How the Politicians Reacted to the Idea of a Drop-in Center

The idea of establishing a drop-in center in north Minneapolis seemed reasonable to me so I asked myself how this could be put into effect. First, there needed to be visible support. With that in mind, I sought an appointment with Mayor Rybak to discuss the idea. I could not get one with reserved time, but was invited to attend the Mayor’s “Open House” session with interested constituents. The next one was on Friday, March 9th.

I was third in line when I arrived at the Mayor’s office. It was explained that my session might have to be cut short because the Mayor had another meeting soon in north Minneapolis. When I did sit down with the Mayor, we reached immediate agreement that programs to prevent youth violence were important. However, the mayor seemed reluctant to support this particular idea.

The main reason was that he thought youth programs were already in place to do this sort of thing. Which programs?, I asked. (I had been told that Minneapolis did not have any drop-in centers of the sort being proposed.) Mayor Rybak did not give a specific answer. However, there was a Youth Coordinating Board. The mayor’s office also had a list of existing youth programs which I was welcome to examine.

The city also provided annual grants totaling $500,000 in the area of youth violence. Spike Moss, the proposed director of the drop-in center, had received such funding in the past but not lately. His proposal, along with proposals from others, might be submitted for possible funding from this source. However, the Mayor said he tended to look less favorably upon proposals for building acquistion or improvement than for operational programs.

The mayor had to leave. I went across the street to the Government Center to talk with Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein. While Stenglein was out of the office, an assistant talked with me and took notes. She said she would talk with the Commissioner on Monday and he would get back to me.

Mark Stenglein did talk with me by phone several days later. Mostly he listened to what I had to say. When I mentioned Spike Moss as a possible director, Stenglein remarked that Moss was a controversial figure although he personally got along well with him. Commissioner Stenglein said he would have to mull over the idea.

I followed up on the mayor’s suggestion that I look at the list of youth programs. After several inquiries, I did receive an email from the mayor’s office attaching such a list. Unfortunately, the list included every conceivable facility that served youth, including parks and schools. There was no way to tell if they handled the type of function that Spike Moss and his crew might assume.

I picked up the hint that Moss himself might be a stumbling block for this idea. Spike Moss had once been executive director of the Way until the United Way and other funding sources decided against supporting it. So what was the problem? Had Moss embezzled funds? Had he provided a haven for gang members?

I asked Spike Moss himself this question. He said that a young man associated with the Way had been shot and killed by Minneapolis police. They had blown off the back of this man’s head. Moss had complained loudly of police brutality. The mayor at the time, Don Fraser, had warned Moss to tone down his criticism. Moss refused to do that. The next week the funding sources yanked financial support from the Way.

While Moss retains the aura of a pariah in political circles, he is, in fact, an integral part of Minneapolis’ crime-fighting effort. Moss explained that the new inspector of the 4th Precinct police, Lee Edwards, gives young offenders the option of working with Moss to try to go straight or else face criminal charges for offenses already committed.

The idea of a drop-in center, in my view, would be to move that process forward to the point where offenses have not yet been committed. Let young people who might be lured into the gang life instead have a lawful alternative. It’s the cost-effective way.

With respect to Moss personally, I think there are two problems from the standpoint of the political establishment. First, he is too independent. He is not a “team player”. He says what he thinks, and that might embarrass certain people. From a DFL perspective, the unfortunate fact is that he is associated with a “Peace and Freedom” Party which, potentially, might siphon off votes.

The second problem has to do with race. Moss does use or has used racial rhetoric that makes white people uncomfortable. His style is a throwback to the black militancy of the 1960s. While I too often oppose that kind of rhetoric and agenda, I would have no trouble talking with Spike Moss. I would simply say I am a white man who disagreed with those particular views. But a liberal politician has to keep the black constituency in place to win elections. This type of person cannot afford to say what he thinks.

So a person like Spike Moss is a threat because, for them, the normal give-and-take of free speech does not offer a defense. When someone comes along like Don Samuels, preaching racial harmony, the liberal political establishment is so grateful that they give a such person a blank check.

The bottom line, though, is that Spike Moss is a doer as well as a talker. What he does is what the city of Minneapolis badly needs in an environment of increasing gang activity and crime. Moss should not have to volunteer to help out the city. He should be paid for services rendered. The amount of money required to fund a full-scale drop-in center is a “drop in the bucket” compared with funds spent ineffectively in other ways. Therefore, the politicians should rein in their egos and do what is best for the city.

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