need, and to read the thoughtfulness that has already gone into answering these questions by groups such as MPD150, Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective.
“Police have played a major role in making sure people without any money don’t have a chance,” said Morales, but he sees hope in what’s happening today and in people doing the work now that should have been done long ago.
“We’re living in different times but no more different than the other times,” he said. “The only difference is people are demanding better.”

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‘This is it. We’ve had enough.’

Posted on 27 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Kayleen Kabba, a student at South High School. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Kayleen Kabba will be going into 10th grade at South High School in the fall; if there is school, that is. She said, “The ‘not knowing’ about that feels big. There is a lot of ‘not knowing’ in my life right now.”
Like people of all ages, Kayleen is struggling to understand what’s going on around her. She said, “Some of my friends think the riots were fueled by the pandemic – that people were going crazy from being cooped up so long. The questions can start to spin around in your head. Why was tear gas used by police on peaceful protestors? Who are these people from out of state causing violence in our community? What is the media talking about? What is real?”
One thing is certain, as far as she’s concerned. Kayleen is glad that South High will no longer have police officers on-site. Minneapolis Public Schools has officially suspended their contract with the Minneapolis Police Department in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
Kayleen had an exchange with a police officer last winter, the likes of which she thinks is pretty common. She explained, “My mom dropped me off late at school one morning. I was coming from a doctor’s appointment. When I checked in at the office, the attendance lady said, ‘There are only a couple minutes left of your first class; you can go stand at the door of your second class.’ So I started walking that direction.
“There was a group of 4-5 white kids in front of me in the hall. The school police officer smiled at them as they walked by, but he made me stop. He listened to my explanation, he checked my pass, and he said, ‘Don’t let me catch you out in the hallway again.’ He was not smiling. At the time it didn’t really register, but I felt the difference in the way he treated me was odd.
“We have to have some form of public safety in the schools and on the streets, but the priority should be de-escalation. So much of the time, authority figures don’t take the time to hear more than one side of the story. I really hope change is coming soon. I hope my generation will be the one to say, “This is IT. We’ve had enough.”

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