Ilhan Omar told constituents at a town hall meeting Saturday that Minneapolis’ rise in gun violence and carjackings can be blamed on police who “have chosen to not fulfill their oath of office and provide the public safety they owe to the citizens.”
The congresswoman, who spoke before a mostly friendly gathering of about 50 at her alma mater, Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis, was responding to a resident who confessed she had been on the verge of moving due to the increase in crime and the scores of officers who have quit or claimed post-traumatic stress since the murder last year of George Floyd at the hands of police.
Omar, a Democratic-Farmer-Labor member, said she understood the desire for safety and reiterated her call to voters to approve a Minneapolis city charter amendment that would remove minimum police staffing requirements and give the City Council authority over a more holistic public safety department.
“When you have a system that refuses to work for the people it’s supposed to serve, you have to go back to the drawing board,” she said. “At some point, you’ve got to walk away.”
Omar and DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison support the amendment, while fellow DFLers such as Mayor Jacob Frey, Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith have said they oppose it.
Omar has lately thrown her weight into the Minneapolis election, endorsing mayoral candidates Kate Knuth and Sheila Nezhad while urging residents not to mark Frey, who is seeking re-election, on their ranked-choice ballots.
In her first indoor, in-person town hall since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Omar reported on the stalemate in Washington over President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, a massive infrastructure and social net plan costing trillions whose soaring costs and climate change provisions have led to a Democratic rift and ongoing efforts at compromise.
North Minneapolis developer Jamez Staples, who runs a solar installation company, asked how Congress would ensure equity in the bill for communities that have been historically left behind.
Omar said U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, were the only obstacles to passage of the $3.5 trillion bill and the reason why it has been halved. She said that meant certain child care subsidies and paid family leave may receive funding for five years instead of 10.
She called it “baffling and shameful” that Manchin, who takes issue with provisions that would penalize West Virginia’s coal companies, would hobble social services that his low-income constituents could benefit from.
However, Omar indicated she would be willing to compromise in hopes of accomplishing something rather than nothing.
“If you’re talking to a constituent of mine that needs child care, paid family leave that has zero at the moment, [then] getting them four years, six years of child care subsidy is something I can’t say no to,” she said.
Residents’ questions ranged from personal issues to sweeping policy concerns, including student loan debt, the Line 3 replacement pipeline, addiction services and the Afghan refugee crisis.
Edison teacher Billy Menz, who is running unopposed for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s District 1 seat, asked Omar when the city will begin to receive Afghan refugees.
“As a community that’s been built and strengthened by immigrant populations, I know this building and the community at large would welcome those people here,” Menz said.
Omar responded that, “contrary to what Fox News might say,” it’s a lengthy process.
“They’re going to go through a vetting process that will take some time,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is coming anytime soon.”
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