For the past week, a determined mass of community activists have held down an encampment around Minneapolis’ 4th precinct police headquarters in protest of the officer involved shooting and killing of Jamar Clark, a black man who witnesses say was unarmed and handcuffed on the ground when he was shot.

There is a dramatic contrast between the mixed-race, mixed income community of people who make up the protestors; and the police officers outfitted with military gear who stand like an urban assault force asymmetrically against community members.

No picture better illustrates that than the one of Jeremiah Bey with his hands in the air as a white police officer points a “marking” gun directly at him.

It should be noted that Bey is a native of North Minneapolis, a section of town with a strong black legacy, and also a community economically redlined and deprived of quality city services more affluent areas take for granted. He is also the son of Keith Ellison, America’s first congressman who happens to be Muslim (and the person who most exemplifies Paul Wellstone’s progressive tradition).

Occupiers in the hood

In the mid-1990s, Minneapolis enacted a requirement that police officers (and other municipal workers) had to live in the city as a condition of employment. Residency requirements were common in urban cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Memphis, Milwaukee, and Boston. Local officials saw residency requirements as an economic support for a healthy middle-class in cities that were losing people. 

Many working professionals, and their unions, felt differently.

In 2000, an article by Alan Ehrenhalt in Governing magazine said municipal employee unions “never liked residency laws…[b]ut as long as it remained strictly a battle between unions and city government, and city hall could claim that residency laws are an effective weapon against middle-class flight (which they are), the balance of power lay largely on the government side.”

The balance of power was upset by teachers’ unions, education bureaucrats, and power parents who joined coalitions to take down residency requirements.

Ehrenhalt says:

But in the past couple of years, residency laws have become embroiled in the much broader debate over school quality. School boards, superintendents and parent activists have joined organized teachers in arguing that a residency requirement for teachers makes it difficult to recruit and keep the best talent.

In 1999, Minneapolis’ residency requirements faced political pushback when suburban and out-of-state legislators worked with organized labor to overturn the city’s rules. One of the architects of a law to do just that was former Minneapolis Police Captain (and Republican legislator) Rich Stanek.

At the time DFL State Senator Wes Skoglund warned against repealing the “live-where-you-work” rules. He said police officers from suburbia and exurbia would eventually see themselves as an occupying force.

In 2009 he told The Plain Dealer that his prediction had come true:

There are absolutely some cops who see it as their responsibility to come in and supervise us….We have officers who have never been in a local store except to arrest somebody and have never gone for a walk in our parks unless they were chasing somebody. People who have never been to a movie in Minneapolis, or eaten a meal in a restaurant here, are coming into town to supervise us. These are people who did not grow up around a single person who did not look like them.

After Stanek’s law took effect the number of city workers living in Minneapolis dropped from 68% to 30%.

Today, of the Minneapolis’s 807 sworn police officers, 9% are black, and 4% are Hispanic.

94% of these officers live outside of the city they “serve.”

Likewise, an analysis of 2011 data for Minneapolis public school teachers shows only 35% of them lived in Minneapolis. Most drive in from suburban areas. The diversity numbers are terrible. Of the 3,472 teachers, 202 were black, 84 were Latino, 96 were Asian, and 41 were American Indian.

That type of flight from Minneapolis robs the city of tax revenue. It also creates a disconnect between Minneapolitans and the people who police them, teach them, and execute city business.

As you might expect, official statements from the political class in Minneapolis (and statewide) are starting to roll in. Expressions of grief about the officer-involved killing of an unarmed black man are coupled with obligatory support for the peaceful protestors. Yet, there is institutional resistance to structural change.

The Mayor of Minneapolis is busy attempting to serve two masters: the community that believed she would represent an era of new leadership taking cues from Ellison and Wellstone, and, conversely, the institutional interests that have fortified the political, economic, and social structures that make areas like the Northside great places to earn a living, but less desirable to live.

Real, meaningful proposals for changing who runs the major institutions of Minneapolis are far off.

Meanwhile, the city is occupied by officers like the one in the video below. His view of North Minneapolis is probably one that will be shared at many suburban and exurban Thanksgiving tables when non-resident city workers are asked by their red county relatives what it’s like to work in that jungle that is the city.


Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.



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