MINOT, N.D. — Hello again, my friends, and welcome to another Friday.
Big plans for the weekend? I'm taking my little family on a camping adventure to Lake Metigoshe State Park. Have you visited one of North Dakota's state parks recently? You should. They're wonderful.
There was no mailbag column last week, and many of you noticed. I apologize for that. It was a busy week, and I just didn't have the time. That'll happen from time to time but, trust me, I'm reading everything you send in.
If you want to submit something, send it to email@example.com. As always, submissions may be edited for clarity or brevity.
Jason asks: I'm glad to hear that things are becoming more positive, but isn't there some kind of "open meetings" law that would apply to something like this?
Jason is referring to the recent meeting between leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement and City of Fargo officials, as reported by Matt Henson. The doors were closed to the public for the discussion. The leaders of the One Fargo movement didn't attend because they didn't like the way the meeting was scheduled. There is some sort of schism between them and the larger BLM movement (as someone who has done it in the past, I can tell you that grassroots organizing is hard).
To Jason's point, I don't believe there was any requirement that the meeting be open. The Attorney General's office defines a meeting subject to the transparency law as "any gathering of a quorum of the members of a governing body of a public entity regarding public business." The meeting with BLM was public business, but I don't think there was a quorum of any governing body there. If more members of, say, Fargo's city commission were there that may have constituted a quorum. I don't have a complete attendee list, but I don't believe there was a quorum.
The great thing about North Dakota's open records or open meetings law is, if you think someone is doing something wrong, anyone can request an opinion on the matter from the Attorney General's office. I do it routinely. I actually have a complaint pending against the City of Fargo. To get started, get in touch with the A.G.'s office and describe what's going on. In my experience, they're very helpful.
Beyond the legal requirement, why shouldn't this meeting have been open? I understand the desire to get out of the spotlight of news reporters and the broader public for a candid discussion, but if our elected leaders and public servants are going to discuss the policy demands of this hugely consequential protest movement, why shouldn't it be done out in the sunlight where we can all observe?
Tim writes: In your column, "First they came for the Confederates, and then they came for Teddy Roosevelt," like some journalists, you neglected to emphasize the exceedingly higher percentage of peaceful protests, identifying systemic racism in the USA. You also stated that "...statues (confederate related) were, for the most part, erected through a democratic process." You forgot to mention that the so-called "democratic process" was/is the same systemically racist and non-inclusive process that still exists in many places today.
I've worked very hard to reflect in my writing that the violence in the Black Lives Matter/George Floyd protests, as disturbingly common as it is, should not define that movement. Most of the demonstrators, as Tim has noted, have been peaceful. Too large a faction has been violent, though.
As for the process, if Tim is right, what are we going to do? If it was racist in the past, and it's racist today, are we going to be governed by whoever can assemble the largest mob because the system can't be trusted?
I don't believe that. We must have a system. We must have a way to come together and settle the cantankerous social and political issues our society faces. If that process is flawed, then let's fix the flaws, not resort to mob justice (which, by the way, is not justice at all).
However racist or non-inclusive our democratic institutions like local government have been in the past, they're certainly better today in 2020, and it's particularly rank sort of ignorance to suggest otherwise. Whatever problems may persist, let's work on addressing those instead of turning things over to the pitchforks-and-torches crowd.
Terry writes, referring to my June 14 column, "Afraid to stop clapping": I could add to your list all the Trumpsters that are afraid to criticize him (including our three congressmen) and mark in lockstep with bombastic, egotistical, sexist, fake news portrayer Donald Trump.
My column was about the knee-jerk reactions to the often violent protests convulsing our country in recent weeks, and how often they're motivated by fear. Why is everyone from corporate giants like Amazon and Google down to local nail salons falling all over themselves to take a political position on the protests? Because they're afraid. That's not how you build a lasting political movement. You may be able to move the proverbial needle with fear in the short term, but on a longer timeline, you're going to get more resentment than cooperation.
In politics, winning with choice is better than force. Persuade your opponents, and you'll find yourself with allies. Hurt them, or make them afraid, and you'll have enemies.
And yes, this is true of a lot of Republicans in the Trump era. Many in the GOP see Trump as troglodyte he is. They're afraid to speak up because it would earn them the vigorous scorn and ridicule of the president and his very active political base, which is why Trumpism is likely to be a fad for the GOP, as opposed to the sort of lasting legacy that past leaders like Ronald Reagan built.
Brad writes: The reports came out about the costs of the (Fargo Black Lives Matter) protests. Here is my question. The first one had a riot and National Guard. The second one had a huge police presence, including the National Guard, as a preventive measure, so the costs were expensive. But the third one this weekend shouldn't cost the city much at all -- no National Guard. I counted six police officers (from the online video) for the march on Saturday and only a few for Friday. Also, the time was short, maybe three to four hours each day. And if they include city pay from the overreaction called a state of emergency for Friday, that's not a fair number to blame on the protest group. I hope those costs are investigated and reported because the first two protests were the exception and not the rule.
Brad is referring to Dave Olson's report about the costs, in terms of regional resources used, of the recent Black Lives Matter protests. They're not insignificant, though how these expenses are calculated is important. For instance, I don't think it's fair to attribute sunk costs, things we would have paid for anyway like officer salaries, to the protests. If overtime occurred because of the protests, then fine, count it, but we didn't go out and hire new cops just for the demonstrations. We would have been paying them anyway.
Beyond that, while I support talking about these costs from a transparency standpoint, they often become political footballs. Remember when Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney was going after the Trump campaign for the city's expenses around his 2018 rally? I thought that was a crass political maneuver, all the more so because Mahoney hasn't made a peep about seeking similar reimbursement from the BLM protests.
I guess some political gatherings are more equal than others?
Our nation doesn't just protect peaceful assembly and free speech for aesthetic reasons. Those things are necessary for our form of government to work. As far as I'm concerned, the costs to government associated with facilitating these events should be borne by the taxpayers, and our feelings about those costs shouldn't hinge on our opinion of the political activity in question.
Whether it's a rally organized by a presidential campaign, our a grassroots uprising like the BLM demonstrations or the Tea Party movement, our local, state, and even national government should facilitate up to and including providing a law enforcement presence for the sake of public safety.
The one caveat is if things turn violent. I'm all for holding those responsible for organizing, or perpetrating, an unlawful assembly liable for the costs and damages.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.