FARGO — Since rallies and protests demanding racial equality began last year, activist Wess Philome has tried to get people to participate in the biweekly Fargo City Commission meetings to seek racial justice. On Monday, April 19, about 80 people packed City Hall to let commissioners know they don’t plan on going away.
“It’s necessary. This is what America is. It’s people engaging in the civic process,” said Philome, an organizer with the racial equality group OneFargo. He organized the event to get people to the city’s center with an event called Pack City Hall.
Philome and others want to hold the City of Fargo and its police department accountable, create a police oversight committee, and pressure the department to begin collecting demographic data during police stops, information the department currently does not have.
Organizers aim to get residents back in City Hall for meetings regularly to help create change in the community.
“We are creating history,” Philome said of the large crowd calling for the city and police to be held accountable. “I don’t see how anyone can see this as a negative thing. If we can bring this back to America, then there is no doubt that we will be a better America in the decades to come.”
When Faith Dixon, a leader with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, entered the city commissioners' meeting room, she stopped and gave a speech before the meeting began.
“This is what City Hall should look like,” Dixon said. “We will be out in the streets marching. Along with what we do in here, out there matters, too.”
Dixon, who is originally from Chicago, encouraged the police department to show empathy.
“Before Fargo becomes Minneapolis, before Fargo becomes my home city, Chicago,” she said. “I don’t want Fargo to become a community that is (full of) hate, but if you don’t clean up the Fargo Police Department, it will become Minneapolis.”
City Commissioner John Strand broke a rule of responding to public comment after activists and concerned citizens spoke. He applauded.
“I’m so proud of you. Thank you for the gift you’ve given us,” Strand said.
Mayor Tim Mahoney named two speakers in thanks, Arden Light and Conrad Larson, both transgender, for discussing their issues after a local man, Alexander Simon, dressed in a wig and dress and addressed city commissioners two weeks ago.
“It was one of the hardest things I had to watch last week,” Mahoney said of Simon's speech. “We want Fargo to be a welcoming community. It is very good for our commissioners to hear these things.”
At the last meeting, City Commissioner Arlette Preston broke protocols to condemn Simon’s speech, which was anti-transgender.
“Being transgender is not wrong. It is not a sin. It is not a crime. It is beautiful,” Light said.
Mahoney went on to say that the police department is looking into obtaining data from traffic stops and that the city is investigating the possibility of establishing a police oversight committee.
One of the speakers, Kathryn Fink, added an additional request saying she hopes the city could issue a public statement condemning white supremacy. An anonymous group called White Lives Matter planned rallies across the nation, including in Fargo, on April 11. The rally supposedly planned for Fargo did not happen.
The White Lives Matter rally especially concerned local resident Kay Schwarzwalter, who said many people in the community are worried.
“The next generation is speaking to us. It’s not up to people of color to fix racism. We created it. We fix it,” said Schwarzwalter, a white woman.