The Minneapolis Park Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to take Martin Luther King Jr. Park off a list of possible sites for an off leash dog park, because the proposal drew harsh criticism from members of the African-American community.
Park board commissioners acknowledged that the proposal for a fenced in, off-leash dog park was dividing neighbors and community members largely along racial lines. Many supporters of the proposal are white, and nearly all of the opponents who've shown up to speak at park board forums have been African-American.
Several commissioners criticized comments by a few dog park opponents at a recent meeting, which they say were threatening. Commissioner John Erwin said those comments didn't influence his decision to take King park off the list of possible sites for the dog park.
"It is right to respect those who are offended, even if I don't necessarily understand that offense," Erwin said.
Some commissioners say they voted to exclude the park because African-Americans, like Virginia Richardson, told them they thought the proposal was offensive.
"I'm of that age where Martin Luther King Park and a doggy park, did not compute," Richardson said. "So I'm glad that the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King has been left intact for me, and for that I'm grateful."
Richardson and others say the offense stems from the use of police dogs to attack civil rights marchers in the past. Some dog park supporters say they meant no offense and were surprised the proposal became so controversial.
Erwin said commissioners wanted to put the debate to rest.
"We gave the two groups some time to see if they could come to any resolution between each other and it became obvious there wasn't going to be a resolution," He said. "So we just wanted to move ahead and start looking at some of those better sites that would be more appropriate for a dog park."
Erwin said some of the other locations they're looking at are larger, they're not near a playground, and they have parking.
The park board agreed to form a citizen committee to search for another south Minneapolis site for a dog park.