Why Barb Johnson Deserves no Benefit of the Doubt

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Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson made news when she expressed anger and frustration over Minneapolis’ racial equity agenda. While many have been outraged there are others who want to offer Johnson the benefit of the doubt. They claim that she is just expressing frustration with a process that might not lead to any action and through that lens her anger and frustration should be applauded. But this line of thought is dangerous and demonstrates the extent to which white supremacy has dulled our instincts and lulled us into submission.

President Johnson said she sees the racial equity agenda as “… another task force, another report, another reporting mechanism. I’ve got all the reporting mechanisms I need … I’m really angry. I want an estimate of staff time, I want to know from each of these people how much time are you spending on these multiple, multiple initiatives that we’re using to produce more reports. That’s what I want, accountability.” This call for accountability is what suckers people into thinking perhaps Johnson isn’t propping up white supremacy, perhaps she is actually calling for action in its dismantling. Even liberal Patricia Torres Ray saluted Johnson on her Facebook page “Madam President, right on! We don’t need another report to start taking action. We need courage, we need action, we need results. Our children, our City can’t wait for another task force to tell us what we already know. Thank you.” This is greatly disheartening. It only takes a slightly closer look at Johnson’s statements to see she is anything but interested in racial justice or equity, and she is not calling for courage or progressive action but rather the same old tactics that have created our current travesty of a situation. By wondering “what’s our priority in this city?” Johnson showcased the level of ignorance and/or the downright racism she possesses. She is concerned that the racial equity initiative will be taking manpower away from addressing her concerns of crime. She is using an all too familiar frame: racial equity and safe, healthy, happy neighborhoods cannot coexist. It is clear that Johnson, instead of allocating resources for equity, would prefer we use the tactics in place to address her concerns, namely increased policing and mass incarceration, and we know who loses in those situations. We don’t even need to assume! We can look at her track record. She has been President of the City Council for the last eight years. During this time the city continued its attack on people of color and the poor. She has watched gentrification take place as families were evicted. She has witnessed school closings, disproportionately in her section of the city. She has presided over the city with some of the largest racial disparities in the country with hardly a peep and now she has the nerve to express frustration when government has done the bare minimum by committing an initiative!? Beyond that, Johnson says she has all the reports she needs,which means she knows about the structural racism at the heart of our city’s disparities, then why hasn’t she taken or even suggested action to address them? If she cared as deeply as she would have us believe then over the last eight years she would have educated herself and would not need to be told how her concerns are intimately tied to the social conditions and circumstances most people in her ward are facing. The fact is she doesn’t care. This is textbook racist thought and she is a racist, it must not be tolerated.

We all want healthy, happy and safe communities and if Barb Johnson had voiced that she wants to make sure action comes from the initiative that would be another story, but she didn’t. If Barb Johnson had in anyway over the course of her career demonstrated any kind of racial consciousness perhaps she should be given some benefit of the doubt, but she hasn’t. Instead she expressed anger at even attempting to understand what the appropriate action would be and presumably would prefer if we just sent the police to handle the crime. I am no fan of government bureaucracy and fully understand the obstacles government puts in the way of true justice initiatives, but I also know that a career politician like Barb Johnson is not talking about those obstacles. She only wants to keep her largely white, wealthy parkway block free from the criminals she imagines are lurking just around the corner.

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