A hulking RV, the kind you’d see out in the woods, sits in a supermarket parking lot in north Minneapolis.
It might look just like a regular camper — but its owner sees it as the hub for the next phase in her racial justice activism.
Leslie Redmond, former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, is calling her campaign “Don’t Complain, Activate.”
“You don’t have to be President Barack Obama or Beyoncé in order to activate your community,” she said. “There is everyday people that are going to transform the world, whether you're a mom or a dad, artist or entrepreneur, a young person.”
The guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial made history this month, but many people — from elected officials to community activists — say it is just the beginning in a long journey for justice. Redmond’s project is one piece of ongoing broader efforts to address structural racism that leads to poor outcomes for people of color.
She was inspired by a recent visit to India, where she saw local activists buying big buses and transforming them into education centers for students who couldn’t attend traditional school because of work demands. So, she bought the used RV and stationed it in the city.
Redmond just bought it, but she has big plans. She plans to staff it, fill it with clothes and food, and offer it to young people who need a place to shower or sleep.
“A lot of the root issues for me in America and that exist in inner city communities is poverty, right?” she said. “This is gonna be a real community center.”
Redmond spoke from inside the RV, which was parked just a few blocks from Shiloh Temple, where the funeral of 20-year-old Daunte Wright who was fatally shot by Brooklyn Center police took place.
While police killings of Wright, George Floyd, and many others spurred the movement for racial justice, Redmond said it’s important to think about issues beyond police reform that would help prevent tragedies involving Black people.
“I’ve been to so many funerals at Shiloh for so many different causes and all of them are just absolutely heartbreaking,” she said. “And the heartbreaking part for me is that so many of these murders and deaths could be prevented.”
It’s why Redmond believes in activating future generations and providing them with opportunities to grow and thrive. She plans to turn the bus into a resource for young people looking to get involved with the movement. She also plans to take her community hub on the road — transporting kids out of their neighborhoods and onto lakeshores and other Minnesota attractions.
“You’ll be shocked to find out how many young people go their whole lives, or a lot of their lives, never even leaving their neighborhood, never getting a chance to be by the water,” she said.
While holding police accountable has been at the forefront of the fight for racial justice, many say the verdict against Chauvin last week wasn’t true justice.
Even the state’s top prosecutor himself said the outcome of the trial was simply accountability.
Attorney General Keith Ellison told NPR that Minnesota has some of the worst disparities in all areas of life from housing to education to criminal justice. Policing, Ellison said, is what keeps those inequities alive.
“The police are the guardians of not just the law but also social norms,” he said. “And if the social norm is, ‘Some people are important, and some people just don’t matter,’ then the police are going to live that out, which is why we have to say Black lives matter.”
But some activists say societal transformation can’t happen without ending policing as we know it.
Kennedy-Ezra Kastle is with the organization Black Visions, which has been pushing to defund the police and shift resources to other crime prevention efforts.
Kastle points to the very first statement that Minneapolis police released after Floyd was killed, which said a suspect who had resisted arrest “appeared to be suffering medical distress” and later died at the hospital.
The statement never mentioned that an officer was in any way responsible for Floyd’s death.
“It was the hypocrisy,” Kastle said. “It’s like you folks flat out lied, and then got on the stand and tried to sell us this spectacle of ‘we would never do that, this isn’t at all who we are’ when in reality, you were you were prepared to cover up the murder.”
Kastle added that because the Police Department has lost the trust of many people, it’s beyond reform.
“Every time tragic death and Black death happens, we get all of these promises, and these laws pass, and everyone gets excited but it doesn’t prevent Black death,” he said. “The problem is built into the DNA of the Police Department, and the only way to remove that problem is to remove the Police Department.”
Black Visions, along with several other groups, has been campaigning to defund the Minneapolis Police Department over the past year. Kastle said a coalition of groups has collected 20,000 signatures in a petition asking city officials to replace the department. The question is likely to go on the ballot this fall to let voters decide whether they want to dismantle the department.
However, not all activists are calling for abolition and some, like Redmond, are still hoping to make changes within the department and in state law that would hold more officers accountable. One example is to re-imagine the arbitration process that allows fired police officers to get their jobs back after misconduct.
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and president of the Racial Justice Network, said there are long-established patterns of police misconduct in Minnesota. After the federal Department of Justice announced last week it was conducting a sweeping investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department to determine if it has been operating unlawfully, Levy Armstrong said the agency needs to do even more.
“We also want the Justice Department to take seriously something that families have been asking for a long time, and that is the reopening of all of the cases of those who have been killed by police in the state of Minnesota,” she said. “Some people may think that that’s a heavy lift and big ask. Well, so did a lot of people when it came to whether or not Derek Chauvin would be convicted of killing George Floyd.”
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