From the County Manager Column from March 2, 2021

Preparation and difficult moments as trial approaches

With jury selection beginning in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin next Monday, the Twin Cities will be a focus of national and international attention for all the wrong reasons throughout the months ahead. But as visitors come to watch, demonstrate, report on and process a global reckoning that involves race, inequality, community safety and local policing, our community is still directly hurting and reeling from the trauma of the killing of George Floyd last May and the civil unrest that followed in our neighborhoods.

For many weeks, partners across the public sector have been leading and preparing a response plan with business and civic partners that seeks to provide and protect expression of our constitutional right of free speech while preventing undue harm to our neighborhoods and businesses. In tandem, and equally important, significant planning to provide healing spaces and opportunities for community dialogue are also underway in hopes that we are able to create culturally welcoming spaces to process pain and trauma across our community.

Partners from the federal and state government, Hennepin and Ramsey counties and cities across the metro are meeting regularly to incorporate lessons learned over the past year into actions that are both specific to public safety (with law enforcement in the lead) and to more broadly address community health and community healing. We will continue these efforts through the Chauvin trial and during the trial of the other former officers that will begin later this summer. With trials occurring in downtown Minneapolis, changes there are already more visible with physical barriers, detours and a National Guard presence beginning to assemble. Preparations are also underway at George Floyd Square at East 38th and Chicago Ave. Another example of a direct impact: the Hennepin County Government Center has relocated services to reduce the number of visits to that location.

On our side of the river, preparations are not as visible right now. For weeks, Saint Paul Police (SPPD) has been communicating with concerned businesses and business leaders directly to provide updates. SPPD, our Sheriff’s Office and other public safety partners operating through mutual aid agreements are making the message very clear that peaceful protests are welcome in our capital city, but there will be zero tolerance for the violence and destructive behavior that left many of our cherished community institutions badly damaged last summer. As news outlets have reported since last summer, many of the violent actors came from outside of Ramsey County and showed up with an expressed intent to cause harm to this community and the peaceful protests that were taking place; the presence of outside disrupters this spring and summer will not be tolerated. Although we have no reason to believe that operations at our Ramsey County facilities will be interrupted at this time, we are also well-coordinated in the event something could occur.

In addition to law enforcement coordination, we are taking many additional steps with our community and partners to build a safer community. Below is an outline of some of that work:

Resident needs/community healing

We have identified several community partners who want to lead community healing efforts. These partners have already been working with the Ramsey County Mental Health and Well-Being Action Team in other ways. We plan to offer options for virtual and in-person healing circles across the community to provide welcoming, safe and supportive environments for participatory dialogue, building connection, addressing community trauma and healing. We are planning to dedicate one healer to facilitate circles for our Emergency Communications Center, considering the amount of trauma and stress 911 telecommunicators endure with an anticipation they will again be handling more calls. Ultimately, we will create a calendar of community conversations/town halls to further engage our residents during this difficult time.  

Supporting employees

The Diversity, Inclusion & Organizational Development unit in Human Resources is developing a plan to provide staff opportunities for conversation and access to mental health supports. These could be at the group, department or service team level and seek to leverage the expertise of our employee resource groups. Along with these engagements will be focused reminders on the benefits available for employees (such as EAP) to utilize based on each of our own comfort levels.

Food and basic needs

We have identified food shelves that are interested in supporting food and basic needs continuity work like last summer when there were disruptions to grocery stores impacted by civil unrest. These resources provided a vital connection during the most difficult moments of the civil unrest period and are important for the community to have access to, if needed, again.

Business needs

Saint Paul is in the lead on identifying resources and processes to get supplies (i.e. plywood and other items) into the community to particularly support small businesses, should a need arise. These resources are important, especially in a community with a disproportionate share of small, minority and women-owned businesses that are at high risk of being impacted should additional civil unrest occur.

Communications

We are planning joint communications into the community through our trusted messenger and media programs that we have employed throughout COVID-19, as well as developing a communication flow that ensures the same information is available and shared across our state, city and county partnerships.

With this amount of attention to community safety and security underway, it’s important to reiterate that currently there is no immediate, direct threat to the Twin Cities or to you as a Ramsey County employee. Agencies continue monitoring intelligence, information and tips and remind us all to report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement.

We cannot understate or underestimate the impact the upcoming trials and the events surrounding them may have on the well-being of our Ramsey County community and the community at large – particularly our communities of color and within the Black community. We also acknowledge the unresolved grief and trauma that many experience as a result of George Floyd’s killing last summer. Regardless of how the trial proceeds or what the ultimate outcome might be, those scars are now a part of our collective history and will be with us all for a very long time.

With all of the compounding stresses over the past many months, we have relied on one another as we do our best every day to respond with grace, understanding, knowledge and acceptance following our values through our commitment to public service. The strain of these upcoming trials on our communities and organizations will also test each of us in our own way. While I wish I could close today with words of optimism, I find them hard to come by at this particular moment. However, I remain grateful to each of you and of us together as we find ways to navigate through another difficult time. You show up every day reflecting the vision and values of this organization, you demonstrate how a diverse organization is a stronger and more resilient one, you offer hope in moments of seeming despair, and you are part of a collective support and encouragement structure that gets us from one day to the next while compounding crises swirl around us.

Thank you for serving during times of happiness and times of grief. I hope you and your loved ones are able to stay healthy, safe and feel supported in the days ahead, and we will do everything we can to ensure that is your reality at work and across Ramsey County. Ultimately, I leave today with comfort knowing that no matter the individual path we are each asked to walk in life, we are also here as 4,000 strong to be in this journey together. I appreciate you.