St. Paul, MN – On Thursday, May 19, 2016, a few dozen community members took space in Minnesota’s House Majority Caucus office for several hours demanding a meeting with Republican Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, to discuss legislation supporting the United Black Legislative Agenda.
Unicorn Riot was on site at the State Office Building covering this action.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) May 19, 2016
“Pass The United Black Legislative Agenda Rally” was called because the broader coalition behind the United Black Legislative Agenda wanted to stress to the House that “investing in Black futures needs to happen before the end of this legislative session.”
Underscoring the urgency of the action is the calendar: the legislative session ends Monday, May 23rd.
What is the United Black Legislative Agenda?
On April 6th, the United Black Legislative Agenda was revealed to the public in a press conference at the state capitol. Many groups coalesced together for the purpose of improving “the quality of life for Black Minnesotans“.
Those groups include the African American Leadership Forum, which is led by Gary Cunningham, the husband of Mayor Betsy Hodges (who had her speech at the U of MN interrupted the same night as this action, May 19th), Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, Council of Minnesotans of African Heritage, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Somali Community of Minnesota, and the Urban League.
The United Black Legislative Agenda (U.B.L.A.) was adopted from this group featuring “a collection of values, priorities and policy proposals of individuals and communities of African Descent in the state of Minnesota.” These proposals focused on economic, criminal, and immigrant justice.
View the U.B.L.A. below.United-Black-Legislative-Agenda
The need for a #BlackAgendaMN grew from the reality that Minnesota has some of the largest racial disparities in the country.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data, Black families have a median annual income of around $33,900 compared to White families, who average $81,500. Minnesota is “51st in the U.S., behind the District of Columbia, and the other 49 states for African Americans.”
The U.B.L.A. hoped to unlock more resources to combat these disparities. Portions of the U.B.L.A. have been approved by the Senate as bills and then have stalled in the House.
Among one the five policy points that the U.B.L.A. focuses on under Criminal Justice is the Body Cam bill SF498. The bill was featured on the House floor during the day of May 20th. Bill status here. Latest Conference Committee version: here.
Although body cameras on police don’t seem to stop police from committing violence against innocent people, many see this an opportunity to create some transparency from the police force.
Many problems exist with bill SF498 as pointed out by privacy advocate Rich Neumeister in his many blog posts on the issue. Even Star Tribune has written articles detailing the bill as “one of the nation’s more restrictive laws governing public access to footage recorded by police body cameras.”
Beyond the issue of not having a function in the policy for releasing the videos to the public in a transparent manner, police would also be allowed to view their body cam footage before writing their reports. The response to that situation is seen in the tweet below from Minnesota’s ACLU affiliate:
Officers should NOT be able to review body camera footage prior to writing initial report. It would comprise the integrity of it. #mnleg
— ACLU of Minnesota (@ACLUMN) May 20, 2016
The importance of the United Black Legislative Agenda at this moment in the political season should not be overlooked. The fact that the legislative session ends in just a couple days and most of these policy points have yet to be discussed in the House, proves once again that currently elected officials have no interest in changing the wide gap of racial disparities in the state of Minnesota.
To continue putting pressure on the legislators, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis is reaching out to people to Occupy the MN State Office Building for #UBLA on Saturday, May 21st at Noon. Sending a strong message to legislators now could also help in case a special session is called before next year.
To watch all of the live coverage of May 19th, Black Agenda rally and action, check out the archived livestreams below:
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