reflect on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, I am reminded of the many times I have
seen the kinds of police behaviors evidenced in Ferguson before. Abuses of police power, the shooting of unarmed black teenagers by
police officers, threats against reporters and displays of force that turn
peaceful protests into violent confrontations are familiar to many of us.
Ferguson forces us to look at these through a racial framework and reminds me about how this is a continuation of historic racism that has
existed in this country since its inception. It can be traced to periods of
government sanctioned, legal and protected genocide and slavery, to an
elaborate system of legalized oppression and segregation and so called “Jim
Crow” laws after the civil war up to the more covert and insidious “New Jim Crow” of today.
Minneapolis City Council Member serving in 2014 I am deeply concerned that the
City of Minneapolis is, perhaps unwittingly, an active participant in this New Jim Crow and practices that undermine our highest hopes and aspirations for
ourselves and our future. In the
interest of turning the anger and frustration so many of us are feeling into determination
and real reforms I offer the following.
On the state and federal levels I, and the City should, support efforts to:
and gain control of the prison industrial complex that promotes mass incarceration
and allows economic interests and racist tendencies to drive criminal
justice policies and practices.
the militarization of police, including training in military tactics and possession
of military ammunition.
the failed drug policies that treat drug abuse as a criminal instead
of medical, public health or social problem.
the criminalization and harassment of new immigrants and transformation of border areas into military zones -- most
recently evident in proposals that would deny asylum to young children fleeing
violence and extreme poverty in Central America.
privacy and constitutional protections from government power: end mass
surveillance programs and outlaw harassment, infiltration, and provocation
directed against organizations and individuals who express dissent.
at the city level, there is no good reason why we cannot take direct and
immediate steps to ensure that we break free of the historic practices and
biases that are unwise, unjust and detrimental to the future of our city.
Towards that end we
must forge ahead with the work already underway to develop a
Racial Equity Toolkit to guide city decisions, spending and policies and a larger
Equity Action Plan to help set community-wide goals and implement strategies to
I hope we can also
use this opportunity to fast track efforts in the our own local criminal
justice arena to understand how we are participants in criminalizing poverty, homelessness and race and how we
can end discrimination, improve police-community relations
and reverse the self-destructive path structural racism has us on.
First I believe we
need to measure and track much more carefully our practices and shine the light on the
racial disparities that exist. The Mayor and Council should direct the Police
Department and City Attorney’s Office to do a comprehensive report based on a
racial audit of stops, detainments, arrests, charges, prosecutions, convictions
and sentencing for the past 5 years. Participation at the County level would also be helpful in this effort. We need to understand how we are using low level offenses, and proactive policing practices in different areas of the city and with different populations within the city. Additionally we should direct the Police and Civil
Rights departments to report on a racial audit of complaints, findings,
discipline and results of court proceedings (including settlements) related to police and other city staff.
By seeking first to clearly understand the problem we can better
renew our commitment to root out and end the racial profiling that many believe
exists in our police department and courts today. This must include ongoing data collection
with public reporting as well as explicit policy, and anti-racism training for
policy makers we must also be willing to overturn ordinances that are clearly used
for selective enforcement, like lurking, that are
unnecessary and used to (even if not created to) target
poor or minority people. As a city, county and state we must end racial
disparities in stops, arrests, prosecution and sentencing. We can instead create model policies and regulations prohibiting racial profiling,
"stop and frisk" policing and harassment, intimidation and police intervention
without reasonable, clear suspicion of criminal activity. Whatever your race, income,
background or location in the city, you should be treated with dignity and
respect by all city employees, especially the police.
There are two key
efforts that are already underway in the Police Department that deserve strong
support. It is time to more ahead more quickly developing the policies and
rolling out the police body camera pilot so that starting next year this becomes
standard police practice in Minneapolis.
We have already seen benefits to squad cameras and how body cameras in
other cities have helped improve police and civilian behavior and avoided costly
investigations and trials. The second
initiative that deserves support is the targeted efforts to diversify
the police force at all levels. This should also be done in the civil rights
and attorney’s office and should include changes in hiring practices,
promotional practices, and department culture. It is time to fix the state law "rule of three" and root out any union
contract provisions that hinder the hiring or retention of some qualified officers that
may be the most desirable to help diversify our staff.
I also continue to
believe that we need to look at the Minneapolis Charter and reconsider the
wisdom of putting the supervision of the police department solely in the
mayor’s hands, distancing it from the City Council and thus the electorate. According
to the Charter, the mayor is “vested with all the powers of said city connected
with and incident to the establishment, maintenance, appointment, removal,
discipline, control and supervision of its police force…” It is this
arrangement that has made it particularly difficult for council members to
fully engage and influence how we manage and assist our police officers. We
have little hope of directing staff, setting policy about police behavior or
instituting promising management practices, when the Charter gives us no
authority over the department, except to approve the appointment of the police
chief and the department’s budget. It is time to put the police chief on equal
footing with other department heads. There is no good reason why the Council
should be able to directly influence Public Works, the Health Department, the
Fire Department, Business Licensing and Housing Inspections, and all of the other essential functions of city
government but not the police department.
It is also time for
us to carefully review and reform or replace the hastily reformed Police Oversight
Commission that was reformed without appropriate levels of community engagement
and over the objections of our own city appointed civilian police review
advisory panel. We need to rebuild an
adequately funded, strengthened and more effective civilian police review
commission comprised of Minneapolis residents, that has subpoena power, can
make its determinations public information, and has the meaningful and credible
input regarding the discipline of police officers.
This body, then,
along with the Civil Rights Commission could be fully engaged in monitoring and
advising the police and attorney’s office on eliminating racial disparities and
discriminatory practices that unwittingly and unwisely make the city a
participant in the historic structural racism we must dismantle.
As a Minneapolis council member police accountability and institutional racism have proven to be among the most challenging problems I have faced. These are persistent and without easily found or simple solutions. To fully address these will take vigilance, honesty, focused determination and a cultural transformation in city government. Still, I am hopeful. We have a growing number of residents eager to see real changes. We have city leaders so clearly united in their intentions. Let's get to work.