May 27, 2020 Message to employees from County Manager Ryan O'Connor
I write today with the knowledge that I am at a loss for words that can fully express or even partially address the collective feelings of pain echoing throughout our organization this week. At a location only 10 miles from the front steps of the Ramsey County Courthouse, a black man died on the street while in the custody of his local government. This event didn’t directly involve Ramsey County, but it doesn’t matter. I, along with the county’s elected officials, have written and spoken about ugly incidents involving race and ethnicity that have occurred within our own organization on multiple occasions in the past few years. What happened in Minneapolis this week cannot be viewed as someone else’s problem. So let’s be clear – racism is a Ramsey County problem. Disparate treatment of those with black and brown skin is a Minnesota problem. Denial of these issues or acting like we cannot change them is a United States of America problem. These are collective problems that harm us all.
We cannot accept being okay with a community in which our black and brown co-workers, friends, neighbors, sons, daughters and partners must move through any day afraid of harm that may fall upon them. Silence is acceptance. So we will continue to collectively engage in dialogues about race, racism, history, systems and structures. Ramsey County is the most racially and ethnically diverse community in Minnesota, and this organization is the most racially and ethnically diverse governmental organization in Minnesota. What happened to Mr. Floyd hits home on a visceral level that we cannot ignore. Building a community in which all are truly valued and thrive means that events like this can never happen and that there cannot even be a belief that something like this could happen. We have a long way to go in order to bridge the divide between our organization’s vision and today’s reality.
To all of my colleagues who are grieving – I grieve with you. To those who are angry – I share your anger. To those who are tired – I too feel the exhaustion. And to those who live every day with black or brown skin and must face challenges that I cannot fully understand based on my race and gender – I will strive to continue learning, reading, listening, empowering, empathizing and refusing to accept that the status quo is the best that we can do. We all deserve to move through the world knowing that we as individuals and those whom we love are safe to pursue love, joy and happiness. It is our responsibility as humans and citizens to never forget that.
Ramsey County’s work will continue today and in the days ahead. Thousands of dedicated public servants find ways to not let moments like yesterday derail this organization’s work, and I thank each of you for that. We owe it to this community to continue showing up and serving during this emergency period and beyond. Ramsey County has the talent, commitment and collective strength to ensure that our words are backed up by substantive actions. Our efforts in areas like voter engagement, census response, juvenile justice reform, bail reform, the elimination of fines and fees, child protection reform, racial equity policy, inclusive community engagement, and talent attraction, retention and promotion have produced results upending the status quo and proving that we can build a more prosperous and inclusive community. We have much, much more to do. Together we will find a way to do it.
Please be sure to make space for yourself and those around you to acknowledge that what we have witnessed this week has an impact on all of us and those we are here to serve. Please do your best, support those around you and find ways both big and small to demonstrate that we can prove that the changes we want to see start with our individual and collective actions every day.
Thank you for being a part of this organization and doing all you can to serve this community.