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St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter talks race and justice with Al Franken

Carter says he doesn’t expect to see any of the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd spend time in prison.

Mayor Melvin Carter
MinnPost photo by Tiffany Bui
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter — who can claim several elements of expertise on race, crime, policing and the Twin Cities rooted in his life story — doesn’t expect to see any of the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd spend time in prison.

At least that’s what he said in the latest episode of the Al Franken podcast, to which I’ll link below. It covers a wide range of history, police issues, politics and racial matters.

Carter’s father was a St. Paul police officer and his mother a Ramsey County commissioner, which are two of the biographical facts alluded to above and which give him some lifelong lessons in the intersection between politics and policing. He also grew up in the predominantly African-American Rondo neighborhood, which was substantially disrupted by the construction of Interstate 94, a routing decision often described as racist, or at least as having a huge negative impact on Rondo.

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I’ll just offer a few highlights of the Franken-Carter conversation. For example, Carter said:

In many ways the Twin Cities is a microcosm of America. People don’t see us in this way, but we have this tremendous international, multilingual, intercultural space.

One of the most disturbing things about George Floyd’s murder is just how historically unsurprising it is. We are in this place on the road that we’ve been on our way to for quite some time. And it’s not just Minneapolis and St. Paul, it’s our country. … We have this long history of racism … that you alluded to, that we haven’t fully reckoned with, we haven’t acknowledged. …

We were having a conversation about living in a post-racial society. Now we understand just how asinine that notion is. But then we see Philando Castile, and Eric Garner, and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and all of these people in this long line of black men and women in particular, unarmed, unaggressive, killed by law enforcement, and no one held accountable.

And I think one of the strongest social commentaries at this moment is that Officer Chauvin and those other three officers killed George Floyd, in cold blood, on television, and none of us are willing to bet pink slips that they’re gonna face prison for it. …

The rhetorical question is: How bad and brazen does it have to be for somebody to be held accountable? Time after time, after we see the latest one, we say, “That’s gotta be the one.” “Somebody’s gonna go to prison for that.” And, over and over again, we see people not even charged, or being charged and then having a dramatic trial, and then being acquitted. … At some point, unless there’s accountability, of course that’s going to continue to play out.

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Despite that experience, and his pessimism about police being held accountable, Carter also said, with reference to the enormous national reaction to this case:

That, to me, feels like something new. The energy that exists across our country, I’m convinced that this fiery spirit that we’ve seen across our country, I think is the same energy that built our country. It’s the same energy that abolished slavery, it’s the same energy that ushered in civil rights, and it’s the same energy that, I think, channeled productively … that’s going to make this a fundamentally different moment, and, God willing, relieve our children from having to relive these moments over and over and over again in the way that we’ve had to. …

This feels like the Hunger Games. Americans are losing their lives in ways that are unjust, in ways that are just brutal and horrific, and are on television for God’s sake, and what we’re hearing from the Capitol is “We’re gonna study it” and “We’re gonna create a commission” and “We’re gonna create some incentives for jurisdictions across the country to voluntarily sign up to stop doing this.” …

We just saw George Floyd choked to death, for eight minutes and 46 seconds. It’d be nice to just hear from Washington, that, “Y’know, you can’t do that.” Just period. We’re not gonna tie it to incentives or grants. We’re just gonna say, “You can’t do that.”

But they couldn’t bring themselves to do that. That’s hurtful.

I don’t know that I’ve captured how impressive Carter was in this interview. The full podcast is accessible here.