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Minneapolis approves state involvement in addressing public threats against city council members

Some Minneapolis councilmembers said it's time the state helps crack down on threats against both councilors and other public employees.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minneapolis City Council met Thursday to discuss public safety, but this time, their meeting centered around the members' safety when interacting with the public.

“We want people running for mayor, and city council and state representative with different perspectives and we want them to have the courage to stand up and do what they believe is right in representation of their respective communities," said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. 

Some councilmembers said threats are becoming more frequent, happening both inside and outside the chamber. They said it's time the state helps crack down on these kinds of threats, which they said are happening to council members, in addition to other public employees.

"This is not about protests and it's not about free speech, it is about the assaults and threats of violence," said Councilwoman Linea Palmisano.

The council ultimately voted "yes" to getting the state involved, but it wasn't a unanimous decision. Other members of the council who said they get threats, too, communicated that they felt that getting the state involved could further criminalize the idea of protest or civil disobedience. 

"I'm seeing some council members conflate the protests that have happened here, specifically in the last council meeting with Jan. 6 or other right-wing racist protests, and it's very dangerous to conflate the two," said Minneapolis Ward 2 Councilmember Robin Wonsley. "It's a dangerous line of rhetoric when we conflate Black and Indigenous residents' genuine and justified fear about a harmful, city-led project with extreme violence."

Ward 5 Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison agreed.

"I've faced as many threats as anyone on this dais," he said. "I don't condone it, and I don't think any of us should, but I don't think that increased criminalization has ever been an effective solution to threats."

And while the vote was close, it was those in favor of the state stepping in who ultimately prevailed.

"This isn't about being left wing or right wing; this should be apolitical," said Linea Palmisano, who represents Minneapolis' Ward 13. "We made it clear they should be protected when doing business, but increasingly, they are being targeted at home, in the skyway, in the apartment elevators. We need to take a stand and this is one way to do that."

City Councilor Andrew Johnson, representing Ward 12, shared Palmisano's sentiment. He said he's concerned for the safety of his family. 

"After going to NICU during the day and worrying about my baby who was struggling to breathe, I would have to come home, keep my 3-and-a-half-year-old in the car while I searched the perimeter of our house for pipe bombs," Johnson said. "These have an effect on our families; these have an effect on whether people even run for office in the first place."

The next steps in the process are unclear, but the path to fruition will most likely have to piggyback on an existing piece of legislation, or an entirely new law will soon be introduced to lawmakers.

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