George Floyd should still be alive today. The guilty verdicts in his murderer’s trial do not change the fact that, until we pass serious police reform and accountability measures, the likelihood of another Black man senselessly dying at the hands of law enforcement remains high.
The path forward here is the same one our government has used to solve countless problems: regulation.
In the 1980s, seven people in Chicago died after consuming Tylenol that someone deliberately laced with cyanide. Shortly thereafter, numerous copycat attacks occurred throughout the country, leading to more death. In response, the Food and Drug Administration established guidelines to make products tamper-proof and Congress passed a bill making it a federal offense to tamper with consumer products. After these new regulations took effect, the attacks stopped and the problem was solved.
Such work could help rebuild trust
The regulatory work our government did in response to the Tylenol murders was not anti-medicine. In fact, it actually helped restore consumer confidence in over-the-counter medicine. Similarly, further regulation of law enforcement is not anti-police and could go a long way toward rebuilding trust between police and the communities they serve.
DFLers have proposed a number of common-sense regulatory reforms that would make policing safer for all Minnesotans, including allowing local governments to increase civilian oversight of law enforcement and strengthening the police officer misconduct database to help spot and intervene with officers who regularly use excessive force. House DFLers have also proposed prohibiting white supremacists from becoming peace officers and, for reasons I cannot fathom, Senate Republicans blocked the proposal.
My Republican friends often claim that big, unaccountable government is a threat to individual freedom. There is no greater government encroachment on freedom than to lose one’s life at the hands of government agents. I find it baffling that Republicans are so unwilling to increase regulation and civilian oversight of law enforcement agents who are sanctioned by our government to use force and take life if need be.
Setting high standards is not anti-police
Setting high standards for law enforcement is not anti-police. It’s actually quite the opposite. We set high standards for people we respect and for professions we recognize as important to society. Recently, the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board took commendable steps in improving standards for licensed law enforcement in Minnesota by prohibiting agents from affiliating with white supremacist organizations.
The POST Board also approved plans to adopt a model policy for how law enforcement should respond to peaceful protest and demonstrations. Officers who violate that policy by responding to nonviolent protest with force could then be subject to losing their license.
For a long time, our government has been tackling problems that surface in American life through the fairly banal practice of rulemaking and regulation. We passed the Clean Water Act to cut back on pollution and the Pure Food and Drugs Act to tamp down on the deliberate mislabeling of food and drugs. We can do the same with policing in order to make it safer for all Minnesotans, particularly Black and brown communities.
The DFL Party’s reform proposals are not radical and they are not anti-police. They are common-sense and anti-bad police. They follow the course that we have charted through difficult policy debates time and time again. Our reforms will increase oversight, accountability, and transparency, and reduce the use of violence against Minnesotans. Those should be changes that everyone can get behind. I sincerely hope Minnesota Republicans will stop blocking progress and start working to enact the change we need.
Ken Martin is the chairman of the DFL Party.
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