Authenticity, language barriers and potential affiliations with hate groups are among the concerns Minneapolis residents say are missing from the Police Department’s mission statement and policies on nondiscriminatory policing.
The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) held the last of nine initial community engagement sessions Wednesday night meant to garner feedback from residents on how department policies are written. The sessions were mandated by the settlement agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which found in its investigation that MPD had engaged in a pattern of discriminatory policing for more than a decade.
Dozens of Minneapolis residents gathered at Plymouth Congregational Church on Franklin Avenue in south Minneapolis, where the topics of discussion were MPD’s mission and values, as well as policies on nondiscriminatory and impartial policing. Cmdr. Yolanda Wilks, who heads MPD’s Implementation Unit that will carry out changes required by the settlement agreement, said the department is planning more engagement sessions catering to specific communities citywide.
“We’re going to continue these sessions, but prior to having any follow-up sessions – which will take place – we have to go hit culturally specific communities, which we haven’t forgotten about,” Wilks said. “We just wanted to make sure we hit all five precincts geographically and had a local space where people can come, and it was open to the public so everyone had an opportunity to come out.”
Session-goers broke into a handful of groups, including one where the discussion began with general disagreement with MPD’s mission and vision statements. The statements are several sentences long, and mention building trust and holding themselves accountable among other items.
“I think there’s no point in a mission statement if it’s just falsities and symbolic language,” said 27-year-old Anusha Ramaswami, who is a therapist. “It says right here in the vision statement that ‘We hold ourselves accountable’ and we know that’s not the truth – that’s why we’re all here.”
Joel Lopez told the other attendees he’d like to see more resources allocated from the department’s existing budget to removing language barriers, like hiring translators to accompany officers responding to a call involving residents in need who don’t speak English.
“I’m Latino, I know a lot of people that are Latino that do not want to call the police because they don’t speak good English,” he said. “So then they have the fear that by showing them that they don’t know English very well; are they going to be looking at them like they are illegal?”
Special education teacher Loretta VanPelt said she worries about the safety of her children, who are Black, whenever they leave the house. During a discussion on individual officer affiliations with hate groups, VanPelt said that’s a concern that is top of mind when she’s driving and is pulled over by the police.
“I’m thinking, is this going to be my last night on Earth because I got the wrong cop?” she said. “If they’re on the force and you know they have those affiliations, get them off the force. I’m a teacher and I know teachers that have been fired for much less.”
Some of the session-goers expressed doubt in the current community engagement process, and whether it will lead to successful changes. VanPelt said if MPD was serious about engaging the community, they would have had officers pull up chairs and sit at the table with them.
“If they are wanting to be part of the community conversation, they should come here without their guns and without their uniforms,” she said. “If they say they want to be part of the community and hear what the community has to say, then they should stay for these conversations, but a lot of them walked out once we got into small groups.”
“It really feels like MPD has been in a crisis of legitimacy over the last couple of years,” said Noah Schu with Twin Cities Justice for Jamar, a group formed after the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by MPD officers on the city’s northside in 2015. “This feels more of a PR stunt than it is them actually seeking any meaningful change or to implement any meaningful change.”