On Sunday, Rubedor acknowledged the confusion and pushback to the “cultural, social media partners” plan, telling The Washington Post he had some regret the city opted to describe the partners as “influencers.”
The city council last Friday voted unanimously to approve a public safety and communication plan tied to the upcoming trials, which included paying a $2,000-per-person fee to six social media influencers tied to the city’s Black, Hmong, Latino, Native American and Somali communities, officials said.
The goal was to make information more accessible to communities that “do not typically follow mainstream news sources or City communications channels” or communicate in English, Casper Hill, a spokesman for the city, said in a statement. “It’s also an opportunity to create more two-way communication between the City and communities.”
Tensions are high in Minneapolis, where Derek Chauvin will be the first of four former Minneapolis police officers to stand trial in Floyd’s 2020 death. Chauvin was identified as the officer who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes; some of Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry among civil rights demonstrators and activists protesting police brutality across the United States last year.
Chauvin’s trial also marks the first time in Minnesota history that a White police officer faces criminal charges in the killing of a Black civilian.
An existing rift between Minneapolis city officials, including the police, and members of the community only widened after Floyd’s killing and left some community activists wary of the city’s plan to tap influencers and other community groups to help manage the messaging.
“In this country, in general, there’s a lack of trust in government, and in Minneapolis that’s very true, as well. After the events from last summer, there’s a lot of anxiety and concern,” Rubedor, told The Post on Sunday. “The reaction to this is understandable.”
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a Minneapolis-based civil rights lawyer and executive director of the Wayfinder Foundation, was among the local activists who shared their skepticism of the program. She said it was crucial that the city be transparent about who the influencers are, how they were selected and which parts of their messaging come directly from the city.
Levy Armstrong said that although she is on cordial terms with city officials, including Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, being compensated by the city could undermine the influencers’ independence.
“We want to be free to speak our truth, and that means at times being critical of our city officials, police, and not feeling we have to mince words or tread softly,” Levy Armstrong said.
Rubedor expressed regret that the city initially used the term “influencers” (“we have to own that one,” he said). The role is formally called “cultural social media contractors.” Rubedor said they are not meant to spin for the city or push a narrative but rather communicate facts about city services and other news related to the Chauvin trial and, later, the trial of the three other officers charged in Floyd’s death.
Those messages may include updates on public transit disruptions, curfews or disclosing when the jury begins deliberations, Rubedor said.
“It’s really not about getting people to change their mind on a particular thing; it’s giving people the information that they can consume to make their own decisions and be informed,” he told The Post.
Rubedor notes that the city has used the same strategy in the past. Social media contractors were hired in 2018 when Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl, after a car fire in one of the city’s Somali communities prompted concerns about terrorism.
Just months after Floyd’s killing, a man killed himself as he was being pursued by Minneapolis police. Rumors that police shot the man quickly reignited tensions and led to unrest and a citywide curfew. Police released video of the incident within 90 minutes and shared it with community leaders, including Levy Armstrong, who voluntarily went to the scene to help ease tensions and dispel rumors.
“Those are examples of how this system is intended to work — and work in a way so we can hear from multiple communities across the city,” Rubedor said.
Jamar B. Nelson, who works with A Mother’s Love Initiative, an anti-violence nonprofit organization, said he understands people “bad-mouthing” the strategy but thinks the plan might help. His group is among those expected to receive a contract with the city to work as a community partner.
“If the city is pumping out accurate information and not propaganda, I see nothing wrong,” Nelson told The Post.
“At some point, we got to stop bashing the city — and we’re one of the [groups] who have bashed the city — but when they’re trying to get something right, I think we got to be open,” he said.
Holly Bailey contributed to this report.