MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two leaders. Both elected into the same job as the mayor of Minneapolis, but decades apart. A city under scrutiny for disparity and lack of opportunity for people of color. WCCO’s Jennifer Mayerle asked the question of how we move forward and create change to both current Mayor Jacob Frey and the city’s first Black and female mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton.

“I can’t breathe.”

It’s a rally cry heard around the country, as video circulated of a white Minneapolis police officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Protests, rioting, looting, arson and lawlessness followed Floyd’s killing. Along with messages of hope, murals of expression and a desperate need for healing. And voices demanding change.

Leaders say they’re listening and drawing from the community to pave a path forward.

“There is a full systemic structure that needs to change, that has for decades, for generations, hindered black and brown people. It’s everything from the way our economy is set up, to our schools, to our healthcare system, to yes, the way that we do policing. And, it’s not as if all that we’ve seen over the last few weeks just began with the tragic killing of George Floyd,” Mayor Jacob Frey said.

Frey pointed to the need to address systemic issues like policing while focusing on affordable housing, health and addiction treatment and food deserts. And he’s leaning on people who have been in his position.

Mayerle asked Sayles Belton, “Have you reached to the mayor, the police chief, the city council and offered your help, expertise, advice, any of it?”

“Yes, yes, yes and yes. And I continue to do that, you know, every day. Every day I’m doing something to demonstrate my love for the citizens of the city of Minneapolis and for our public leaders,” Sayles Belton said.

Sayles Belton served the city of Minneapolis for 18 years, first as a council member, then council president and later as mayor from 1994 to 2001. She grew up near 38th and Chicago and bought her first home near the Floyd memorial.

“What are your thoughts on moving forward?” Mayerle asked.

“Well first I think we need to focus our attention on reforming the police department. And it isn’t so much the department as a whole, in my opinion. It is trying to figure out how to root out those officers that work on the Minneapolis police force who are disrespecting the badge, disrespecting their oath of office and have no respect and regard for the citizens that they swore to protect, and those officers need to go. And we have to have tools that force them out of the department and keep them, not only out of our department, but out of any other police department in any other community,” Sayles Belton said.

In her eyes, it goes beyond shredding the police union contract and starting a new. Sayles Belton believes we need to look at closing gaps where resources could help social problems like mental illness, homelessness and chemical dependency.

“Many of the problems that we are facing that we call the police for are problems we could solve with other tools and resources. So I’m not an advocate of let’s defund the police. I’m an advocate for fund the police appropriately and then now also fund the human service safety net that we’ve let, you know, fray,” Sayles Belton said.

She considers herself part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Joining voices that say we need to establish equity and find common humanity to address educational, economic and health disparities. She believes it will all take everyone working together, bridging the public and private sector, like the school district, park board, non-profits and corporations.

“And if we want to solve this, all of those people have to be at the table. That’s the lesson I learned in my 18 years at city hall is nobody can tackle these complex problems alone. You need help,” Sayles Belton said.

She is optimistic Minneapolis will get there.

“I still believe wholeheartedly that we have the wherewithal and the commitment to see ourselves to a brighter future,” Sayles Belton said.

“We are going to have a constant drum beat of policy reforms that are moving forward both at the city level and those that we’re advocating in other areas. We will see change with respect to how our police department operates. We will see a full culture shift because the truth is we need to. There’s not an option otherwise. But then beyond that, as we recover, as we renew, as we see these neighborhoods and corridors really come back to life, we need to make sure we’re centering black voices in everything we’re doing,” Frey said.

“What is your message to the community about your commitment to making this happen?” Mayerle asked.

“I’m all in. I love this city. I believe in Minneapolis. And I know, I know that we can harness all of this energy we’re seeing, all the frustration and sadness towards a common result,” Frey said.

There are ways to share ideas and opinions with the mayor and city on how to move forward. Call 311 or email them. To share feedback with the mayor’s office, use this form.

Click here to watch WCCO’s extended interview with Frey, and click here to watch Sayles Belton’s extended interview. NOTE: the interviews were filmed last week before the Minneapolis City Council voted to defund the police.

Jennifer Mayerle