Human Relations Commission

Boards, Commissions & Committees

Human Relations Commission - June 18, 2020 Minutes

The Regular Meeting of the Board of Human Relations Commissioners of the City of Fargo, North Dakota, was held in the Commission Chambers at City Hall at 12:00 p.m., Thursday, June 18, 2020.

The Human Relations Commissioners present or absent were as follows:

Present: Rachel Hoffman, Cheryl Schaefle, Matuor Alier, Laetitia Hellerud, Adam Martin, Barry Nelson, Cody Severson

Absent: Hamida Dakane, Abdiwali Sharif-Abdinasir

Item 1. Welcome and Introductions
Chair Nelson welcomed Members to the meeting and introductions were made.

Item 2. Approve Order of Agenda
Member Severson moved the Order of Agenda be approved as presented. Second by Member Hoffman. All Members present voted aye and the motion was declared carried.

Item 3. Approve Minutes
Member Hoffman moved the minutes of the February 20, 2020 Human Relations Commission meeting be approved as presented. Second by Member Schaefle. All Members present voted aye and the motion was declared carried.

Item 4. HRC Member Updates from COVID-19 Closure
Chair Nelson noted the following:

- Members Dakane and Sharif-Abdinasir are absent from today’s meeting, as they are attending the funeral of Dahir Ahmed, member of the community.

- Congratulations to Members Hellerud and Alier who were awarded prestigious Bush Fellowships.

- Acknowledged Member Hoffman for her service and commitment to the Human Relations Commission seven years, noting she will not be seeking reappointment.

- Included in the packet is the list of demands submitted to the City from the OneFargo/Black Lives Matter groups.

- An update on recent Supreme Court rulings to recognize sexual orientation/gender identity to be covered under Title XII under the Human Rights Act of 1964 for employment and to overturn the decision to phase out the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.

Item 5. HRC Statement on George Floyd
Chair Nelson read a prepared statement addressing George Floyd’s death.

Item 6. Future Opportunities to Engage with the HRC
Chair Nelson provided a history of the Human Relations Commission. He noted meetings are held the third Thursday of the month at noon, are televised, and additionally rebroadcasted at a later date. Messages for the Human Relations Commission and its Members may be directed to

Chair Nelson noted applications are currently being accepted for the Police Chief Selection Committee and encouraged citizens to apply to serve. Information is on the City of Fargo website, and the deadline is June 21, 2020.

Member Alier present.

Item 7. Public Comment Opportunity – Citizens to be Heard
Fredrick Edwards, Jr. and Faith Dixon, Black Lives Matters Interim Board, proposed the following questions:
- What does it look like for us to have a state holiday of Juneteenth, rather than just a celebration of Juneteenth?
- What does it look like if we have transparency from the higher ups, from Fargo Police Department, from other people? What does that look like for the rest of our community? How would that make us feel if we do have that?
- Within our Police Department, where are the body cams? Why do we not have our Police Department wearing body cams?

Heather Keeler, Fargo Native American Commission and Moorhead Human Rights Commission, reminded that this community does celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. She noted that it is not just a celebration, it is an understanding of the culture and history in which our nation is built. She noted that when we create a day of recognition, it implements throughout the community. Most of all, it gets into our school districts. We know that K-12 does not talk about this, and this is part of the reason people grow up with blinders on. This is a huge request, and she reminded everyone that both the City of Fargo and the City of Moorhead recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. She thinks it is an excellent idea to recognize Juneteenth.

Cani Adan, Chairperson of the Moorhead Human Rights Commission, stated that when asked the question of the Fargo Police Department if they would hire someone who looks like him, they are told there are requirements of the person who would fill the position. He is wondering if they can hire a community officer who does not have to have a weapon, but a person who can build a relationship between the police and the community. He shared the Community Police Officer here is doing a phenomenal job, and many cases have been solved together. He would like a person who looks like him (of color), officially from the police, does not have to be licensed, but someone who people can share information with and feel more comfortable. He noted there are cases where families do not speak English, and the families are wondering what they have done. Some immigrant families come from a war zone, and when they hear from the police it is a big deal and they don’t know if they have done something wrong. They need someone to translate and help them understand what is going on and then they can feel more comfortable.

Kiara Jackson, Black Lives Matter, asked the following questions:
- When are real trainings for police going to take place? Not just a 12 hour or 20 minute training on cultural diversity, or how to “handle” people of color, for say.
- When are we going to be taken serious?
- How are we, as people, supposed to believe anything that these officers are saying if we do not have any proof or evidence? It is basically our word against theirs.
- When will it (change) take place, because this is a very serious matter?

Jessica MacMillom, Black Activist, proposed the following questions/statements:
- What is being done about over-policing in black communities? Whenever black people are gathering in a certain vicinity we notice over-policing, particularly within those communities and it makes us uncomfortable.
- What is being done about frequent traffic stops on immigrants?

Victoria Johnson, Families United for Advocacy, read a quote from Harriet Tubman. She noted that is how we feel. We left our country and came to this state, but we are not welcome. Not by the Police Department. Not by human social services. Not by anyone. She proposed the following questions/statement:
- Has any leader ever come to us and asked us why we don’t trust the Police Department? Why don’t you feel comfortable? Why do you feel unwelcome? This is supposed to be a land of freedom, but we don’t feel free.
- Has anybody taken the time to ask?
We talk about the Black Lives Matter and the OneFargo movement. People are concerned. We hear the words thugs that we’re called. We hear the word terrorists.
- Has anyone taken the time to ask why are they doing what they doing? Did the leaders ever do that? Are they so busy trying to clean up and hide things under the rug?
- Has anybody ever asked why do we have so many (people) in criminal justice? So many children of color being over-charged by the Fargo Police Department.
- Why is this happening when they are committing the same crime as a white child in the schools? They are charged and sent to juvenile court. Why is this happening?
Until the leaders ask the question why and get the answer, we can’t move forward. We will always be the strangers in the land of freedom

Shanna Krogh called in and asked if there was any push for an investigation of the Fargo Police Department that is not going to be done by an employee of the Fargo Police Department? She shared her concerns after reading the report that came out. She stated she would prefer a more independent investigation and is concerned with the differences within the departments outwards versus inwards communication. She also questioned if officers have a way to anonymously report concerning behavior?

Chair Nelson noted this will not be a one-time conversation, and he looks forward to future conversations here and elsewhere. He stated the questions raised today are very pertinent questions and need to be seriously considered.

Chair Nelson acknowledged Arlette Preston in the audience as an incoming Fargo City Commissioner.

Jessica MacMillom spoke again voicing her concerns with the North Dakota Board of Cosmetology and their rules regarding braiders.

Member Adam Martin spoke on his work with the F5 project and criminal justice reform. He thanked citizens for coming to today’s meeting, as this is the most voice he has seen at a meeting. He encouraged citizens to apply to serve on the City of Fargo boards, and noted needing more people of color on Commissions in the City of Fargo. He shared his experience as a white person in Fargo and his criminal history. He noted statistics he has observed regarding posting of mug shots and the percentages of people of color. He noted systematic racism happening in the city, in employers, the City of Fargo, and the State of North Dakota. He stated he would like the Human Relations Commission to come forward to back Juneteenth being a state holiday in North Dakota. He would also like to see body cams as well.

Shardonay Gallion, Black Lives Matter, called in asking the following questions/statement:
- When are they (leaders) going to take the Black Lives Matter serious?
- When are they going to reach out to black lives in the community?
- When are we going to be heard? We want the FPD (Fargo Police Department) to hear us.
- When are police cameras going to be put on like every other state?
- When are they going to show that they are with us and that they protect us just like they say they do?
- When are the black lives going to matter?

Member Hellerud commented on one of the questions regarding police training, because it is ongoing and she is very passionate about cultural competency training. She noted the work that needs to be done truly needs a commitment that is backed by the budget; by the staff; by the people that are hired; how they promote within; by a mission statement or vision; and needs to be ongoing in an organization. She stated she is excited that the Police Department is seeking community input regarding hiring a new Police Chief, but she is also interested in looking at their Board. She wants to see voices represented - the right questions need to be asked the right allies need to be found to fill in the gaps. She stated that she is passionate about closing the racial and other disparities, and shared that her Bush Fellowship is on that topic. She wants to work with both the mainstream communities and the minority populations to make sure that everyone understands that the more perspective we have at a table, the better laws and decisions we can make for everyone. Ms. Hellerud stated that is how we can become inclusive. We can march, and it is important that we do that, but it is also important to think long term; to think strategies; to think what changes need to happen at the individual level and the collective level. How do we go about that? What changes need to be made short-term, mid-term, and long-term? How do we make sure that it is happening? And the accountability piece is huge. How do we make sure we have laws at the state level and the country level that backs all this work. She stated we need to be strategic and we need to stay united. It is important to understand that we have to work together as minorities, but also with the mainstream communities. The mainstream communities need to understand their role in this. She shared the analogy of the seed and the soil and she encouraged this type of presence and voice.

Frederick Edwards, added that cultural competency training is a surface level thing, and what ends up happening is we get people that are culturally competent in a culture, but not competent in experiences. He stated we need to start things in Fargo rather than just having a conversation. We need a list of things that we need to happen. Cultural competency is very important and is needed universally. We need to understand our brothers and sisters, learn the history, and have more than just conversations. It is more than dialogue and cultural competency.

Member Severson stated that the LGBTQ+ population is not kept in this arena nearly enough either. He shared that black trans lives matter as well.

Member Alier expressed thanks to the citizens in the audience for coming to the meeting. He shared that racism is going on, and systemic racism is here in Fargo as well. Mr. Alier noted the work that needs to be done collectively. He stated that we need to walk together to solve the problem. We can not do it alone, and we need the right connections and to form the right allies.

Member Schaefle shared that she can’t put herself in their shoes exactly, she can’t experience what they do, but she can listen to the stories and know that is not what she experiences. She shared that she has white privilege; she knows it and she doesn’t like it. She shared some of her history. She can’t know what it is like, but she can understand. She can be an ally and help voices to be heard. Ms. Schaefle stated we need to bring everyone into the greatest good for the greatest number, educate people, and do our best to provide support to get the concerns voiced. We need to see all as human beings. We need to get the concerns out there.

Member Hoffman moved the Human Relations Commission recommend to the City Commission to observe Juneteenth as a City holiday. Second by Member Schaefle. All members present voted aye. The motion was declared carried.

City Commissioner John Strand thanked the leaders of our community for stepping up, speaking up, and showing up. He stated this is on us to work together and partner for the community we choose to make going forward for everybody. He stated we can do this, and we can show people how to do this right. He said that its time to act on what we hear.

Commissioner Strand stated he wants to put some teeth into the Human Relations Commission to have some authority. He would like the Commission to be able to act on what they hear from the people and have a road map to act on what is heard. He suggested having the Commission renamed to the Human Rights Commission, to be what they are all about and be real about that. Those are some topics and he wants to throw some ideas. He stated that the demands brought forward from the OneFargo and Black Lives Matter groups are reasonable, attainable, and workable and he looks forward to joining with the groups on them. He believes the mindset is there at the City level. Commissioner Strand also stated there are some topics to add to that list. Equity issues across the board are huge; equity in housing, employment, legal protections, and in schools. There are some topics we need to agree we are going to discuss. This will be a learning moment for many of us. He agrees we should be talking about chokeholds, is there a ban on them? What is the application of them here? What is allowable? What does our community want? He shared we should be talking about no-knock warrants. What do we do locally? What are our practices? What do the people want? How often does that happen? What are the implications of no-knock warrants? A topic he would add to the list is the status of the gang-task force. Does it still exist? Who are they? Where are we at with it? He noted he would like to know more about our use of force policies. What are the practices locally? What are our standards? How does it compare with the rest of the world? He thinks there is a community sentiment that we should look at to what degree and when is it triggered to have an independent outside study of actions and complaints that surface in our community. He’s not saying people are wrong, but that these are fair things to discuss. Police reports - he has heard of instances where police reports were not filed on things that citizens reported. We need to tie down those moments, ensure that there is action and follow-up to them, and that the reports are received and acted upon. Commissioner Strand stated one of the demands is diversity in the Boards and the Commission and he thinks adding to that is a diversity in the workforce across the board; that we need to have a reflection of our community everywhere we look as much as we can. He would like bail and bonds to be studied. How many people are sitting in jail that can’t make bond? What are the crimes that people are in for? Is it worth the cost to keep them in everyday? At what point is it reasonable to keep somebody in jail versus letting them back out in to the community to be functional and have a good life? He noted we have many topics to talk about. We need to keep showing up, keep our feet to the fire, and fill spots on our Commissions. Let’s create some working committees. Let’s create some new tables. Let’s bring people to new tables to discuss these issues proactively and together. There is room at the table for all these voices. He challenged the Members of the Human Relations Commission that this is their moment, another moment, for them to really impact the community. To impact the life of people here, the quality of life, relationships they have with each other, sense of safety, sense of being welcome, sense of being accepted, and the sense of us having the same hope and aspirations for everybody to blossom, to grow, and to flourish for every single human being. We all do better when we all do better. Let’s keep showing up and grow this effect and partner together and work together for the future we want.

Kiara Jackson spoke again, saying she appreciates what has been said. She stated that she talks the talk and walks the walk, and hopes and prays that the words spoken are stood by. Her intentions as a women, as a human being, and as a women of color are right, and she stands by what she stands for, for her people. She shared that she was the President of the Black Student Association of NDSU (North Dakota State University) and not once did she get a call to speak on behalf of the campus or her people. She stated that needs to change.

Ruth Buffalo issued a challenge to the Human Relations Commission to be more than a rubber stamp within the umbrella of the City of Fargo. She noted that as a former Native American Commission member there are a lot of good intentions, but also a lot of opportunities that were missed in the past. She shared that relationships still need to be mended. We need to walk our talk and engage in conversations and not attack each other. She challenged each other to walk the talk, noting that happy words don’t mean anything to victims. Conversations need make sure that there are great intersections. She challenged the Commissions to do more and dig deeper. It starts within ourselves.

Martin Avery voiced concerns about looking into concrete things that can be done. He wants to get choke holds off the table, and feels sometimes we get caught up in the need to study things too much. He stated when people are impacted by things in society then action happens quicker. We need to look to those that have experienced things for the research. We need to get people in the community that are impacted by these things and act. Let’s do this and act upon peoples real life experiences.

Victoria Johnson added additional concerns regarding the Police Resource Officers in the school system, and how much training they have to work with children and handle situations. She noted issues happening with the School Resource Officers inside the schools and parents not having a way to voice issues. She asked who contracts are between with the school resource officers. Is it with the schools or with the police? Are the resource officers aware of what is allowed? These are the people working with our children, and we need to look at what is happening to our children in our community and school system.

__Item 8. Next Steps – Future Town Halls __
Chair Nelson noted the sign in sheet in the back for audience members to leave their contact information to be involved in the ongoing future process. He stated today is just the beginning.

Item 9. Adjourn
The time at adjournment was 1:21 p.m.