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The city of Minneapolis is also on trial

The city and the state need to take action to rethink law enforcement’s purpose, training, protocols, oversight and governance. Now is the time.

Fences shown in front of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.
Fences shown in front of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis.
MinnPost photo by Lorie Shaull

The trial of Derek Chauvin offers the political, civic and business leaders of the city of Minneapolis an opportunity to redeem themselves for decades of their neglect to stop police violence. It is time to stop passing the problem on to yet another City Council and mayor. The trial presents city leaders with an opportunity to take decisive, bold action to end the militarized police presence that acts as an occupational force in our city. The recent killing of Dolal Idd by the MPD, in coordination with the state’s BCA, is the latest example of law enforcement out of control.

The world is watching, not only the trial of Derek Chauvin, but the trial of the city of Minneapolis for its negligence, culpability and complicity that perpetuates police violence. The city is on trial. City leaders at this writing are simply repeating the past. Do as little as possible, placate the public and heap praise on themselves for reforms that are not substantially different from those of past decades.

The fact that officers are still on the MPD who killed unarmed individuals under the last three DFL administrations is a cowardly admission of their impotence. Will this mayor and council do what’s right? Will they fire them? Have they adopted any of the proposals suggested by Communities United Against Police Brutality? Are they addressing the demands issued by the coalition of groups leading protests against police violence? So far, silence and denial reign.

The system treats citizens like George Floyd as if they were enemy combatants, not fellow citizens. For an alleged counterfeit $20 bill he was dragged from his vehicle at gunpoint, treated no better than a suspected terrorist and arrested even before he knew what he was being arrested for.

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In watching a video produced by the Wall Street Journal documenting the period from the arrival of the first two officers at Cup Foods to Floyd’s life ending, you see officers exhibiting a callous disregard for a human being. Yet, this is how they are trained. How can city leaders, state legislators and law enforcement officials justify and fund such a training regime?

There is no way to reform such a system. That prompts the question: What kind of policing does our city deserve?

Wayne Nealis
Wayne Nealis
Let’s reimagine the encounter with Floyd under an alternative system of public safety. In this case when the first two officers arrived at the scene they suggest to the store clerk that they talk with the person who the clerk alleges passed on a fake $20 bill. The clerk says the individual is still sitting in a vehicle across the street. One officer, just one, not both, and the clerk walk over to the vehicle and ask to talk to Floyd about the clerk’s allegation. No guns drawn, no demands, no shouting. No fear. Just respectful inquiry.

The officers know the neighborhood because they live in the area. That is a requirement set under the public safety governance system in which community members hold the decisive decision-making role in setting the rules, protocols, training and hiring and evaluation of officers. A governance system that along with public safety officers work with social workers, drug counselors and educational institutions to improve our community, not police it. Some armed police are needed from time to time, but when it comes to non-violent criminal activity or suspected activity like that at Cup Foods, armed officers would be unnecessary.

Now let’s say Floyd acknowledged he knew the bill was counterfeit. Instead of arresting him the officer might inquire further about whether Floyd might need some financial assistance. Is he out of work? Does he have a drug problem that needs attention? And finally, they would ask Floyd to work with them and the clerk to resolve the conflict utilizing the reconciliation methods in which they are trained. In that role, they would also remind Floyd that his choosing to use the bill did not help him or the community.

Achieving such a public safety department might be messy and difficult and mistakes will be made, but the current system is beyond reform or repair. Reforms are not enough to make amends to families whose loved ones were killed, brutalized or were unnecessarily arrested or incarcerated. The city and the state need to take action to rethink law enforcement’s purpose, training, protocols, oversight and governance. Now is the time.

Wayne Nealis is a writer and longtime peace and labor activist living in Minneapolis.

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