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Community members respond to racism, violence with donations and messages of hope

Savage and Burnsville residents this week joined the outpouring of support for area neighborhoods acutely impacted by the protests, unrest and pain following the death of George Floyd.

Community groups online filled with calls for donations, and various outreach efforts carried support from the south metro to residents in need in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Locals delivered approximately 8,000 Ziploc bags packed with nutritional snacks and a handwritten message of encouragement to Harriet Bishop Elementary School over the course of three days.

The Harriet Bishop Service Club teamed up with Allan Law, who founded the “Love One Another” nonprofit back in 1967, for the project. Law, widely known in Minnesota as “the Sandwich man” for his work handing out sandwiches at night, will distribute the donations.

Savage resident Seema Pothini, who advises the service club, said families were encouraged to make the snack packs with young children as a way to discuss George Floyd and the aftermath of his death.

Steve Aase, a longtime organization partner supporting Law’s work, said Savage residents’ messages are especially powerful.

“It’s always an incredibly touching and compassionate thing to hand out,” he said. “It’s amazing how much compassion and creativity is out there of all ages.”

Sanya’s Hope for Children, a Prior Lake-based nonprofit run by eighth-grader Sanya Pirani, is accepting donations until Wednesday, June 10, at 10 a.m. for essential items needed by Minneapolis residents.

A full list of items being collected can be found online at sanyashopeforchildren.org, and monetary donations made online will be matched by a private donor on donations of up to $1,000.

Members of Burnsville Strong, a Burnsville High School student group focused on mentoring and community leadership, also organized to help Minneapolis.

“We do not want to be those people who stay silent and don’t care,” said Marie Hansen, a teacher and adviser to the organization.

In a letter to students, Burnsville Strong’s participating teachers condemned racism, hatred and violence towards Black people or any person of color.

They also stated that experiencing a range of emotions in response to trauma is justified, and students should reach out to a trusted adult for support if needed.

The advisers said they felt “complete horror over watching George Floyd’s murder” and “righteous anger along with the protesters who don’t want this to keep happening.”

Ryan Mokandu, a Burnsville High School senior, urged advisers to take action, Hansen said.

On Thursday, after only 48 hours of planning and collecting, Burnsville Strong members delivered three carloads of donated supplies to Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis.

With students spreading the word, donations flooded in from teachers, alumni, students and other community members.

“I’m really proud for that to be one of my last few moments,” Mokandu, who graduated this week, said.

“Students can make a difference,” he added, referencing service club and other student-lead organizations in the district. “These kids are truly making an impact on our community.”

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Savage Police chief: Minneapolis officers 'tarnished the badge'

The former Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd “tarnished the badge that they wear and the oath that they took to protect and serve the community,” Savage Police Chief Rodney Seurer said Wednesday.

Seurer released a written letter to the community on June 3 shortly after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced an increased charge of second-degree murder for former officer Derek Chauvin, and new charges of aiding an abetting murder against the three other former officers involved in the case.

Seurer didn’t return requests for comment the week of Floyd’s death, but Mayor Janet Williams released a brief statement on May 28 that said police and city officials are committed to continuing public conversations on race.

“We want all residents to know, you are valued and supported,” Williams wrote.

Seurer’s letter began by extending prayers and thoughts to Floyd’s family.

“The death of Mr. Floyd was tragic, upsetting and we are all heartbroken,” Seurer wrote. “I cannot begin to understand why it was necessary for Mr. Floyd to lose his life.

“The actions of those officers have tarnished the badge that they wear and the oath that they took to protect and serve the community,” he continued. “We chose this vocation to protect those who can’t protect themselves and will go out of our way to make sure we help improve the quality of life for everyone.”

The letter cites a recommendation from former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which stated “trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy. It is key to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.”

Seurer said building trust within the police department is a result of providing the proper resources, leadership and training.

“Building trust outside of the agency begins with developing positive relationships with the community through our daily contacts and our community outreach initiatives,” Seurer said.

In October 2019, the Savage Police Department hosted the city’s first Community Conversation on Race event. A follow-up event was held in February, and city leaders say a third event is being planned.

“We must continue to move forward, engaging in these conversations with empathy, respect and understanding — whether it is a conversation with neighbors, family members or community members,” Seurer wrote. “This is an opportunity to look into what’s happening around us, focus on our values and make connections with those of different backgrounds and ethnicities.

“We have more similarities than differences,” he concluded. “It is of the utmost importance that we continue with this dialogue even during difficult times.”