Save Roof Deport With Reclamation, Not Destruction

Luís Escobar, staff writer 

In Mayor Jacob Frey’s crusade against citizens of Minneapolis, he has continuously put profits and optics over people. The city of Minneapolis wants to demolish the Roof Depot building in the East Phillips neighborhood, a decision finalized by the City Council in a 7-6 vote on Jan. 26. This is but another form of environmental racism, completely refusing a community’s ability to see changes they’ve not only shared, but fought for over years. 

The city of Minneapolis decided to demolish the vacant building, which has arsenic lying in the soil underneath. Demolishing it would not only release the arsenic into the air and pollute neighborhoods nearby, but the plan is to put in its place a truck yard for the city’s Public Works, refueling diesel vehicles daily. Simultaneously, they would completely ignore years of demands made by East Phillips residents and pollute their neighborhood — and surrounding ones — to an even greater extent. The original demolition was planned for Feb. 24, but was delayed for two weeks, a small victory that has been celebrated by the community. But a delay is not enough. 

City Council members, who are allegedly there for the people, need to listen to their people and their demands. “We didn’t come to hurt anybody, but you people are hurting us, and you don’t see that,” said Betty Burns, an Ojibwe resident, to MinnPost. When dozens of protestors gathered to defend their community and prevent the demolition, police arrived at the site and arrested them.

These are people, children and elders who are exposed to toxins daily, and the city only sees the profit of this truck yard and not the danger this poses for those they represent. Nicole Perez, an East Phillips resident, told Unicorn Riot, “We don’t matter to them … they’ve been doing this to us for too many years.” Some have said that the project will be a benefit to the community, bringing back jobs that were once outsourced. However, this is only looking at the economic side of things once again. The money being made will not solve the issue of children contracting respiratory illness, nor will it attempt to remedy the epidemic that is homelessness in our city. 
East Phillips is one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis, with over 70% of residents being people of color. It is also home to Little Earth, an Indigenous housing development zone. According to a press release by the community group Defend the Depot, East Phillips has been zoned for heavy industrial pollution. EPA data shows the area within a one-mile radius of the Roof Depot, a former Superfund site, ranks in the 89th percentile nationally for diesel particulate matter and the 96th percentile for hazardous waste proximity. It’s being treated as a sacrificial zone for profit incentives. How can your slogan be “for the people” when you are slowly killing them? How can you prioritize green paper when you’re burning the trees that give you life? This is such a bleak form of environmental racism, sacrificially zoning people into an area of high pollution.