The Fergus Falls City Council found a hotdish of controversy waiting on their plates Monday evening when they held their first meeting at City Hall since March 16.

Checked by the dangers of COVID-19, the council had been holding meetings via interactive video. The group can now assemble indoors again if it does not exceed 25 people.

After the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, May 25 while being pinned under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, protests and riots broke out in the Twin Cities and across the country. The Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct was burned and National Guard troops were mobilized by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to restore order.

A riot also rocked Fargo but protests in Detroit Lakes were held without incident. 

A vigil in Floyd’s memory was held in Fergus Falls on June 1.

Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin was fired and later charged with second- and third-degree murder in the death of Floyd.

The public backlash from the killing inspired a joint recommendation by the Human Rights Commission and the Fergus Falls Police Department to proclaim support for the basic principles of humanity continued in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mayor Ben Schierer, recognizing the sensitive nature of the subject, read a prepared statement to the assembled body before Monday’s council meeting.

 “Last week at the regular meeting of the Human Rights Commission, the Police Department and Human Rights Commission members agreed to put forth a joint recommendation to the City Council to proclaim support for the basic principles of humanity outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Before the Police Department and Human Rights Commission had a chance to submit their request to Council for consideration, public narrative surrounding the wording of the recommendation and the origination of those words took over, overshadowing the pieces most important to me as Mayor- the partnership between the Human Rights Commission and the Police Department and the importance of the work surrounding human rights. At this point, I believe proclamation will divide the community further on an issue I hope would bring us together, and instead suggest that the Council direct the Human Rights Commission and Police Department to continue this important dialogue and come forward with clear action council may take to affirm our community's commitment to the work of human rights in Fergus Falls, while also affirming our oath to and support for the Constitution of the United States.”

 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, conceived and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on Dec. 10, 1948, in Paris, in response to suffering in World War II. It is considered to be a milestone document in the history of human rights, containing a preamble and 30 articles.

The council took up the recommendation of the Human Rights Commission and the Fergus Falls Police Department when they arrived at Monday’s board, committee and department reports.

Council member Brent Thompson was adamant in his opposition to the U.N. proclamation guiding the actions of the City Council but loud in his support of Fergus Falls Police Department.

“I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I think what happened down in the cities was a travesty. What he (former officer Chauvin) did was wrong,” Thompson said. “But I do believe we have a chief of police (Kile Bergren) here whose basic need in this town is to make sure everyone is treated equally and fairly. We are lucky to have him. I don’t think he would condone anything like this from any officer who works for him.”

Council member Scott Kvamme was also against supporting a Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclamation and made a motion which received unanimous approval by the council.

“I make a motion that the police department and the human rights commission continue to develop a statement the city can stand behind and specifically avoid any reference to anything from the U.N.,” Kvamme said.

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