On May 25th George Floyd lost his life in an act of police violence outside a store located a few blocks from my house. This led to protests and then to rioting, looting, and arson. Now almost two weeks later, as I reflect on subsequent events, I have many reactions. I am sorry for the victim and his family. I am angry that, once again, the MPD has needlessly caused a death. I am indignant that a few violent people wrecked so much havoc on my city. I am relieved that the storm seems to have passed. But, most of all, I am grateful.
Gratitude may seem like an odd response to recent events. But, as Mr. Rodgers advised if you look for the helpers, there are multitudes. So I want to list, in no particular order, the people, groups, and things that I am grateful for.
The peaceful protestors who spent countless hours chanting, walking, talking, listening, and sitting to call attention to the need for change.
The National Guard members who set aside their daily lives to come and restore order to our city. One of them was my niece, whose day job is as a nurse, so she has protected us from two scourges; civil unrest and COVID-19.
PBS, who canceled pledge drive and ran a Downton Abbey marathon so that I could drown out the sound of helicopters endlessly circling the house, and the worry about my husband taking a shift sitting guard duty on the alley outside of our house, to lose myself in the imaginary travails of the Crawley family. I recall reading about how people used to read Agatha Christie novels while waiting out the bombing raids in the London Blitz. I suppose it was a bit like that.
Anyone wrote thoughtful material outlining possible solutions to prevent these same types of problems from reoccurring. As a writer, my first instinct, always, is to read and write about the things that are weighing on my mind. This includes an editorial writer, Dr. Robert Maranto, from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, who corresponded with me, via email, after I wrote to him reacting to his commentary, “We can’t ignore progress made,” that was published in the Star Tribune on June 2. And, Minnesota State Representative Jim Davnie, who took the time to write a thoughtful reply to my concerns, questions, and suggestions. (See my letter to Representative Jim Davnie and his response, below.)
Contrariwise, raspberries to all who used our problems to profit from theft, get a thrill from destruction, or to promote divisiveness or continue the violence. May God forgive them!
Thanks to the legions of kind souls who turned out to sweep up the glass, scrub graffiti off the walls. I saw young people filing past my house heading towards Lake Street, carrying brooms and dustpans, and it made me proud of our younger generation.
Finally, thanks to the summer weather that allowed me to get out in the garden or go on a bike ride and forget about all else, for a time.
Dear Representative Davnie,
The death of Mr. George Floyd, and the ensuing chaos that has damaged our city, shows there is a desperate need to reform the Minneapolis Police Department. As a resident of south Minneapolis, we were left to protect our lives and properties while anarchy reigned, for days, before order was restored. This is unacceptable. It is high-time the Minneapolis Police Department started to do a better job to hire, train, and enforce rules for a better class of officers.
Laws need to be made and/or amended to be sure that the Minneapolis Police Department is holding its officers accountable for malfeasance well before a pattern of behavior results in the death of a citizen and the ensuing costs of dealing with the aftermath of those deaths. I would have thought that the death of Justine Damond, a completely innocent civilian, and the $20,000,000 settlement that ensued, would have brought about some change. But, it didn’t. You, as a lawmaker, must find ways to make sure that change happens.
A May 30th New York Times article titled “Thousands of Complaints Do Little to Change Police Ways,” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/30/us/derek-chauvin-george-floyd.html, summarizes the problem of “failure of accountability” within the police department. It references a report by the Office of Justice Programs, part of the DOJ, Diagnostic Analysis of Minneapolis Police Department, MN, dated January 2015, which thoroughly examines the endemic problems of the Minneapolis Police Department, and makes recommendations for changes to “improve its system for flagging problematic officers.” It is quite clear that improvements have not yet been made.
As a constituent, I ask that you initiate legislation that will hold police officers accountable for their misbehavior and make it easier to remove the bad apples, well before they commit assaults and murders. I believe that these greater wrongs are the result of myriads of lesser misdeeds being overlooked or swept under the rug.
Thank you for contacting me about the killing of George Floyd, and offering your suggestions for needed reforms to our law enforcement system.
Clearly, you have raised a vital issue, and I share your concerns. The deaths of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Thurman Blevins and others at the hands of law enforcement has resulted in a community searching for the best approach to hold law enforcement officers accountable for their actions, while at the same time ensuring that they have the tools necessary to keep us safe.
Not only in Minneapolis, but around the nation incidents like these have left many of our fellow citizens feeling under attack by a law enforcement system which is supposed to “protect and serve” all community members, not just some. There is no doubt about the need to reform Minnesota’s laws related to police hiring, training, and conduct—specifically in the areas of police brutality and the use of force.
While all of us would acknowledge that Minnesota’s law enforcement officers have extremely difficult jobs, it is also obvious that there is boundless room for improvement in the way they approach their work, and the manner in which they interact with communities of color.
That is why I support a variety of techniques to address the problem including: (1) the training of officers in recognizing and valuing community diversity and cultural differences. As part of that effort it is critical that officers receive training in “implicit bias;” (2) enhanced efforts to bring persons with nontraditional backgrounds into law enforcement. This can be helpful in building a law enforcement agency that better reflects the makeup of the community it serves, thereby forging a tighter bond between officers and local residents; and (3) the training of state and local community safety personnel in the use of crisis de-escalation techniques.
In addition, we should explore proposals which would: (1) require cities to establish citizen oversight councils for law enforcement agencies; (2) establish local residency requirements for police officers; (3) create a “state special prosecutor” who would have sole prosecutorial jurisdiction over incidents involving the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers; and (4) restructure the law enforcement immunity laws. Frankly, the list of ideas for reforming Minnesota’s law enforcement system is endless, and all ideas should be on the table for consideration.
You will also be interested to know that several of my colleagues who are members of the Legislature’s “People of Color & Indigenous Caucus” (POCI) recently held a press conference to discuss initiatives that they have been working which will address some of the systemic reforms that are needed in the law enforcement profession. Attached is a copy of their press release, which highlights their efforts. I thought you might like to read it.
I mention their work because I want you to know I share their belief that new laws need to be written to bring accountability, greater humanity, race equity, and community-centered policing to the law enforcement profession–all with the goal of ending the unacceptable killings of people of color and indigenous people at the hands of our law enforcement entities. I look forward to learning the details of their various proposals.
Finally, regarding the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) specifically, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (DHR) has filed a civil rights discrimination charge against it. This charge begins an investigation into whether the MPD’s training, policies, and procedures, including its use of force protocols, amount to unlawful race-based policing, which deprives people of color, particularly black community members, of their civil rights under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
This step is important because unlike other investigations and criminal actions currently underway which are attempting to determine personal accountability/responsibility (e.g. the murder charge against Derek Chauvin, the officer who pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck), the DHR’s investigation will examine what structural changes are needed in the MPD due to systemic policing deficiencies. I support this investigation. To ensure a comprehensive review of the MPD practices anyone with relevant information to share that can further the investigation is asked to complete this form. If they are unable to do so, they can call the department at 651-539-1133 or 1-800-657-3704. MN Relay: 711/ 1-800-627-3529.
I hope this assures you that I believe law enforcement officers should carry out their duties in an unbiased fashion, and I am open to doing what is necessary to accomplish that objective.
Again, thank you for contacting me. Please stay in touch. I value your input and would welcome hearing from you anytime.
Representative Jim Davnie