Villager Inbox

Dominant reality overlooked

I was stunned by the headline in the latest issue: “Floyd protests break out into widespread rioting” (Villager, June 10). I do not believe that is the dominant reality of what occurred. Rather widespread peaceful protests have dominated. Your editorial choices further shocked me when comparing the page 1 photo of a young black man voicing his emotions at a protest in front of the governor’s mansion to the photo on page 4: Under the headline, “Volunteers rally to help secure and restore neighborhoods,” is a photo of a young white man carrying a broom. Can you explain the choices you made?

Anne B. Parker
Lexington-Hamline

White-washing the Floyd story

I pulled my latest issue of the Villager out of its plastic sleeve and instantly I’m hit with the connection of the words “protests” and “widespread rioting” in the front page headline and the words “vandalized and looted” in the sub-headline before any mention of “black man’s death.” What a glaring example of cultural bias in our news media.

Whoever it was who wrote the headline is guilty of bad editorial judgment. Millions of people around the globe have left their homes in the midst of a pandemic to scream and chant and protest and plead for change following the murder of another black man at the hands, or in this case the knee, of police. In the Highland area, a couple of windows were broken and a number of white-owned businesses hastily boarded up their shops. In Midway, where a number of businesses were damaged and destroyed, there will be more of a long-lasting impact on the community. But the story is not rioting and looting. That is a byproduct of the continued systemic racism too many people experience at the hands of law enforcement and the pent-up anger sparked by the video that has now impacted the world.

The words you choose to use in a headline shape the narrative. As for the story itself, I understand why reporter Jane McClure described in the first paragraph “George Floyd’s death” and not “the murder of George Floyd,” as the police officer has not been found guilty in a court of law. But the headline says so much, and in this case the Villager white-washed the story. By focusing on the words “widespread rioting” when that is not really the long-term story, the Villager is catering to a culture that needs to grow up.

I agree that rioting and looting are part of the story, especially at the local level, but by making it the headline you are downplaying the significance of what has been sparked by yet another terrible example of police brutality and the negative consequences of racism in our society. 

D.J. Johnston
Lexington-Hamline

Racist subtext to your reporting

I was disgusted by the front page of the June 10 Villager. It was bad enough that you thought the most important story of the past few weeks was not about the murder of George Floyd or the repeated instances of racist police violence that continue to plague both St. Paul and Minneapolis over many decades. You barely mention the dominant response to the killing, which was peaceful protest, and then slander those protests by suggesting they turned to violence. In fact, nearly all violence broke out after protests had ended and involved only a small portion of participants in a small number of the protests. Nor do you mention the movement that has emerged to shift our resources toward more effective means of addressing crime and violence. 

Instead, you write a headline that screamed ,“George Floyd protests break out into widespread vandalism and looting,” and claimed without evidence that the violence in our community had spread “from South Minneapolis.” In case anyone doubted the racist subtext of your reporting, you illustrated the story with a photo of an African-American man who was screaming and flexing his muscles while marching in one of those protests. He was clearly one of the thousands of citizens who channeled their outrage into peaceful protests and marches. He walked alongside white neighbors who share his anger and frustration with the patterns of racist policing that are hardly limited to Minneapolis. By centering him below your misleading headline, you clearly intended to associate him and other black citizens with the violence that you falsely believe had “spread from Minneapolis” and become the most important aspect of this story.

I hope that you find a way to report more accurately on the real problems facing our diverse and deeply troubled community and stop spreading the racist fearmongering that lies at the root of the crisis we face today. In the meantime, you owe us all an apology.

Will Jones
Macalester-Groveland

Racial stereotypes perpetuated

As a white woman in a multiracial family, I was troubled by some of the racially insensitive coverage of the protest and its aftermath in the June 10 issue of the Villager. The front page headline reads “Floyd protests break out into widespread rioting” with a large photo of a peaceful protest featuring a black man who appears to be passionately shouting. Note the man was not rioting, vandalizing or looting. But rather, as the smaller caption under the photo describes, he is part of a peaceful protest parading past the governor’s mansion on Summit Avenue. But the large headline connecting the photo of the black man to “widespread rioting” was mischaracterized.

The reporting continues on page 4 with three photos of white people with a bolded headline: “Volunteers rally to help secure and restore neighborhoods.” There are no photos of black people on this page even though they widely participated in cleanup efforts.

We have all heard the saying, “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” What message do the photos communicate? While I doubt that the editor’s choices were malicious, such reporting perpetuates stereotypes and fuels systemic racism in our community. We can do better. We must do better.

Kristine McKinney
Highland Park

Villager missed an opportunity

I am disappointed by your article “Floyd protests break out into widespread rioting.” You are a voice in our community, and you missed a prime opportunity to report on the real issues our city and country are grappling with. You chose to make your front-page headline about rioting instead of racism. You spent half a page listing businesses that were vandalized instead of reporting on police brutality and racial inequalities. You presented us with quotes from people of power—the police chief, politicians, business owners—but left out the voices of activists, community organizers and protesters.

Language is important. By focusing on property over people and leading with damage to businesses over a black man’s life, you are missing an opportunity to contribute to a meaningful dialogue that is desperately needed in the neighborhoods you serve.

Phil Wacker
Macalester-Groveland

Black voices oppressed

After the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, thousands of Minnesotans took to the streets to call for justice in an expression of grief and anguish. A chorus of George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” rang through the air as protesters urged people everywhere to “say his name.” Protest signs called for the officers involved in the murder of George Floyd to be arrested. Protesters called for recognition that black lives matter and for the dismantling of racist policies that oppress black, indigenous and other people of color.

The Minneapolis protests sparked a global movement spanning all 50 states and 18 countries. People called for justice, not just for George Floyd, but for the countless other black men, women, and children needlessly killed by police. This uprising brought heightened awareness of the work of local organizations such as MPD150, Reclaim the Block, and Black Visions Collective among others who have long been fighting to defund police and invest in local communities.

Yet, the front-page headline in the June 10 Villager would suggest a different story. The words highlight not the demands of the movement, but the actions of a few rioters and looters. The image captures not the violence of the police against masses of peaceful protesters, but the stereotypical depiction of an angry black man. The article mourns not the loss of lives, but the destruction of capitalist enterprises.

This coverage oppresses black voices and allows violence against people of color to continue unchecked. I urge the Villager to rethink their coverage of this movement. You have the opportunity and the responsibility to pull the curtain back and look beyond the surface level narrative. Include the demands of protesters and the accomplishments of the movement. Include the displays of art and community in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Uplift the voices of local black leadership. Let them tell their story.  

Rachel Adley 
Highland Park

No more than a business flyer

I was distressed to see the racist front cover of the June 10 Villager. This protest was about the death of George Floyd and the rage it and the hundreds of other deaths at the hands of police have inspired. The violence and looting appeared to be from groups who were taking advantage of the chaos and had nothing to do with the demands for justice for Floyd and all the others who have killed by police. You are not a newspaper, just a business flyer.

Virginia Martin
Summit-University

Better hang on to that plywood

St. Paul business owners may want to hang on to the plywood that was covering their windows for a while. Just think what may happen if the president gets re-elected or the jury in the George Floyd case comes back with the wrong verdict.

Gary Fischbach
Mendota Heights

Grateful for the mayor we have

Thank goodness St. Paul has somebody so sane, balanced, thoughtful, ethical and intelligent as its mayor during these challenging times. As the crisis has played out through multiple news conferences, he was a welcome voice of compassion, empathy and reason, speaking eloquently and showing leadership throughout.

If you are unfamiliar with what Mayor Carter is about, I recommend watching his interview with Conan O’Brien on YouTube. Mayor Carter has inherited a complex societal problem that has been festering for centuries, dating back to the original sin of slave owning. We need leaders who will help us, to quote Al Sharpton, “make America good for the first time.” Finally! It is long overdue.

Heidi Burris
Macalester-Groveland

Get rid of police unions

The unrest across our community due to the killing of George Floyd is a direct result of the police unions that have shielded their officers from accountability. It is good to see that the governor is calling a special session to address reforms. However, the legislative proposal from the People of Color & Indigenous Caucus does not go far enough. Its proposal would leave the police unions intact and merely reform how arbitration is handled for law enforcement terminations.

The union that represents the Minneapolis Police Department has sewn much discord in our community and stood in the way of accountability and reform for decades. That discord has led populations to lose faith in the police department. The way to restore the faith of the people is to get rid of the police union by passing legislation that would ban collective bargaining in Minnesota. Leaving the union of the Minneapolis Police Department intact will only be kicking this can further down the road.

Gary Wilson
Mendota Heights

Save our single-family homes

The article on a proposed 60-unit apartment building at Lexington Parkway and James Avenue mentions that this project would require the demolition of six houses. How many homes have been lost in the last four years to new multi-family housing? I’m guessing maybe 30 or more.
St. Paul has a huge need for affordable homes for large families, so why wouldn’t the city show a little creativity and adopt a no-teardown policy. Developers who build market-rate apartment buildings on the site of single-family homes should be responsible to move and preserve those homes or contribute to a housing trust fund.

It costs about $100,000 to move a home and place it on a new foundation. If the city kicks in $50,000 for rehab, St. Paul has an entry-level home available for a large family at quite the savings over building a new one for over $300,000. In this instance, the additional cost of doing business to the market rate developer would be about $10,000 or $50 a month. We all know that these old homes are built better than most new starter homes. I’m sure the folks at the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation could suggest vacant lots where the homes would fit into the neighborhood.

This approach is more cost-effective than a contribution to the housing trust fund because the numbers work better for the city and taxpayers. In the case of the Lexington and James project, St. Paul gets six units of affordable family housing for about $300,000 rather than building six new units for over $1.8 million.

If we’re going to let developers gobble up land and tear down homes and create developments that impact our neighborhoods, there should be at least some public good that comes out of it.

Julian Loscalzo
Lexington-Hamline

A plea for civility

At 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, June 7, I had an unfortunate interaction with a bicyclist on Otis Avenue. After crossing the intersection at Marshall Avenue going south, on a green light, I saw a bicyclist ahead of me and I slowed down as he was about to pass a parked car on our right. As I approached, he pulled straight out ahead of me, right in front of my car and I had to swerve to miss him. I’d given him way more room than necessary, and he had a lot of room to continue his ride. I slowed down even more, pulled next to him, and asked what just happened. I got the middle finger and a tirade about cars not respecting bicyclists.

Wow! I’m in my 70s, and I really don’t have the fire to push back as I did in my 60s. But I did. I made the attempt to talk to him, without a raised voice, to calm him down. That didn’t work and we got into a shouting match, which I’m sorry I engaged in.

We moved on and I thought maybe I could interact with him in my front yard, which he was going to pass. Well, that didn’t happen. As he approached on his bike, I waved at him and asked if he would like to discuss what just happened. I was actually going to offer him water. He just ignored me and kept on going.

What’s wrong with our society? We’re engaged in a pandemic, and we’ve just come through riots and looting that unfortunately destroyed my business. What happened to civility? I make a point of giving bikers the right of way, but they don’t care and blow through stop signs. In some cases, I have to slam on my brakes to avoid their illegal actions.

No one wants anybody to get hurt. Please be kind to one another. We’ll all be better for it.

Dana Rose
Highland Park

Ford developer misleads public

Whether it is intentional or not, Ryan Companies and CommonBond Communities recently submitted applications for zoning variances at the Ford site that are misleading the public. At issue is their reporting of how much “variance” they are requesting.

For example, CommonBond asks the Planning Commission for permission to reduce the open space around its building from 25 percent as required by the Ford site master plan to 16 percent. They report this as a “variance of 9 percent.” Nine percent doesn’t sound like much. But what would actually happen is that the amount of open space would be reduced by more than one third. The resulting open space would be less than two-thirds of what the master plan requires. 

For years, Highland neighbors have decried the failure to plan for sufficient open and recreational space at the Ford site. CommonBond’s proposal would make a bad situation even worse. Its variance application should be rejected. Providing the public with deceptive statistics adds insult to injury. It should not be allowed.

Charles Hathaway
Highland Park

Breach of good faith at Ford site

I oppose the zoning variances for the Ford site as requested by Ryan Companies. This latest set of zoning changes would increase density and decrease open space. Building heights would increase from 65 to 75 feet with 90-foot towers. Current zoning requires a minimum of 25 percent of the lot be open space. Ryan has requested six percent open space.

The percentage changes Ryan has requested are misleading — they obscure and minimize the impact on the space. For example, Ryan wants to increase the lot coverage of a building from 70 percent to 90 percent. On a 10-acre lot that means that where there was once three acres of open space now there is only one acre of open space. It is misleading to say it is a change of 20 percent. In fact, two-thirds of the originally zoned open space has been eliminated.

With the Ford site development barely underway, the people of Highland Park have watched the original agreed-upon restrictions and guarantees disappear one by one. Some people are calling Ryan’s latest zoning changes a bait and switch. I call it a breach of good faith with the community.

Kate M. Hunt
Highland Park

Ford site needs car-sharing

How green and how affordable will the Ford site be for seniors? Let’s say you recently retired on a fixed income. You want to move to the Ford site, and you need as much as possible from the sale of your family home to supplement your Social Security. One way to afford the rent or mortgage is to replace your own vehicle with a membership in the HourCar car-sharing program. AAA puts the cost of personal vehicle ownership at approximately $10,000 per year. An HourCar membership will save you half or more of that.

Ryan Companies, master developer of the Ford site, has applied for five variances to build a mixed-use, multi-unit structure at 2170 Ford Pkwy. I support the project and the variances except for the variance that would waive the requirement for eight car-sharing parking spaces.

HourCar calculates that it needs 40-plus subscriber- members to make one HourCar car-sharing space viable. To make eight car-sharing spaces viable would therefore require 320 subscribers. The total units in Ryan’s proposed building are 230, so a car-share hub of eight vehicles inside a secure parking ramp there would not be viable, even if every one of those units was occupied by a member of HourCar.

It’s not yet known how many of the proposed building’s 436 parking spaces will be open to the public, but it seems certain that half or more will be, given that the ground floor will have a supermarket. So why is Ryan asking to zero out car-sharing at the site? The city of St. Paul and Ryan both embrace the concepts of sustainability, safety, walkability and affordability at the Ford site, yet after a decade of dialogue, there is no plan in place for car-sharing. The proposed building at 2170 Ford Pkwy. would be a great start.

The St. Paul Board of Zoning Appeals will consider Ryan’s requests at 3 p.m. Monday, June 29. (Public comments may be submitted to matthew.graybar@ci.stpaul.mn.us.) Given the concerns about local traffic, local and state climate change plans, baby-boomer demand for real estate downsizing, the reduced income of retiring seniors, the dual shocks of reduced government revenue and increased taxes stemming from COVID-19, and the destruction of small businesses in the recent riots, a robust car-sharing program for the Ford site is a top priority. We cannot afford to wait.

Mathews Hollinshead
Highland Park

Editor’s note: The writer is a member of the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board.

Our bodies, our responsibilities

A recent letter stated that women are second-class citizens without access to legal abortion, whereas men are first-class citizens because “they have this control” over their own bodies and destinies (Villager Inbox, June 10). It seems to me that any man who truly has control over his own body would certainly not impregnate a woman and then fail in his responsibility to care for her and the newly conceived child (and yes, it is a child). Such a man is hardly a first-class citizen by any stretch of the imagination.

Anne Collopy
St. Anthony

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