On July 8, Minneapolis City Council Member Michael Rainville held a public safety meeting for his Ward 3 constituents at which he made several troubling generalizations about recent crime downtown. Notably, he said he was “going over to a mosque in Northeast to meet with Somali elders and tell them their children can no longer have that kind of behavior.” He went to the Dar Al-Qalam Islamic Center that afternoon.
Generalizing the actions taken by a group of young people on one night to an entire nationality is racist and dangerous. Assuming that those youth are also Muslim and visiting a mosque to confront religious leaders about their behavior demonstrates incredible ignorance and willingness to scapegoat our fellow Minneapolis residents.
Many local leaders and organizations quickly realized the harm his actions would cause and released public statements condemning Rainville’s behavior. To date, more than 60 people and groups have made statements, including nine council members, 15 Minnesota legislators and the Guthrie Theater. Noticeably absent from the list? Council Vice President Linea Palmisano.
After days of constituents reaching out, Palmisano responded to those residents with a private email on July 14, 2022. Palmisano’s email explains that she does not plan to make a public statement and has decided to speak privately with Rainville and others to resolve the situation.
As the vice president of the City Council, Palmisano plays an essential role in setting the tone and expectations for council members. There are occasions where private, interpersonal conversations are the best way to provide feedback for a colleague. This is not one of them. Rainville’s racist words and actions were public — part of his official duties as a council member. His accountability process needs to be equally transparent.
Palmisano has publicly admonished colleagues before. On multiple occasions, she has interrupted Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley’s questions of city leaders during council meetings. However, she has failed to call out much more clearly aggressive comments and questions from other colleagues and Mayor Frey. This pattern of inconsistent leadership and accountability also brings to mind Palmisano’s recent vote to approve Heather Johnston to the city coordinator position after dozens of current and former Minneapolis staffers publicly spoke about racism they experienced under her leadership.
Palmisano has not shown a consistent willingness to stand up for marginalized residents, city workers or her own colleagues. We do not trust her ability to facilitate an adequate accountability process that centers the communities who were harmed.
In her email, Palmisano also says Rainville “is devastated by the hurt these words caused and took immediate action to atone for his comments.” While Rainville did release an apology and has spoken privately with some Muslim and Somali community members, he has simultaneously taken actions that make his words seem hollow.
After he apologized, he still held a “Take Back the Streets” event, where he pointed out people taking video of his public speech, including several BIPOC residents, and told the almost entirely white crowd that those people “don’t understand what it means to be living in the violent atmosphere you have been, so be aware of what you say and who you say it to.”
Rainville’s rhetoric and actions were choices that reinforce false stereotypes that Black people, immigrants and Muslims should be treated as criminal. Spreading hateful stereotypes does nothing to reduce crime. If these actions are not called out, others will feel comfortable doing the same, further dehumanizing our Black and brown neighbors. This serves to reinforce and rationalize the deep inequities in our city, which led to an historic uprising in 2020. This is what makes Rainville’s comments and Palmisano’s silence so harmful.
As southwest Minneapolis residents, we call on Palmisano to publicly demonstrate the values she claims to uphold. We ask her to publicly stand by her Muslim colleagues on the council, other community leaders, and all Somali and Muslim residents. She must show them that racist and Islamophobic behavior will not be tolerated under her leadership. We also ask her to publicly share a plan for how she will work as a council leader to ensure she and her colleagues are continuously learning, reflecting on prejudices and breaking down the racist systems that brought national attention to Minneapolis’ stark racial disparities.
We also call on all of our southwest neighbors to use this moment for self-reflection and anti-racist action. We live in the whitest and wealthiest area of the city. Redlining, racial covenants and disproportionate representation in local government has given us greater access to resources and social safety nets than our neighbors in any other area of the city. Just by living in Southwest, we have privilege and influence that we must use to push back against the racist words and systems that divide us. More than 50 Ward 13 residents have signed on to this public statement to support our Somali and Muslim neighbors — if others agree with this message, we urge them to do the same.
Heather Silsbee, Kristen Ingle and other members of the Southwest Alliance for Equity (SWAE).