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DeRay Mckesson talks police, politics and public schools at MinnPost 11th anniversary

Over 400 people gathered at the Cowles Center on Thursday, Oct. 11, to mark 11 years of MinnPost with a conversation about politics, activism and technology with special guest, DeRay Mckesson.

DeRay Mckesson
Much of the conversation focused on DeRay Mckesson's new book, "The Other Side of Freedom."
MinnPost photo by Anna Min

Over 400 people gathered at the Cowles Center on Thursday, Oct. 11, to mark 11 years of MinnPost with a conversation with civil rights activist and author DeRay Mckesson. Interviewed by MinnPost Editor Andy Putz, Mckesson touched on a number of timely topics, including politics, activism and technology. Mckesson is a leading voice in the movement for racial justice, coming to prominence during the 2014 protests in Ferguson following the killing of Michael Brown.

Much of the conversation focused on Mckesson’s new book, “On the Other Side of Freedom,” a collection of essays about his life, work and approach to community organizing.

But Mckesson also revisited the 2016 election, defending his support for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, saying Clinton “got it” on issues of police reform in private meetings, but lamented what he saw as her lack of public advocacy for the issue. “Of all the issues you thought she would have thought she would have been cagey with she was excellent and you never saw it,” Mckesson said.

Mckesson said he hasn’t seen a new Democratic standard-bearer that he believes will successfully overcome Donald Trump to win the presidency, either. He said he’d like to see a forward-looking candidate who can offer a “big vision.”

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“The person who is going to beat Trump won’t be running against Trump, they’ll be running for a vision of America that’s bigger than him,” he said. (He said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker “is close” but that there are some potential candidates that are “very far away.”)

On local issues, Mckesson was asked about addressing Minnesota’s persistent race-based disparities. He said when he worked in Minneapolis Public Schools he remembered visiting an elementary school where people had told “horror stories” about student behavior. But when he got to one music class, he said, the kids weren’t paying attention, but were sitting down and not acting particularly out of line. “I was like if this is the worst behavior in the school this is fine — this is like nothing,” he said. “It was interesting to see how people talked about kids of color as like these wild monsters.”

He also said Minnesotans aren’t great about being clear about what is and isn’t working — both in schools and elsewhere. “I think that one of the sort of disadvantages of ‘Minnesota nice’ is that people are nice to a fault, right?” Mckesson said. “That nice actually comes as a veneer to not tell the truth to people.”

MinnPost’s annual Anniversary Celebration features conversations with prominent public figures about issues facing the community. Past guests have included former Obama White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, political scientist Norm Ornstein and legendary journalists Bill and Judith Moyers.

The event not only marks the organization’s anniversary and achievements, but also raises funds to continue the work of MinnPost’s nonprofit, reader-supported newsroom.