Anika Bowie is running for City Council in Ward 1. Learn more about her at https://anikabowie.com.
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?
My vision for Saint Paul’s safety and wellness involves a wholistic approach to creating an environment that embraces growth and humanity. My vision for Saint Paul is a community that takes pride in the neighborhood they live in and are engaged in making it safe for everyone. With the current incidents of gun violence right in our neighborhood, it is difficult to feel safe or trust the people in the neighborhood. My plan as city council member is to lean towards restorative justice instead of leaning back to punitive justice. Our police department currently don’t have the resources or community buy-in to solve issues of crime. Our youth have the influence and the relationships necessary to lead a vision for safety and wellness in St. Paul. As the youngest candidate running for St. Paul City Council, I have this great opportunity to bridge the gap between youth and city council. I also have the relationships with the families/individuals who are impacted the most by gun violence and trauma. My vision will involve youth, advocacy organizations, educators, grassroots community organizers, artists, community business owners, public safety stakeholders.
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?
I support expanding access to diversion programs and looking to alter the criteria at the St. Paul Police level for youth to be eligible for diversion. I also believe in expanding the police co-responding program to ensure that officers are not the only entity responding when someone may be exhibiting mental wellness issues. I also believe the city should create a department similar to Washington DC’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs. This department will support returning citizens re-integrate back into the community. This would be an effort to centralize disparate services that many find difficult to navigate alone.
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?
Most of my professional experience has been centered around elevating the voices of people who are directly impacted. This includes making sure people who are on felony probation or parole are at the table helping to discuss strategy for the Restore the Vote Coalition that I facilitate and making sure impacted people are making decisions at the Warrant Forgiveness tables that also consist of prosecutors, judges, sheriffs, and community organizers. As a council member, my office will continue to seek partnerships with impacted individuals who are closest to the answers we seek.
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 believe the community-first safety initiative is vital and utilizes the right approach to create safer communities. I will commit to doing the work to ensure that it is funded properly. Part of doing the work to make sure cabinets are sustainable and have meaningful input is to be in consistent communication and building strong partnership on a grassroots level. Our communities safety and wellness impacts everything else, therefore this must be anchored in our budget.
What is your knowledge of or experience with restorative justice and restorative practices? How might St. Paul become a restorative city?
Restorative justice is my top focus for the city of Saint Paul because we must be able to restore trust in our public official to be a city that works for all of us. Restorative practice is a lifestyle that I believe everyone should model in the work place, classroom, and personal life. It is a concept that believes both parties are victims of a harm taken place, and both parties have the tools to restore trust and community safety through facilitated listening circles.This is an indigenous practice that has the ability get people from different beliefs and backgrounds to come together and ground themselves in a safer space in order to move towards a mutual understanding. After the police involved murder of Billy Hughes, I co-facilitated a community restorative circle with my colleague Dr. Raj. The mayors office and law enforcement were in support of our efforts by being present and listening to the community. The family of Billy gave us and the city their blessings to create a space to reflect, heal, listen, and grow. The city can become a restorative city if the people in office recognize this indegenous practice as a model that will make us a safer and stronger Saint Paul.
What specific steps would you take to build stability in areas hard-hit by poverty, unemployment, and housing insecurity?
The first step I will take to build stability is to shift the city’s approach from a deficit-based to an asset-based building. I grew up within and still live in the areas hard hit by poverty and I experienced the stigma and shame of families surviving an economic crisis. I also know and experienced the inequities of the political process that doesn’t value the voices of working families. Poverty is normally inter-generational and is intertwined with inter-generational trauma that has gone unnoticed by our public officials. My plans are to work with my colleagues to take action on eliminating barriers to economic stability and employment with compassion and dignity for our residents. I plan to continue promoting initiatives such as Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood and the new Financial Empowerment department to support residents transition into sustainable lives. I will promote opportunities for the city to contract with businesses that are innovative, inclusive of communities of color and women, and offer a sustainable livable wage. I look forward to highlighting successful models that the city should adopt to make this the most livable place for everyone.
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 made aware of the Joint Powers Agreement through trusted sources who are committed to community. With this information, I met with stakeholders and addressed the community concerns. I also decided to get involve with Root and Restore and learn how I can support the end to the Joint Powers Agreement. My of us found it problematic for Ramsey County Attorneys office to lead this effort to flag “at risk” students especially during a time when the out of home placement rates for juveniles were low. Our students need access to opportunities, and not expensive risk assessment data. As city council member, I learned the importance of always engaging community and asking the people who are in direct contact with the communities we seek to support. The JPA data-sharing plan taught us that we need to listen more and recognize our community members as stakeholders in our youth’s lives.
What specific steps will you take to end the school to prison pipeline of St. Paul youth? What can you do as a city councilmember to create more opportunities for youth to thrive?
Ending the school to prison pipeline was my main focus as a sophomore at Central High School after witnessing the drones of black youth suspended, referred to juvenile court, arrested by SRO’s, and later trapped into the claws of our criminal justice system. I took the steps years ago to end the school to prison pipeline by first identifying “zero-tolerance” policies and practices that disproportionately suspended and/or expelled students of color in Saint Paul Public Schools. I hosted series of focus groups, forums and panels on this topic and collaborated with academics, organizational leadership, and grass-root organizers to educated the public on this issue. As a teaching artist in the school district for years, I designed and taught curriculum with a hip hop pedagogy to empower and engage youth in social justice leadership and prevent them from entering the criminal justice system. Later, I served as a Juvenile Transition Coordinator and supported students as they reintegrated back into mainstream classrooms. From this experience, I learned the value in relationship building between administration, staff and students. There are many steps that everyone can take to end the school to prison pipeline: invest in more support staff for emotional and behavioral needs, invest in more diversion programs for all youth not just non-violent cases, diversify recruitment tactics for youth employment, include youth in the decision making process. I will be a home grown city council member that has direct access to the system-involved youth. This has been vitally important to me for years.
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?
Restore is the first point of my R.A.C.E to the top platform because I know the everyday struggle families and organizations face seeking housing for people with criminal convictions. I currently lead the Restore the Vote Minnesota coalition of over 80 partnering organizations to restore the civil voting rights of over 50,000 Minnesotans who currently live in our community while on felony probation or parole but can’t vote. I advocate diligently everyday for more accessible housing, jobs, and opportunities. Not only do I advocate, but I take action by making the connections necessary to find safe and secure housing. I have first hand experience supporting my father as he transitioned back into St. Paul and taking all the steps to reintegrate into society. As a city council member, my steps to expand access for returning citizens will include the development of a cross-sector board of the stakeholders and impacted individuals. I will be able to elevate these partnerships and invest in community organizations that will do the work to find housing and jobs. I will take the steps to examine the city ordinances and ban any discriminatory practices that prevent people with conviction a fair chance.
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?
“Sidewalk Strategies: A practical guide for candidates, causes and communities” is a book that has influenced my vision for community-first public safety. It gives incredible examples of community organizing that results in sustainable governmental shifts of policy and practices. This book was recommended during a time when I was considering running for office and looking for a blueprint of successful implementation of community-first practices. I imagine a public safety system that is lead by community and not for community. I dream a return to “it takes a village approach” to public safety, where neighbors are the peace makers of issues in the community. I envision a collective commitment to maintaining a safe space our for community to heal from violence and trauma.
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?
As the current Vice President Minneapolis NAACP, I am experienced in making highly critical decisions when it comes to community safety issues. I have always put community first in all of my decision making and plan to continue putting community first in my decision making. For example, NAACP and ACLU MN led Ramsey County Warrant Resolution Day, a day that the county/city clears individuals with active warrants without arrest. This joint initiative involved commissioners, judges, prosecutors, and court administrators who agreed to commit to restoring community trust and practicing restorative justice.This type of commitment required the city and county to change it’s regular way of functioning with the public. For instances, I made the request for the Sheriffs to agree to honor a no-arrest policy for the event. The sheriff raised concerns but agreed to enforce a policy to protect the building of trust between community and government. I also made the request for officers to not wear their uniforms and to dress casual. This was a decision to help officers humanize themselves and be seen as everyday people. I am a candidate that will always make decisions that place community safety first.
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?
Co-governance is necessary for a local government and community system of trust and accountability. This collective system involves consistent civic engagement, strategic partnerships, and a strong will to continuously advocate for community. As a home grown candidate that has years of lived and professional experience advocating for community, I embrace systems that bridge government and community to solve problems and build sustainability. I model co-governance in how I lead the Restore the Vote MN coalition of over 80 cross-sector organizations. I created a collaborative structure for all partners to be involve in the planning and decision making of the coalition. I reshaped the culture and values of the coalition that was once a system that operated as a hierarchy of subject matter experts into a coalition that centers the voices on impacted individuals as subject matter experts and our greatest asset. Servant leadership is the most rewarding leadership because it develops a next generation of leadership to move forward. I see this form of leadership embedded in the orientation for people entering public service sector.