On July 8, Minneapolis City Councilman Michael Rainville held a public safety meeting for his Ward 3 constituents during which he made several troubling generalizations about recent downtown crime. He said in particular that he “went to a mosque in the northeast to meet former Somalis and tell them that their children could no longer behave like this”. He went to the Dar Al-Qalam Islamic Center that afternoon.
Generalizing the actions of a group of young people overnight to an entire nationality is racist and dangerous. To assume that these young people are also Muslims and to visit a mosque to confront religious leaders about their behavior demonstrates incredible ignorance and a willingness to scapegoat our fellow Minneapolis residents.
Many Local leaders and organizations quickly realized the harm his actions would cause and issued public statements condemning Rainville’s behavior. Nowadays, over 60 people and groups made statements, including nine council members, 15 Minnesota lawmakers and the Guthrie Theater. Visibly absent from the list? Board Vice-Chair Linea Palmisano.
After days of contact with constituents, Palmisano responded to those residents via a private email on July 14, 2022. Palmisano’s email explains that she does not plan to make a public statement and has decided to speak privately with Rainville and others. to resolve the situation.
As vice-president of the city council, Palmisano plays a vital role in setting the tone and expectations of council members. There are occasions when private interpersonal conversations are the best way to provide feedback to a colleague. It’s not one of them. Rainville’s racist words and actions were public – part of his official duties as a council member. Its accountability process must be equally transparent.
Palmisano has already publicly berated his colleagues. Many times, she interrupted Questions from Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley city leaders at board meetings. However, she failed to call much more clearly aggressive comments and questions from other colleagues and Mayor Frey. This pattern of inconsistent leadership and accountability is also reminiscent of Palmisano’s recent vote to endorse Heather Johnston as city coordinator after dozens of current and former Minneapolis employees publicly spoke out about the racism they faced under her direction.
Palmisano has not shown a consistent willingness to stand up for marginalized residents, city workers or his own colleagues. We do not trust its ability to facilitate a proper accountability process that centers the communities that have been harmed.
In her email, Palmisano also says that Rainville “is devastated by the hurt these words have caused and has taken immediate action to atone for her comments.” While Rainville issued an apology and spoke privately with some members of the Muslim and Somali community, he simultaneously took actions that make his words sound hollow.
After apologizing, he held a “Take Back the Streets” event anyway, where he pointed to people taking video of his public speech, including several BIPOC residents, and told the almost all-white crowd that these people “don’t understand what it is”. means living in the violent atmosphere you have experienced, so be aware of what you say and who you say it to.
Rainville’s rhetoric and actions were choices that reinforce false stereotypes that black people, immigrants and Muslims should be treated like criminals. Spreading hateful stereotypes does nothing to reduce crime. If these actions go unreported, others will feel comfortable doing the same, further dehumanizing our black and brown neighbors. This serves to reinforce and rationalize our city’s deep inequalities, which led to a historic uprising in 2020. This is what makes Rainville’s words and Palmisano’s silence so harmful.
As residents of southwest Minneapolis, we call on Palmisano to publicly demonstrate the values she claims to uphold. We ask him to support it publicly Muslim colleagues council members, other community leaders and all Somali and Muslim residents. She must show them that racist and Islamophobic behavior will not be tolerated under her leadership. We are also asking her to publicly share a plan for how she will work as council leader to ensure that she and her colleagues are continuously learning, reflecting on biases and breaking down racist systems that have captured national attention. on Minneapolis’ stark racial disparities.
We also call on all of our southwestern neighbors to use this time for self-reflection and anti-racism action. We live in the whitest and wealthiest neighborhood in town. Redlining, racial pacts and disproportionate representation in local government have given us better access to resources and social safety nets than our neighbors in any other part of town. Just by living in the South West, we have privilege and influence that we must use to push back against the racist rhetoric and systems that divide us. More than 50 Ward 13 residents have signed up for this public statement to support our Somali and Muslim neighbors — if others agree with this message, we urge them to do the same.
Heather Silsbee, Kristen Ingle and other members of the Southwest Alliance for Equity (SWAE).