Some interesting election and national observations from Don Samuels from
the Politics In Minnesota newsletter. (


If Pictures Paint A 1000 Words, Then Samuels Supplies The Words To The

Your publishers, like the rest of America and much of the world, were glued
to the television and watched in horror as the aftermath of Katrina unfolded
last week. It's too soon to tell what it all means for Minnesota politics,
but we couldn't help but be struck by the haunting images in the New Orleans

Those images were of mostly black (and mostly poor and uneducated) people,
and mostly women (many of them mothers), and their children. There were
very, very few men - or fathers. We couldn't help but wonder what
Minneapolis City Council Member Don Samuels thought about the portrait of
that part of America captured in the Superdome. That's because Samuels, one
of the most intriguing figures currently serving in elected office, has been
one lone Minnesota cowboy when it comes to publicly opining on the demise of
the intact, black family and what that portends for people who happen to be
black, but also for the rest of us. 

Yesterday, PIM Publisher Sarah Janecek sat down with Samuels at the Bean
Scene on West Broadway in the Jordan neighborhood, which is usually
characterized as one of Minneapolis' toughest neighborhoods. [Digression:
The Bean Scene is more than a good coffee shop with WiFi; it also has hot
food, sandwiches and salads and is owned by Bill Rose, who owns Broadway
Liquor, and is run by his son, Dean Rose, and former Broadway Liquor manager
Lynda Baker. One mile west of I-94 on Broadway, the Bean Scene was once a
Burger King (although you wouldn't guess that today), meaning there's ample
parking. Contribute to Jordan's economy. Go there. Buy lots of food and

Samuels has represented City Council Ward 3. But after the 2002
redistricting, his home in the Jordan neighborhood fell into Ward 5, where
he is running against that ward's incumbent, Natalie Johnson Lee. The two
are the only black members of the Minneapolis City Council. Samuels grew up
in Jamaica but has lived in the U.S. since he was 20. 

PIM: For shorthand, I'm going to call all those women, all those children
and so few men in the Superdome, "the dynamic in the dome." As you watched
last week, what did you think of the dynamic?

Samuels: That reality exists all over the country. In Minneapolis, that's
[the fatherlessness] 70% of all black families. But the numbers don't mean
anything. They are intellectually empty. The pictures. They are emotional
and jolting. And they don't tell the whole story. One station I was watching
showed a huge group of prisoners on the road, being transported out of what
I presume was a flooded prison. The shot was from a helicopter, so we could
not see their faces. I've got to assume those were also mostly black faces,
those prisoners. They never became part of the story, but they should have,
because that's where too many black men are - in prison.

Two other thoughts about the pictures. Almost taboo ones, but important to
recognize. Those were dark faces on those women, almost bizarrely unblended.
They looked like they were from Haiti or Africa. This is part of the
unspoken evolution of race. We cannot seem to talk about the reality that
lighter- skinned black people are more likely to escape poverty. And
finally, when I look at those pictures, I see loneliness. Chronic loneliness
in the lives of so many black women raising children by themselves, and
without the fulfillment of the basic human need for male companionship.  

PIM: I knew there was a reason I wanted to talk to you. You are so
refreshingly unafraid to say what others, particularly others who hold
themselves out to be "black leaders," won't say. What you just described,
that's what most of white America saw. And yet we can't talk about it. Will
the pictures help change anything?

Samuels: Yes, if there is any good at all that can come out of Katrina, it
is those pictures. Maybe that is the gift in this tragedy. These populations
are isolated and most of America doesn't see them. N ow, they have, there in
the Superdome. Everyone has to admit there's a problem. What we're doing
isn't working. Just the admission of the problem is huge. That's why I
started my peace vigils, as a way to try to admit we have a problem.

PIM: Explain that, please. [But first some background on Samuels' peace
vigils. Before he ran for city council he appeared on the political radar
screen because he started holding vigils where people were shot and killed
in North Minneapolis. He has continued to hold the vigils since his
election. At most of them (there have been more than 30), he spends 8-10
hours at the scene of the killing, always fasting for that time. Others are
longer. When a two- year-old girl was shot in August 2003, Samuels kept his
vigil for four days and three nights. Many others have joined him.

Samuels: About two years before I came up with the idea and held my first
vigil, one day I drove through the 26th and Knox intersection. There were
about 50 guys there, all on the one block. Certainly something terrible was
going to happen. I didn't know what, and I felt so powerless. I couldn't
think of anything to do. Sure enough, several years later, an 11-year-old
boy was shot there. The child was merely watching other people play dice,
and he gets shot and killed. I think back--a lot--to that day two years ago.
What could I have done then to prevent the death of that 11- year-old later?
Best answer I could come up with is to hold the vigils. 

They admit we have a problem, like the pictures of the Superdome in New
Orleans. The 50 guys, most likely gang members, at 26th and Knox? That's a
Minneapolis Katrina. And, most of the local schools? They are the
intellectual equivalent of Katrina. And the jails and prisons filled with
blacks? They are the "harvests" of Minneapolis' Katrinas.

PIM: What exactly, should be done, to work on the problem?

Samuels: Part of the beginning of the answer is in the vigils. They make me
get immersed in the problem. I think you have to be "in" the problem to
figure it out. For example, three former gang members attended every vigil I
held for about a year and half. They knew the families, helped me get to
know the people involved. They also eventually told me the specifics of why
youn g men are afraid to leave the gangs. They don't know how to find jobs.
So, I started a group to raise mon ey to help people try to get connected to
find jobs. These guys think there are at least 350 gang members who would
love to get out....

PIM: [Interrupting]...which begs the question. How many gang members are
there in Minneapolis?

Samuels: [A touch of dread crosses his face]...I have no idea. No one does.
One last thought on the vigils. They are my seemingly powerless way of
trying to be powerful. They are a start.

PIM:Switching gears. Your reelection campaign. The only two blacks on the
Minneapolis City Council facing off. This is some race. As I understand the
political intelligence, Johnson Lee is the "black establishment" candidate,
and you are the renegade. That you have somehow "sold out." Your response?

Samuels: The black establishment doesn't want change. Natalie doesn't want
change. She's a product of the reality that exists. But regular people here
in this neighborhood? They desperately want change. Not only are the gangs
and the crime life-threatening, they are also unbelievably inconvenient to
people trying to conduct the daily business of life. To the idea that I have
sold out, I say you cannot try to lead the people if you don't love them.
There's a deep fear of betrayal in the black community. That's part of the
problem. A deep- rooted stereotype that somehow, if you adapt to or manage
your way in the larger, whiter world, you've sold out. That's toxic. 

PIM:In general, what is it that Republicans get wrong when it comes to
issues of race and poverty?

Samuels: The Republicans idealize capitalism. They think the market always
self- corrects. That's not the way it always works.

PIM: And the Democrats on the same issues, in general, what do they get

Samuels: The Democrats oversimplify the answers. They think if you are
liberal and have good will, that's enough. And, it's clearly not. To both
parties. The policies stay static while the problem wildly mutates. The
policies simply have to change to accommodate the mutations. 

Strikes your publishers that a voice, and definitely the concrete actions,
of someone like Don Samuels are too valuable to waste, and we hope North
Minneapolis voters think the same this November. Finally, to any of our
readers who want to test the waters of the great racial divide, here's an
easy way to do so. The Peace Foundation is holding its second annual Peace
Ball on September 25. It's "an event for people ready to answer a collective
call to action and stand against local violence."

David Brauer
List manager

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