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    Minneapolis City Council member Michael Rainville tries to make peace after firestorm over remarks about Somali youth

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    Facing the possibility of censure, Minneapolis City Council Member Michael Rainville has been making the rounds apologizing for his comments blaming Somali American youth for a wave of violence in the city over the July 4th weekend.

    Some racial justice advocacy groups and fellow Democrats are pressuring the City Council to take action against Rainville, including a censure. Nothing on that topic, though, appears on Thursday’s meeting agenda.

    Rainville met with some members of the Somali community in private last week and apologized to more than a dozen residents frustrated with him for singling out Somali youth. Police have yet to release information on the ethnicity of those involved in the chaos downtown that day.

    “Rainville said, ‘I made a mistake and I’m here to learn and fix my mistakes and provide any support,'” said Council Member Jamal Osman, who attended last week’s meeting. “We acknowledge that [singling out] people is a big problem, but the community wants to move on and has accepted his apology and they will continue working with him.”

    Rainville’s initial apology came after he blamed Somali American youth for violence that included a mass shooting at a large gathering at Boom Island Park and others launching fireworks toward cars and buildings while driving on downtown streets.

    His apology was called into question for remarks he made later. At a Take Back the Street rally, Rainville told a crowd, “We are being filmed by people who don’t understand living in the violent atmosphere you have,” and warned them to “be aware of what you say and who you say it to.”

    Those remarks stoked anger and even stunned some of Rainville’s closest allies in the Somali community, including leaders of the Dar Al-Qalam mosque who credit the council member for helping them address recent vandalism.

    The Somali Student Association at the University of Minnesota — which helped organize the private meeting at Dar Al-Qalam — lauded Rainville for working to make inroads with the community, but noted that his comments carry broader implications “not only how people view the Somali community but also how systems of government will perceive the community.”

    “We are pleased that [Council Member] Rainville has actively worked to develop a relationship with the community before his insensitive remarks and hope that he will continue to build inroads within the Somali community he serves,” the student group said in a statement.

    Apology ‘political art’

     

    Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said Rainville’s commitment to engage with the community and address the harm is a step in the right direction but it’s not enough.

    “In politics, an apology is a well-practiced political art for ducking responsibility and accountability,” Jacobs said. “The challenge for [Rainville] is to make things right, as judged by the Somali community.”

    Rainville has promised to work with Mayor Jacob Frey and council members to provide some funding for the Somali community, particularly youth, in the upcoming budget, said Osman, the lone Somali American on the council.

    Rainville has not responded to interview requests from the Star Tribune, and his office did not answer written questions, including what that support for youth and community would look like.

    Abdulahi Abdalla, president of the student group, said they talked about a holistic approach to policing and addressing crime and drug use among young people, including building culturally responsive programs and resources.

    “Our conversation inevitably became more about public safety because Rainville is a supporter of having stronger public safety, having more officers,” Abdalla said, noting that many in the community favor a broader approach, including “having officers of color and culturally trained and competent behavioral response teams, and intervention programs.”

    Political newcomer

    Rainville, 69, who represents downtown and nearby neighborhoods, was elected to office for the first time last fall after running a campaign focused heavily on public safety. He opposed a proposal to replace the city’s Police Department with a public safety agency.

    While Rainville works to rebuild his ties with the Somali community, some of his colleagues on the council are seeking a harsh punishment for his comments. There also are two open ethics complaints involving Rainville.

    Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said recently that the council doesn’t need to wait for the findings of an ethics board to condemn Rainville’s “xenophobic, racist and condescending” remarks.

    Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this story.

    Faiza Mahamud covers Minneapolis for the Star Tribune. She has previously covered education, immigrant communities, city government and neighborhoods.

    Source: By Faiza Mahamud Star Tribune
    Thursday July 21, 2022

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