Approximately 200 Northfield High School students walked out of class Monday afternoon, protesting what they say are the racist actions of police in the recent killings of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo.
The approximately half-hour protest at Memorial Field came after the Sunday, April 11 shooting death of Wright by Brooklyn Center police and last month’s shooting death of 13-year-old Chicago boy Adam Toledo. The deaths have sparked protests, inspired new debate on law enforcement’s use of force, and caused accusations that police departments across the country are improperly targeting people of color, less than one year following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man while being taken into Minneapolis police custody.
Many of the student protesters wore shirts and showed signs paying homage to the Black Lives Matter movement and other groups supporters say are advocating for a more just society. To mark the shootings, students had a brief moment of silence during the protest and then at 1:47 p.m. to mark the approximate time Wright was killed. The protest was part of a statewide effort by Minnesota Teen Activists, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit.
Brooklyn Center’s police chief, who has since resigned, said he believed the officer who shot Wright, Kim Potter, meant to use her Taser and not her service weapon. A Washington County prosecutor last week charged Potter, who also resigned, with second-degree manslaughter. Police have described the shooting of Wright as “an accidental discharge” that happened as officers were trying to arrest Wright on an outstanding warrant after stopping his car for having expired registration tags.
Police body camera footage released following Toledo’s death reportedly shows the officer shooting the boy less than a second after the boy drops a handgun, turns toward Stillman and begins raising his hands.
‘We live in a racist and corrupt state’
One Northfield High School freshman speaker said though she thought Northfield would be a less racist community than the small town she was from, she has since been proven wrong. She said a staff member supported the police shooting of Wright, and expressed frustration over what she said is the race-based standoffishness officers have for Black people.
Another student said it was unacceptable that the officer had mistaken a Taser for a gun, and called the issue a symbol of the continuing racism in society. She also took issue with white people who verbalize their disgust with such fatal encounters but then post social media posts she deems trivial following their comments.
“We live in a racist and corrupt state,” the speaker said.
As the students walked back to the school, they chanted: “Take it to the streets, defund the police, no justice, no peace.”
Northfield High School senior Citlali Valdez decided to participate to “stand right next to my fellow Black students and Hispanic students.” Valdez and her sister, NHS freshman Xochitl Valdez, noted both of their parents are undocumented and live in constant fear of deportation.
Citlali said it “disgusts” her to know that people have been shot just for the color of their skin. They called on white people to listen to people of color and be empathetic.
Following the protest, Superintendent Matt Hillmann said the district honors the right of students to engage in free speech without interfering in the learning environment of others as outlined in a 1969 Supreme Court ruling. Students who miss class, however, are held accountable per the district’s attendance policy.
“Our students are expressing their First Amendment rights,” he added.
After years of discussion, a new paved thoroughfare running straight north out of Dundas toward Dakota County’s population centers could be a bit closer to completion.
At its Monday night meeting, the Dundas City Council endorsed a proposed traffic study to examine the benefits and options for improving Decker Avenue from Hwy. 19 west of Northfield to County Road 1. For Dundas, perhaps the biggest question is how to complete the one block within city limits. Currently, Decker Avenue ends a block short of County Road 1, but the connection is bridged by Forest Avenue. Doubling down on that could be one option, but could lead significant traffic directly into a residential area.
As an alternative, the county could work with stakeholders to acquire a new stretch of land that would bypass the city altogether, establishing Decker Avenue firmly as a “ring road” on the western outskirts of Northfield and Dundas.
Decker Avenue is currently a Bridgewater Township road, but was identified as one of several corridors ideal for investment in Rice County’s 2006 highway plan. It’s expected to become a county road if and when such improvements are made.
If the road is eventually paved, Rice County Engineer Dennis Luebbe believes that it would draw plenty of traffic. Providing a straight connection to Hwy.19 and Northfield Hospital from Dundas, it could be appealing for both drivers and commercial traffic.
Shortly after intersecting with Hwy. 19, the road crosses into Dakota County and is renamed Garrett Avenue. Dakota County has its own vision for that portion of road, and could be considered a stakeholder as part of the traffic study.
If both Rice and Dakota counties improve Decker and Garrett avenues respectively, Luebbe said that the road could provide a more direct route to southern Dakota County than existing County Road 23/Foliage Avenue, known for its twists and turns.
On April 1, Rice County held a meeting at the Dundas City Hall to discuss the future of Decker Avenue with stakeholders, including individuals who own land a potential bypass could cross. The county expressed a willingness to study the issue further if Dundas and Bridgewater would reaffirm their support.
Improvements to Decker Avenue aren’t yet a part of Rice County’s Highway Plan, which was most recently updated last December and runs through 2030. However, MnDOT is scheduled to make improvements to Hwy. 19 in 2026, which could increase interest.
It isn’t yet clear how much the traffic study will cost, but local governments, including Dundas, are expected to pick up part of the tab. However, a paved Decker Avenue could also provide an economic boost to Northfield and Dundas, with a ring road fostering development.
Both Bridgewater Township Board of Supervisors Chair Glen Castore and Dundas Mayor Glen Switzer expressed support for the project. However, Castore conceded that its benefit to Bridgewater Township directly would likely be more limited than to the region as a whole.
“As all of the communities in the area grow, this would have a positive impact,” Switzer said. “Currently there’s only a few paved options for people trying to go north.”
Last November, the lives of Dennis and Karen Vinar were upended in the devastating Archer House blaze that destroyed their business, Paper Petalum.
As the months passed, the Northfield couple considered retiring. But, they say their desire to be downtown business owners was again made possible by the vacancy of a nearby building once home to Jenkins Jewelers.
The Vinars now operate out of the 1,800-square-foot space at 313 Division St. A soft opening took place April 8, and a grand reopening, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony, prizes and giveaways is slated for May 22.
The new Paper Petalum is maintaining its Scandinavian theme, which the store has had since its 1987 founding. The Vinars have added several greeting card lines and increased the selection of locally sourced books, puzzles and art. They also offer local trees and spices, and plan to add unique gifts from around the world.
Employee Sue Odette said the new location has advantages over the previous Archer House River Inn setting.
“It’s a very good location,” she noted. “It’s closer to where the foot traffic is in Northfield.”
A tough stretch
The afternoon of Nov. 12 started innocuously for the Vinars. That all changed at approximately 2:30 p.m. when a report of a fire at Smoqehouse, also located inside Archer House, was made. Soon, smoke was pouring through the entire building. Due to its massive scope, fire crews needed close to 24 hours to put out the blaze.
“They came up to me and they said you better go home early today,” Dennis said … “The Smoqehouse is on fire. I went and told Karen, Karen just grabbed everything.”
Less than 24 hours later, the couple realized the building their store operated from was destroyed. Paper Petalum was submerged in 6 inches of standing water.
“It was quite a thing to behold,” Karen said. “We lost mostly everything,”
One month later, the Vinars, still grappling with revenue losses caused by the store’s closure, tried to set up a temporary Christmas store, but were unsuccessful. As they went back and forth over whether to continue the business they’d bought just months before, the learned that Jenkins Jewelers’ owner planned to retire at the end of 2020. Since the decision was made to move into the building, new windows have been installed and walls removed.
“We just felt like we belonged in the community,” Karen noted. “We felt like even though we hadn’t been residents of Northfield that long, we moved here in 2016, we felt like we should pursue this so we were persistent in working the details out with the landlord and the (Historic) Preservation Committee.”
The Vinars bought Paper Petalum in January 2020 from Eleanor Croone, who stepped back after her husband, Al Croone, died.
Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Lisa Peterson said the Chamber happy to see the store back in business.
“We’re excited for them that they found a space in downtown, that they can continue the long tradition of Paper Petalum, keep it in Northfield,” she said.
Rolling up her sleeves, Natasha Anderson maintained a steady composure as the needle slid into her upper arm. Within moments, it was over.
Anderson, Post Consumer Brands COVID-19 leave coordinator, was one of 450 employees who received the second and final dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine Thursday in Northfield. It’s a step she sees as her part in ending the pandemic while protecting her mother, terminally ill with cancer.
Anderson received her second vaccination the same day the company hosted Rice County Public Health officials and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen for a tour as part of a statewide vaccine outreach campaign to encourage vaccinations for people working in food manufacturing. As part of the tour, Petersen visited the pop-up vaccination site in the building, an effort made possible by a collaboration between Post Consumer Brands and Public Health.
Post Consumer Brands is the first private employer where Public Health has administered shots to on-site during the pandemic, a decision Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst said is due to the company’s relatively large workforce. She noted, however, that Public Health has worked with private companies throughout the county to schedule vaccination times at the Rice County Government Center since late December.
Rice County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Tracy Ackman-Shaw said some local companies, like Jennie-O Turkey Store in Faribault, which worked with Hy-Vee, contracted with providers to offer vaccinations to their employees.
As of Wednesday, slightly more than 40% of Rice County residents ages 16 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose, which is lower than the statewide average of 50%.
Ackman-Shaw said Rice County Public Health has been unable to vaccinate the youngest group of people who are eligible to receive the vaccine because Pfizer doses have not been made available to them, leaving Northfield Hospital and Clinics as the primary local access site. She is unsure of when the Pfizer vaccine will be available. Currently, research is being done to see whether the Moderna vaccine is effective on children 12 and older.
“We’ve made good progress,” Purfeerst said. Though Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges use private vendors to vaccinate on-campus residents, Purfeerst noted Public Health has vaccinated “hundreds” of people from both campuses.
Health officials: Work to ease vaccine anxiety is working
According to USA Today, information deemed false by public health and medical professionals has been circulating on social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp. Experts have worried that it’s targeting people of color most vulnerable to the illness, contributing to vaccine hesitancy and fueling mistrust.
One person reportedly received a video featuring a Spanish-speaking person claiming to be a medical professional saying the vaccine had been developed too quickly and cautioned the shot would cause numerous diseases.
According to nonprofit advocacy group VotoLatino, almost 73% of Latino people surveyed knew someone who had COVID-19, and one-third knew someone who died of the illness. Despite that, just shy of half — 47% — reportedly said they were reticent about getting the shot. Around one-quarter said they would not take it at all.
Petersen said he has not seen much work to discredit the vaccines for non-English speakers in Minnesota despite the high number of seasonal employees statewide. He said the possibility that such information would spread had caused him concern, so he partnered with ethnic counsels, including the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul, to build confidence in the vaccines.
To address uncertainty about taking the vaccine for non-English speakers, health officials have launched community vaccination sites to make doing so more welcoming. One took place Monday at the Faribault Education Center.
Purfeerst noted county health officials encourage anyone with questions on the efficacy and safety of the vaccines to review pertinent information. She points to the continually lower deaths attributed to the virus in long-term care facilities as proof of the effectiveness of the vaccines. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on seniors residing in such facilities: As of Friday, 4,325 of the state’s 6,905 deaths came from residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities.
“The vaccines are extremely effective,” Purfeerst said.
This week, following the lead of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials paused administering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The news came after the Federal Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention announced they are investigating what they deemed to be the extremely rare occurrence of blood clots — which have nationwide been found in seven women between the ages of 18 and 48 that occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. That comes out of approximately 6.8 million doses administered nationwide.
Praise for ag workers
Petersen noted the initial sharp impact the pandemic had on food production for Minnesotans. One year ago, food processing plants JBS Worthington and Smithfield in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, temporarily shut down after numerous COVID-19 cases were reported in both places. Those two plants alone account for 35% of statewide food production.
Petersen, appointed commissioner role by Gov. Tim Walz in January 2019, said he has been pleased with the willingness of food production workers to take the vaccines. He urged Minnesotans to receive the vaccine, adding that doing so protects against severe virus symptoms.
As COVID-19 preventative measures, Post Consumer Brands Plant Manager Benjamin Bergstrom said employees undergo temperature scans and answer questionnaires to prevent the spread. Also, social distancing and other regulations are being followed.
Gov. Tim Walz announced Friday that he is highlighting the state’s outreach to connect manufacturing workers with the resources they need to get vaccinated as part of the “Roll Up Your Sleeves, MN’ campaign, which kicked off last week with food service industry employees.
“Our strong-spirited manufacturing workers are the backbone of our economy and food supply,” Walz said. “They have worked so hard during this unprecedented crisis to keep everything from food on our tables to personal protective equipment on our shelves, and now we’re going to make sure each and every one of them gets easy and convenient access to vaccines. Getting this critical workforce vaccinated will help us end this pandemic and get back to business as usual.”