Candidate Questionnaire Response: Abu Nayeem, Ward 1

Abu Nayeem is running for City Council in Ward 1. Find out more about him at www.facebook.com/AbuForWard1

What is your vision for safety and wellness rooted in St. Paul communities? As a city councilmember, what concrete steps would you take to support that vision? And who else would you work with to advance that vision?

I want community members feel that they are being both supported and their concerns being met. My vision first involves communicating/laying down the foundation on why community safety should be considered a human right. With this in mind we can form loose block clubs that also serve to engage with youth and residents. As a city councilmember, I would like to formalize the community engagement, so agencies can be held responsible in engaging community members. I think there should be intentional relationship city council, district planning council, and the SPPD in providing the resources and outreach capacity to community members engaged. One effective tool is using data to determine where are the relevant hotspots in a community, and how can the community proactively to respond in keeping the area safe.

What alternatives to policing, arrest, criminal prosecution and incarceration would you work to support? How would you work to reduce the dramatic racial disparities and impacts of these systems?

For the first misdemeanor, we can implement a restorative justice model where a healing circle is implemented bringing both parties together for reconciliation. Though I think prosecutors should take a hard stand on gun violence. Many senseless people are killed, and should never be okay to use a gun. There are racial disparities respect to sentencing, targeting, and court procedures. Those issues are important, but I think we need to address the root causes or poverty, which include healing the community, unlearning from trauma, and treated ex-felons with respect.

Many people who are routinely impacted by policing come from our most impoverished and disenfranchised communities, and due to systemic inequities, they are comparatively disconnected from the levers of power. How would you work to elevate the experience and insight of directly impacted community members so they can have the same impact on shaping policy as well-funded advocacy organizations?

The district planning council should give the resources for persons directly impacted and want to change the community to be in the forefront in leading their community. There is roughly $1.4 million dollars that is distributed to the district planning councils under the Community Engagement Fund. The district planning council can take that money to engage disenfranchised communities.

In partnership with the community-first safety initiative, and with leadership support from the city council, St. Paul residents have advanced the idea of a community cabinet on safety, wellness, and justice. How would you support this cabinet to ensure it has lasting and meaningful input?

I couldn’t find any information on this initiative. I would need more information to give a reasonable response.

What is your knowledge of or experience with restorative justice and restorative practices? How might St. Paul become a restorative city?

I have intermediate knowledge of restorative practices, but not firsthand experience. I am particularly fond of the POD model (different layers of support), where I know facilitators that teach this framework. I think we can do a pilot study of the POD model in areas of need. This will take quite a bit of effort and commitment from other independent parties including churches, parents, district planning council, and schools.

What specific steps would you take to build stability in areas hard-hit by poverty, unemployment, and housing insecurity?

Take a community safety and asset-based approach from community members to get to know their neighbors. There can be an informal support systems and trading carried by neighbors. Neighbors can support each other with emergency housing, and wait until they can find a place to live.

What do you know about the recently dissolved Joint Powers Agreement to share data to flag Ramsey County students as “at-risk”? What lessons do you think officials should take away from the political process that created the Joint Powers Agreement data-sharing plan?

I was an education data analyst, I think predictive analytics can be a huge asset if done appropriately. In the South Washington County school district, I created a procedure to find-at-risk students before it was too late for them to pass their respective coursework. This reporting created a culture shift within the secondary schools. The lessons learned on the Joint Powers Agreement is the community input/outreach was not firmly established, as they moved along with the process. The political process needs to be transparent and have community members be part of the decision-making.

What specific steps will you take to end the school to prison pipeline for St. Paul youth? What can you as a city councilmember do to create more opportunities for youth to thrive?

Support programs that create mentorship opportunities for youth. The youth are seeking belonging and purpose. They need an alternative from the “streets”. We can give community members to be part of the decision making process, in particular initiatives such as cultural and art events.

How should the city of St. Paul welcome and support people returning to neighborhoods from jail or prison, or living on probation? What steps would you take to make housing more accessible to people with criminal convictions?

Remove barriers to retrieve housing and employment. I would follow the lead of Minneapolis and weaken the tenant screening standards so they can have access to housing. Finally, these folk can be mentors tot he community depending on what direction they are in life.

What is a person, place, book, experience, or film that has especially influenced your vision of community-first public safety and your dreams about what’s possible for community-first public safety in St. Paul?

There are plenty of revolutionaries to choose from, personally I’m more aligned with Malcolm X. For contemporaries, I think we can look at former gangbangers that have changed their lives and taking steps to create programs and mentors to address the heart of the issue. With that said, I think Ice T. is good example of someone that youth can respect because of his lived experiences. In addition, he created a framework of having gang counselors at at urban school. The youth will respect people with street cred and dignity over the more traditional academic positions. Finally, the gang counselors should be hired based on their local connection with the surrounding community.

What informs your decision-making process when it comes to community issues? Can you share a story about a specific time when you had to decide where you stood on a difficult community issue, or when you had to decide what kind of action you should take on an issue? How did you arrive at the decision you did?

Hmm, there are some activist groups, and local community leaders that I would follow. I’m not sure if this counts, there are times when I give aid to people in need and/or simply have a conversation. I’ve lived in downtown Saint Paul, and the bay area; and knew some of the homeless people. I think treating with dignity and them being feeling heard can brighten their day. I’m more generous, after seeing remarkable acts of kindness of a homeless to another homeless person. It was both moving and astonishing at the same time.

What does co-governance look like to you? How have you implemented that vision of co-governance in your own life and work? How would you work to scale up that vision in city government?

I believe co-governance is when we can share power between formal and informal system. My community vision would involve that the primary leaders are the community members within the space itself. I believe knowledge and power is accumulated to only a few and they gate-keep those resources. Let’s expand those resources, and create frameworks can support both leaders and followers, while periodically changing the leadership internally to assure greater community resiliency and knowledge of the issues.

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