Andrea Jenkins makes history. In 2017, with her election to Minneapolis’ city council, the transgenderBlack activist was the first to be elected OffeneThe first transgender person elected to public office in America. Three years later she found herself in the spotlight again as the representative of the ward that George Floyd had been murdered. She was elected Minneapolis City Council president on January 10, and became the first transgender person in this position in the U.S.
Jenkins will assume the position as the city reels from the trauma and heartbreak of the last few years. Minneapolis’ police chief stepped down earlier this month amid heated debates about the future of policing in the city, after voters rejected a proposal in November that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety focused on public health. The city has also seen a spike in violent crime in the past few years, been at the center of the world’s media spotlight, and contended with the threat of COVID-19.
TIME interviewed Jenkins to discuss her city priorities, her view as transgender woman of color and why she prefers to lead by love.
TIME: Which are your top priorities now?
Jenkins: My role is to first and foremost set the stage for healing in our city. It is essential that we address safety concerns. Although the referendum for the creation of a new Office of Public Safety failed, I think we heard our concerns loud and clear. [from voters]That we need to change how we deal with public safety. It is one of the highest priorities.
The area in which George Floyd was killed is my home. Right now, my focus is on rebuilding the community that became famous all over the world. George Floyd Square. A memorial must be created that will not only remember George Floyd but also honors the lives of hundreds of Black Americans killed at the hands the state. This vision must be realized if we are to truly heal this city.
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One of the projects that we’re working on is called a resiliency hub. The community’s center for resilience is called a resiliency Hub. Let’s say we have a global pandemic: Where do you go to get food supplies? What are your options for getting tested? You want to be vaccinated. What happens if there is a severe winter storm that causes power cuts? Which direction will the people go? We’re developing this resilience hub [for those purposes]It is very near George Floyd Square. These projects will revitalize neighborhoods and restore hope and enthusiasm for the future.
Which is your mission?
[I was elected by]86% of my constituents voted for me, as well as my fellow colleagues. All of them supported me. My vision is one of pragmatism. It’s a mandate for listening to all sides, and trying to find a balance in decision-making. While we recognize the need to address the crisis of public safety, it is important that our police officers are accountable and respectful members of the community.
Are you satisfied with the current level of civilian oversight over policing?
I think more community involvement in oversight over the police would have a net positive impact on policing—we can find the right balance. However, I believe we must have civil participation in the hiring process. [of police]It is especially important now. Minneapolis is currently searching for a chief. I believe the mayor would make a wise decision to have a citizen committee included in that process.
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Minneapolis is currently under supervision. However, some oversight committees or commissions have more power. You need more agency. There are more options to change policies.
What should the police department, and also the Minneapolis community, expect from a council led by you that they haven’t seen in the past?
I don’t know if it hasn’t happened in the past, but I’m certainly going to lead with compassion. I’m going to be very upfront and vocal about bringing the notion of love into the public discourse. Dr. Cornel West states that justice is how love appears in public. How can we bring justice into this community? That’s what I hope to lead with over these next two years: a sense of community, connectedness, and moving forward to make life better for the most marginalized people in our community.
In 2021, there were records for anti-transviolence. Do you believe communities could do more to protect trans citizens, and especially trans women?
We must first make them citizens. Housing insecurity is a major problem for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, especially women of color. It feeds into the housing crisis by presenting another challenge: employment. It is crucial that people have the opportunity to find work.
Many trans and gender non-conforming people also suffer from over-policing—the same issues that are impacting our Black and brown communities. And let me be clear about this: when people talk about violence within the LGBT community, what they’re really talking about is violence against Black and brown trans women.
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Which role should the police play in these efforts to increase public safety for transgender people?
Protect trans people. For the foreseeable near future, we will still have police. Police officers are responsible for understanding and recognising trans persons as people. They have a responsibility to respect people’s pronouns and identities. I think that is where a lot of the conflict with the police and trans communities emanates from—a lack of respect.
You’ve broken boundaries several times in the span of just a few years. What is your view of history?
My role in history is primarily a relay runner for the long-term race to human progress and racial justice here in America. It’s a journey, and we all have a role to play. It’s my turn to ensure that Black LGBTQ persons are part of the human advancement arc.