RED WING -- Jenae Vonch was the 17th person to stand at the podium and address City Council on Monday, July 27.
“Nonviolent Protest, all we wanted is equality, equal rights for everyone. Equal rights for Black, indigenous people of color does not mean less equal rights for white people,” Vonch said. “It just means equal rights for everyone.”
The two-hour public discussion at City Hall was the result of protests and counter-protests throughout Red Wing, which were sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
The Red Wing Nonviolent Protest group has been holding protests and events throughout Red Wing to call for equality for all residents.
Recently a counter-protest group began protesting near the Red Wing Nonviolent Protesters. Videos show cars and trucks lining up at parks in and around Red Wing flying American and Confederate flags. Videos have also shown at least one of these protesters yelling “white power.”
A main theme of the nonviolent group’s conversation is fear for their personal safety.
Stacy DeVries, an admin of the group, said on Monday that she had received death threats and had to put cameras up around her home.
“I refuse to go back to work. I won’t leave my daughter and my grandson in the home alone. And I shouldn’t have to feel that way,” she said.
Crystal Henderson said that she and her family have felt unsafe during the last couple of weeks. She explained that the rainbow flag that flies on her house was torn down, that the family received threats on social media and had profanities yelled at them. The only time Henderson was able to sleep the last few nights was when a police officer sat outside of the house.
Many of those gathered at City Hall were there to speak in support of the Red Wing Police Department and voice their opinions about the nonviolent group.
The remarks came as the city is creating a task force to look at practices and policies. A city document explains:
“The city of Red Wing acknowledges that institutional and systemic racism and the bias of white privilege exists throughout society. The goal of this community-based Task Force is to take intentional steps in identifying and eliminating systemic racism throughout city government by working together as a community to improve policies and practices in every department so local government works well for everyone.”
The police department is the first city department that will work with members of the task force.
Police Chief Roger Pohlman worked with council members to craft the task force and its policies. He stated, “The police department is looking forward to participating in the new Policy Task Force. We can’t fix the world. But we can commit to fix what needs fixing here in Red Wing. And for the sake of our children and the future of this city we care so much about, we have to get it right.”
Pohlman later added:
“As a peace officer, my fundamental duty is to serve humankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder.”
Misinformation about the task force has been appearing on social media. One rumor is that the task force is only open to people of color. In reality, anyone is welcome to apply. The city stated that an emphasis will be placed on ensuring people of color are on the task force, not that white people are excluded. Also, everyone on the task force will be paid for each meeting they attend. This does not exclude any white members.
A few individuals who spoke Monday emphasized that they believe there is bias in the Red Wing Police Department.
“It really breaks my heart that you have to think about, ‘should I call 911, should I call Red Wing police, will they help me based off who I am, what color my skin is," Vonch said with tears in her eyes. "It’s very bias, it’s very divided.”
Some community members said they believe the creation of the task force is showing disrespect to Pohlman and Red Wing police officers.
Joe Engesser, a retired Dakota County correctional officer, told City Council and the Republican Eagle in an email:
“It's regretful that some council members wish to smear our chief's good name as part of ‘reform’ driven by the 'Defund the Police Mob.’ As a citizen, I'm grateful for our stellar police department and the fine work they do, being firm but fair while protecting our community. Does the radical agenda of the terrorist group 'Black Lives Matter' serve Red Wing's best interest? This appears to be more reactionary nonsense when our community faces serious issues of substance.”
Black Lives Matter is not recognized as a terrorist organization.
The conversation about the protest groups was also discussed during the July 23 Red Wing Human Rights Commission meeting. At that meeting DeVries read a statement that her daughter wrote about her experiences with the Nonviolent Protest group and being a woman of color in Red Wing. after DeVries’ statement and answering questions from commission members, Commission member Beth Breeden told her:
“You make it sound like you’re always the victim,” saying that she saw videos of DeVries chasing the counter-protesters, which DeVries said was not true. Breeden added that the counter-protesters were mostly teenagers minding their own business and doing a send-off celebration for those going to college or to the military.
Other members of the commission said that they had heard that there was more than one group at the park, not just the students.
“They were down at Bay Point Park minding their own business until you brought your people down there... and then engaged them,” said Breeden.
When asked for comment and for the video that she referenced, Breeden told the Republican Eagle, “I was advised probably not to send anything. I’ve turned it over to the proper people.”