MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — People gathered in St. Cloud Tuesday to have an honest conversation about race.
About 150 people — including Gov. Mark Dayton, the mayor of St. Cloud and the city’s police chief — were on hand at the Great River Regional Library to help lead the conversation.
Dayton accepted an invitation by the Central Minnesota chapter of the NAACP to take part in a discussion about ongoing racial tensions that seem to be escalating.
As more East African immigrants make St. Cloud their home, police and human rights leaders are investigating more reports of discrimination and harassment.
“This is a time for everybody who’s a Minnesotan, a real Minnesotan, to take a stand and say, ‘Not in our state,'” Dayton said.
The governor was very blunt about his thoughts on racial intolerance in Minnesota. A racially-charged incident on the campus of St. Cloud State just last week was just one example of what people are seeing.
The police chief says a local man chose to stand on a public sidewalk on campus holding a Confederate flag, while calling out to those who passed by.
“Anyone who comes here and says, ‘Somalis are abusing the system or taking advantage of it,’ we’re not,” said a Somali resident near the end of the discussion. “We are great citizens and we’re trying to … diversify St. Cloud.”
People who shared their thoughts and questions with the governor were just as blunt about their feelings.
“First of all, let me say that I am not a racist. I don’t want to be called a racist. But I do feel I have a right to question some of the things that are going on,” said an older, white St. Cloud resident.
The governor says the growing number of immigrants in Minnesota strengthen our workforce.
“The immigrant population and assimilating them, and giving them a chance to learn English and catch up academically so they can become productive citizens is crucial if we’re going to have a growing economy,” Dayton said.
He emphasized the need to embrace change.
“Minnesota is not what it was 30, 50 years ago, but this is Minnesota, and you have every right to be here. And if anybody who can’t accept your right to be here … they should find another state. They really should go somewhere else,” Dayton said.
People from the community also had a chance to talk with other state leaders who accepted the NAACP’s invitation Tuesday. State Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey and Rep. Jim Knoblach were also there answering questions and sharing their thoughts.
They are focused for now on keeping the conversation going in hopes that some misconceptions and inaccurate information will get hashed out in these discussions.
The NAACP plans to hold these public meetings every month. Lindsey and St. Cloud’s police chief did encourage everyone to report incidents as soon as they happen, rather than waiting or just talking about it on social media.