Calls for accountability, forgiveness after Mpls. Council Member Rainville’s remarks

Erica Dischino, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS
·6 min read

Some fellow DFL politicians are urging Minneapolis officials to hold City Council Member Michael Rainville accountable for "harmful" and "racist" remarks he made last week, while some in the Somali community are encouraging forgiveness and calling for the convening of a meeting.

Members of the Minneapolis delegation in the Minnesota Legislature this week urged city officials to "take formal action to hold Council Member Rainville accountable for his behavior," after he last week blamed primarily Somali American youth for a wave of violence over the July 4th weekend. An ethics investigation could place the matter before the City Council, and some members have said they're exploring whether censure, a public reprimand, might be an option.

Thirteen state lawmakers, in a joint statement, said Rainville's remarks "are representative of a politics which leverages fear and perpetuates systems of inequity and discrimination."

"This does nothing to make our city safer," they said. "The suggestion that Somali youth and our Muslim neighbors are disproportionately responsive for recent crime in Minneapolis is as racist as it is inaccurate."

Meanwhile, the state's leading Muslim civil rights group is calling on Rainville to hold an urgent meeting with the community, hoping it would help him better understand how his words impacted a group of people already experiencing an increase in Islamophobia.

"Attaching public safety issues to a racist and Islamophobic trope and scapegoating the Somali Muslim community is unacceptable," said Mohamed Ibrahim, deputy executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). "And it is very dangerous, especially when we have such an alarming and a growing rate of hate crimes happening across the city."

Rainville did not respond to calls and e-mails Tuesday. His remarks exacerbated tensions in a city still struggling to combat both racism and crime two years after George Floyd's murder prompted a global conversation on policing and public safety.

Concerns about crime

Rainville, 69, who represents downtown and nearby neighborhoods, was elected to office for the first time last fall after running a campaign that focused heavily on public safety. He opposed a proposal to replace the city's Police Department and has publicly blamed the rhetoric of past elected officials for its current state.

Violent crime has increased about 3% across Minneapolis compared to last year, but the rise has been larger — about 6% — in the Third Ward that Rainville represents, according to a Star Tribune analysis of police data.

On Friday, Rainville organized a community meeting to discuss concerns about a chaotic July 4th weekend that included a mass shooting at Boom Island Park, cars racing in the Mill District as people shot off fireworks, and other police calls. During that meeting, he said he planned to speak with Somali elders and tell them "their children can no longer have that type of behavior."

After a backlash, Rainville issued an apology, saying: "I was trying to convey that we need more support for our youth. But the fact is what I said and the way I said it was not appropriate and singled out Somali youth. I recognize and acknowledge the hurt and anger my statement caused. I am sorry."

Mayor Jacob Frey said Rainville's concerns about violence were valid, but his comments singling out the Somali community were hurtful and wrong. "I'm glad he apologized, and he should stick to that message," Frey said in a statement.

Rebukes continue

Others have focused on remarks Rainville made at a separate event after his apology. He told a crowd, "We are being filmed by people who don't understand living in the violent atmosphere you have. Be aware of what you say and who you say it to."

Those remarks concerned Muslim leaders, who have renewed calls for Rainville to meet with Somali residents. Census data shows more than 300 residents reporting Somali ancestry in the Third Ward — a small fraction of the Somali population in the neighboring Sixth Ward, which is home to the Twin Cities' largest East African community.

"[Rainville] spewing these Islamophobic and racist tropes, and then apologizing and then doubling down on it on that same night tells you that he does not have an understanding, and that his apology was not intentional and it was just lip service," Ibrahim said.

Rainville's remarks also drew a rebuke in DFL political circles, prompting state lawmakers from the Minneapolis area to sign off on two separate statements condemning his words.

Both called on city leaders to hold Rainville accountable but stopped shy of specifying what steps they believed local officials should take.

Two ethics complaints

The city acknowledged it has two open ethics complaints involving Rainville.

The complaints will be reviewed by the city's ethics officer, who determines whether there is enough information to proceed with an investigation and, if so, delivers preliminary findings to the Ethical Practices Board. If the board ultimately sustains either complaint, it will send recommendations to the City Council, which gets the final decision on whether to issue sanctions.

In a call, Council President Andrea Jenkins said she was "disappointed and saddened to hear Council Member Rainville's comments demonizing Somali youth" and was "encouraged" to see his "sincere apology." Jenkins said she'll awaiting findings of the ethics investigations "to determine if further action is necessary."

"In the meantime, I encourage [Council Member] Rainville and all of us to continue to work to become anti-racist," she said, reading aloud from a prepared statement. "It is a constant journey that never ends. Each and every one of us has been educated and indoctrinated, shaped and formed in this racist culture."

Seizing an opportunity

In a statement, Council Member Emily Koski, chair of the Budget Committee, said she is looking at whether money allocated to support professional development for council members could be used for anti-racism coaching.

The council's three Muslim members — Jamal Osman, Jeremiah Ellison and Aisha Chughtai — issued a statement this weekend calling Rainville's words "incorrect, inappropriate," "disturbing" and "dangerous."

In an additional statement this week, Osman, the only Somali American on the council, said he has spoken with Rainville several times about the hurt his comments have caused in his Somali community. Osman said he's willing to forgive Rainville and work with him through the matter because "[Rainville] has shown a willingness and a desire to get to know the Somali community unlike any of the other council members I've worked with."

"He has apologized," Osman said. "He said something he should have thought about more and is taking responsibility for that. From the very beginning he has shown up in the community, engaged with faith leaders and been willing to learn. I hope Council Member Rainville will take this as an opportunity for growth and a chance to strengthen his ties to the community."

Staff Writer Jeff Hargarten contributed to this report.