In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic killing, Minnesotans are searching for answers and demanding change. As we mourn the loss of a neighbor, we also remember Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and countless other black men and women across this country who have lost their lives to police violence.
As protests and unrest rock our community, we must not only advocate for responses to this horrific incident, but also address larger questions: How will policymakers and lawyers lead the way for real systemic change? How will our current and future leaders move beyond just thoughts and prayers alone? Where do we, as individuals, stand?
As deans of the University of Minnesota’s Law School (located in the aptly named Walter F. Mondale Hall) and the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, we recognize our shared responsibility in addressing these questions. In preparing the next generation of lawmakers and public sector leaders to advance the common good, we feel an imperative to invoke the wisdom and proud legacies of our schools’ namesakes, both venerable Minnesotans who dedicated their professional lives to public service and the dogged pursuit of justice and civil rights.
With the weight of our institutional namesakes, our students, alumni, and all who entrust our schools to lead, we applaud those who have risen up to advocate for justice and to demand that more action be taken. For our Twin Cities community to thrive, we cannot remain silent or complacent in the face of such blatant injustice.
A fundamental betrayal of the public trust
As legal and public policy educators we insist on evidence-based decision-making and advocate for the rule of law. We, however, need no more evidence or jurisprudence to convince us that the death of George Floyd was unnecessary and wrong. It was a fundamental betrayal of the public trust. We fervently hope that the fatal, race-related violence against an unarmed African-American at the hands of the police will never happen again. Sadly, the facts suggest it will.
Protests, outrage, and — yes — even the unrest that ensued in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death are understandable and not surprising. The continued senseless killing of unarmed black men at the hands of public servants whose job it is to serve and protect is an unacceptably persistent scourge in this country — and in this community. We cannot expect only peaceful dissent when we have essentially failed to heed the clarion call that Black Lives Matter. Yet, now we are well past the time for the destruction and violence to end. Today our communities need and desire peace so that the listening, the work, and the change may begin.
Although this is a national problem, solutions must come from state and local communities. To be sure, the swift action by Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo in terminating the four police officers most closely involved in the death of Floyd was an important first step. Then another critical step was taken when fired police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. But, ultimately, we will all need to do more.
Structural changes are essential
Change often requires agitation and always requires hard work. All institutions must make the necessary structural changes to confront racism and race-based violence, whether intentional or unconscious. Yes, more officers should be held to account for killing unarmed people of color, but we also need new legislation, new policies, new training, and fundamentally new organizational cultures to begin to fix what lies beneath and progress toward true justice.
Over half a century ago Hubert Humphrey offered us wisdom that seems particularly resonant today: If there is dissatisfaction with the status quo, good. If there is ferment, so much the better. If there is restlessness, I am pleased. Then let there be ideas, and hard thought, and hard work.
Despite the current pain and anger, we firmly believe that the path forward will require citizens to learn from each other and from experts, to talk honestly and openly, to listen with open minds, and, ultimately, to reshape existing policies, practices, and perspectives. Minnesotans must channel our outrage into action and insist on a world in which safety and human rights are not dependent on one’s race or ethnicity.
We commit and rededicate ourselves to preparing our next generation of legal and public policy practitioners who will challenge racist and dysfunctional systems and devote their professional lives to the pursuit of justice and civil rights for all of society.
New voices, new partnerships needed
As Minnesota’s flagship law and public affairs schools, we will double down on our responsibility to serve and support the Twin Cities community — through our clinics, courses, internships, policy engagement, and scholarship. We need new voices and new partnerships, and we need them now.
We are deans of two of the nation’s pre-eminent law schools and graduate schools of public affairs; a black man and a white woman. Both Minnesotans and both Minneapolitans. Both heartsick, but also both more determined than ever in our quest to ignite change and advance justice in our troubled community and nation.
Garry W. Jenkins is dean of the University of Minnesota Law School; Laura L. Bloomberg is dean of the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The views expressed are their own.
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