Sunday, January 23, 2011

Abraham, Martin, and John.

Right now in Minneapolis there is a controversy raging. A racially sensitive controversy. The kind of controversy that tears communities apart. It’s about an off-leash dog area in a park. I will repeat that. In Minneapolis right now, respected elders of the civil rights movement are arguing to prevent an off leash dog park from being opened between a soccer field and a freeway because the larger park is named for Martin Luther King Jr.
I admit, as a white guy raised in one of the whitest suburbs of one of the whitest cities in America, I maybe don’t have the kind of historical or cultural perspective to comment on such a controversy. However, I have owned a home in the poorest and highest-crime area of this city for the last six years, which in this town tends to mean it is populated mainly by people of color. Not that this issue is more economic than racial – it would appear from reports of the park board meetings that it is divided exactly along lines of race.
Here’s why I think that’s unfortunate: It should be about socio-economics. Dr. King’s namesake park in Minneapolis is on the more affluent south side, but it is still wedged between a freeway sound wall and a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. It is a memorial park, yes, but it is not solely a memorial. Here’s its park board website. You will see, I believe, numerous sports facilities, youth recreation areas, public art installations, and if you GoogleMap "4055 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, MN," some quality wooded knolls in the corners. Dogs are (& I can’t believe I have to say this) allowed on leashes in public parks in Minneapolis. The only controversy about the proposal is the idea that the city would allow a small parcel of these (approximately) 20 acres to be fenced in and free for unleashed dogs.
As someone who lives in an area of the city where people of all ethnicities try to kill each other every day (and we’ve lost a few in the surrounding blocks over the last twelve months), this offends me. How can someone spend their energy fighting a dog park (F.Y.I. the nearest dog park is over two miles away) on racial grounds, while in my neighborhood poor black people are killing other poor black people because they associate with the wrong crowd? How is a dog shitting in the woods more offensive to the memory of Dr. King than a hoodlum catching a baby girl in the crossfire of some stupid turf war that adds another tally to the homicide rate of an ordinarily peaceful city?
Let’s build a city where people in any geographical space have a chance to create something good and profitable for everyone. Let’s dwell not on past superficial slights, but on future opportunities for the common good.
If the opponents to the dog park really care about creating a place for the majority of minority constituents in the city of Minneapolis to raise children free of violence, they should embrace my neighborhood too, and they should try to keep guns off of our streets, on the north and south sides, but they should also allow dogs to shit in the grass next to I-35W, because that has nothing to do with race or economics, but everything to do with the responsibility of cleaning up after oneself, a healthy dose of which I think could benefit anyone in any neighborhood in this city.

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