Two pictures worth 1,401 wordsFacebook reaction to June stabbing suspects’ mug shots triggered a word war on diversity.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
A recent stabbing in Alexandria has sparked controversy over bringing diversity into the community. “Diversity” is the term locals are using to describe people who are not from around here, people who are not white.
Two mug shots ran in the Echo Press on June 29 of suspects arrested in the stabbing. Both suspects are African-American.
The race of a 25-year-old female victim was not released, nor was the race of the third suspect, a 16-year-old juvenile female involved in the incident. Only the photos brought the issue of race to light.
Following the article’s publication, a slew of commentary erupted on the newspaper’s Facebook page.
“Sad” was the first comment. “Let’s keep this trash and tragedy out of our city!” wrote another poster. “These comments posted illustrate the ignorance and lack of compassion I see every day in our town,” said another.
“Racists never bring up race. I bring it up because it’s a huge issue in Alexandria,” was retorted with, “Thank God for the diversity being shoved down our throats.”
There is a perception that the majority of people committing crimes are minorities. “Trash is trash, regardless of race,” posted one Facebook user. “It just so happens that in our area, it is almost always minorities that make the news.”
In actuality, the majority of inmates incarcerated at Minnesota Department of Corrections facilities are white.
Based on numbers released in July, only Oak Park Heights and Red Wing facilities reported the majority of inmates being black – and in those instances the number of white inmates was close behind. Oak Park Heights had 193 black inmates and 182 white inmates and Red Wing’s numbers were 20 and 17 respectively.
PLATFORM FOR CHANGE
It would seem the masses are overshadowing the minority of Alexandrians who are working to welcome people of all backgrounds – to welcome other human beings.
One organization in Alexandria is striving to break the cookie-cutter mold of this white-bread Minnesota-nice town.
The Diversity Resource Action Alliance (DRAA), formed in 2003, has made it its mission to provide a platform to build and strengthen community understanding and appreciation of diversity and cultural differences in the greater Alexandria area. This extends beyond race into age, disability, economic backgrounds, language barriers, political affiliation, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.
Members of DRAA have received feedback from the community regarding the June stabbing.
Citizen Mary Drum spoke with two African-American women who question why the mug shots had to run on the front page of the Echo Press. She said they understand reporting the incident, but questioned the placement.
“It feeds the stereotype,” said Gail Kulp.
“It’s noticed more when they’re people of color,” added Steve Pederson. Pederson was named the 2012 Facing Race Ambassador for Greater Minnesota by The Saint Paul Foundation’s Facing Race initiative for his work toward reversing racism.
The DRAA group of primarily white folks struggles with how to welcome people to the community and add more diverse members to DRAA while not targeting minorities simply for the sake of having minorities involved in the organization.
“It’s not their flag to carry,” Pederson said.
Alexandria can attract students and business people to the area; it is up to Alexandrians to make them want to stay. That is what DRAA members hope to impress upon the community.
DRAA is affiliated with Alexandria Technical and Community College as part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.
The organization is powered by volunteers and grant funding. DRAA hosts multiple opportunities for community members to connect including monthly meetings, community conversations, film series and special events.
The group has been in operation for almost a decade and much of the community doesn’t know it exists.
“We’re trying to make it simpler to know what [DRAA’s] all about and how to get involved,” said DRAA member Shari Maloney.
DRAA administration includes: Shari Maloney, Chad Coauette, John Heydt, Steve Pederson, Carol Wenner, Debra LeDoux, Jennie Hevern, Judy Backhaus, MaryAnn Maameri, Rachel Capistrant and Scott Keehn.
A specialized training services team also presents work-shops to better prepare community organizations and businesses on how to address multi-cultural environments. To contact the training team, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
INCARCERATION IN MINNESOTA
Are people letting the images of those arrested influence their feelings about race? The numbers show that those arrested represent only a tiny fraction of the overall population. Here are the figures:
Total Population: 5,303,925
Incarcerated: 9,213 (.173 percent)
White Population: 4,524,062
Incarcerated: 4,936 (.109 percent)
Black Population: 274,412
Incarcerated: 3,211 (1.170 percent)
Asian Population: 214,234
Incarcerated: 235 (.109 percent)
American Indian Population: 60,916
Incarcerated: 825 (1.354 percent)
Statistics compiled from 2010 Census data and numbers from the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Figures include those who are incarcerated in Minnesota but not necessarily residents.