What a year, eh? The RiverTown newsroom looked back on 2020 to compile lists of the most important news and sports stories covered by the Star-Observer and Republican Eagle. Check back to Top 10 Stories of 2020 over the next few days to see what made the cut.

The year 2020 brought with it numerous unforeseen challenges and hardships but, it also saw the growth of a movement working for equality and change throughout the nation.

Locally, this was seen in the creation of the Policy Advisory Team in Red Wing. The team, which first met in September, received strong support from the City Council and Mayor Sean Dowse. Dowse explained, “I offer my unequivocal support for law enforcement and our police department. However, to begin a discussion on how the city’s practices impact people of color and LBGTQ communities, Red Wing has created the Advisory Team on Policies and Procedures. The goal is to look not only at policies and procedures in policing but in all areas of city government. Systemic racism can affect a wide variety of actions. The Advisory Team includes a variety of individuals, many of whom are new to government service. They have identified a process for their work and recently began meeting. I look forward to their examination and their recommendations due in eighteen months.”

Members of Red Wing's Advisory Team on Government Policies and Practices and the public participate in the "educate" portion of the meeting.
Members of Red Wing's Advisory Team on Government Policies and Practices and the public participate in the "educate" portion of the meeting.

The advisory team’s creation was in part the result of actions taken by the Nonviolent Protest Group in Red Wing.

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The group began holding events and protests locally after the death of George Floyd while in police custody on May 25. On Monday, July 27 members of the Nonviolent Protest Group and counter protestors spoke for over two hours during the City Council meeting.

Protesters gather on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died while in police custody. Photo by Rachel Fergus/RiverTown Multimedia
Protesters gather on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died while in police custody. Photo by Rachel Fergus/RiverTown Multimedia

Protesters stated that during their events counter protestors had begun protesting near them. 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 protestors yelling “white power.”

Jenae Vonch frequently appeared at city meetings and public hearings to discuss the protest group and the pushback that it received from some individuals in the community. “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,” said Vonch. “It just means equal rights for everyone.”

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman has worked with the city to create the Policy Advisory Team. He and other officers meet with the team members every week during the educate portion of the meeting. Pohlman explains an aspect of the police department and its practices and answers any questions that members of the team may have.

The most recent meeting was held on Wednesday, Dec. 9. During the meeting team members worked to decide which policy proposal to focus on and bring to the City Council in early 2021. According to Michelle Leise, the city's community engagement specialist, the first topic of focus will be sexual assault calls for service. The report that she presented to the City Council says, in part, “while sexual assault policy may not initially be viewed as a racially inequitable system, it affects how people are treated by police at their most vulnerable point. When a policy does not work for some, black and brown people are more likely to be disproportionately and negatively affected.”

DACA recipients

On Friday, Dec. 4, a U.S. district judge ruled that new applicants must be accepted for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that was started during the Obama administration. The Republican Eagle interviewed Hispanic Outreach of Goodhue County Executive Director Lucy Richardson about how this national program impacts local families and individuals. Richardson is currently working with organizations like the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota to help students begin the process of applying for DACA.

DACA may change during the Biden administration. Biden told NBC news that within his first 100 days in office he would work to send a bill to the Senate that would create a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants living without documentation in the country. Granted, it is not know how a bill of that ilk would be received and voted on by members of congress.