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Minneapolis: Mayor, city council members play victim while poisoning neighborhood

By Tracy Molm

Climate Justice Committee marching against environmental racism.

Minneapolis, MN – Minneapolis’ Mayor Frey and seven Minneapolis city council members are talking about how they feel personally threatened after the Roof Depot struggle has become national news – after years of ignoring the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, the group that has been spearheading the push to buy the building with the goal of creating a neighborhood space. As the neighborhood is mobilized and righteously angry about the pollution, Frey and his cronies in the Minneapolis city council try to demonize the neighborhood, attempting to paint activists, particularly indigenous activists, as violent.

The Climate Justice Committee condemns the scapegoating of indigenous people by city officials who are trying to divert attention away from the ongoing poisoning of the East Phillips neighborhood.

East Phillips is a neighborhood that includes the largest native preference Section 8 housing, Little Earth. It's also home to very large Latino and Somali populations, and overall is one of the most diverse parts of Minneapolis with a strong working-class identity. Historically this neighborhood has been the site for many polluting companies, like the asphalt manufacturer Bituminous Roadways and Smith Foundry, both located across the street from the Roof Depot building currently under contention. East Phillips has been underdeveloped, underserved and over-polluted for decades. The Roof Depot company closed its doors and in 2015 leaving residents hoping for something better. This led to the formation of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI).

EPNI intended to buy the site and create something that was sorely missing – a community space with an indoor farm for fresh produce for the residents and the potential for housing, job training and more. But quickly it became clear the red tape of capitalism couldn't understand or account for community ownership structures, while at the same time Mayor Frey's development plans took shape. The city swooped in and purchased the site, under the thread of eminent domain, for the city's industrial fleet. The current city plan will add over 800 parking spots with the intention of filling some portion of that with Minneapolis industrial vehicles.

This all came as a surprise to East Phillips residents as it's also the location of the Midtown Greenway bike trail and was named a 'Green Zone' by the same mayor and city council, acknowledging the historic pollution in the area.

EPNI tried in vain to meet with the mayor's office for several years. The city council members’ votes went back and forth on the future of the site, but every time coming up short of giving control or voice to the residents most affected. EPNI invited Frey to talk to members of the community on multiple occasions all to no response.

The Climate Justice Committee, a newer group in the Twin Cities, joined with the struggle, wanting to help mobilize the community and to work with the residents of Little Earth and EPNI to resist this clear plan of environmental racism.

Over the summer of 2022 EPNI anonymously received a city document showing how Mayor Frey's plan to move the city's diesel fleet wasn't fiscally sound. The document showed that upgrades to the current waterworks location in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood would make more sense. But this report was slid under the rug and not given the light of day until well after Frey's plans were in motion.

EPNI continued to call for meetings with Frey's office, finally attempting a legal strategy which did lead to a meeting with the mayor’s office. The empty promises made in the meeting by Frey's team never materialized, or were outright lies.

Parallel to the legal fight, the Climate Justice Committee, EPNI and Little Earth residents were confronting Frey about the poisoning of East Phillips and bringing the fight to city council meetings and taking rallies into the mayor’s office. But after Little Earth residents fill the council chambers, city council members claim to feel threatened – filing restraining orders against elders and attempting to make policy changes to criminalize protests of city officials and at city meetings.

The narrative of vague death threats and violence is disingenuous, false and intended to distract from the real perpetrators of violence: Mayor Frey and his cronies on the Minneapolis city council. The mayor wrings his hands about death threats while East Phillips gets poisoned. One council member (Vetaw) filed a police report, but the only evidence clearly shows her physically assaulting a protester and taking their phone. Another council member (Palmisano) claims activists are paid to disrupt meetings, but can only show gas cards provided to help get those affected to meetings. These narratives are right-wing talking points meant to make the mayor and his cronies on the city council seem like the innocent victims, while they punch down at the Little Earth community actually under attack.

#MinneapolisMN #EnvironmentalJustice #environmentalRacism #RoofDepot