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Minnesota advocates, families of those killed by police concerned with BCA role in grant program

Families of loved ones killed by police are concerned about the BCA’s involvement in distributing funds to survivors.

Toshira Garraway
Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence founder Toshira Garraway: “We advocated, we fought, we cried, we told our stories and we held these conversations with the governor’s office hoping that we could get some type of help. Then somewhere along the way, they lose communication with us, we reach back out to them and we don’t hear anything back.”

This past legislative session, the public safety package approved by lawmakers included money for a grant program meant for families who have lost loved ones in interactions with law enforcement to cover funeral, burial and mental health services costs. 

The window for organizations to apply to help administer the funding closed last week, but prominent advocates for those families say they weren’t aware these funds existed, despite advocating for similar funding years ago. 

The involvement of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension with the funding, and families’ feelings toward the agency investigating the killings of their loved ones, also complicates whether the funds will reach those who need them.

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The grant program

Earlier this year, Gov. Tim Walz proposed $5.6 million in his biennial budget to the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) for the Minnesota Heals grant program. That figure was cut down to $1 million over two years in the final public safety package that lawmakers ultimately passed at the end of the legislative session. 

Part of the funding is for Family Support Fund grants to those who have had loved ones killed by law enforcement to use toward funeral, burial or mental health services costs. The rest will be reserved either for a future program involving “community healing” grants, or to increase the amount available to families in the support fund, according to DPS spokeswoman Jen Longaecker. 

Early last month, the OJP put out a request for proposals (RFP) in the state register and on its website for the Family Support Fund in search of an organization that, in partnership with the BCA’s Force Investigations Unit and Family, Victim and Community Relations coordinator, can help administer the $300,000 in available funds to families who may need it. 

Though the RFP refers to the BCA’s involvement as a partnership, Longaecker said the extent of that partnership is a referral to the resources for the families. The BCA would not make its Family, Victim and Community Relations coordinator available for an interview. 

The RFP closed last week, and whichever organization that is chosen will work out the specifics of the program, including how families can apply for the funds, how families will receive the funds and whether there will be a maximum per family.

“OJP is reviewing proposals to the request for proposals and cannot say if applicants proposed to use funds to administer the program,” Longaecker said in an email. “This will be determined as part of the grant award decisions and grant contract negotiation.”

Concerns over funds

Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence (FSFAPV) was founded in late 2019 by Toshira Garraway as a support group for families that had lost loved ones in fatal interactions with law enforcement. Garraway’s fiancé Justin Teigen was found dead in a recycling bin after fleeing from St. Paul Police officers in 2009. 

FSFAPV grew into an organization that assisted these families while advocating for legislative change and increasing awareness of many policing and criminal justice reform issues. After the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, Garraway and her organization became a fixture in the protests, marches and rallies that followed, and continues to connect with and assist families that have lost loved one since, including the parents of Daunte Wright and Amir Locke. 

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That said, Garraway said she was not aware of the funding opportunity from the OJP, despite asking the governor for funding to accomplish the same thing a couple years ago. 

“We advocated, we fought, we cried, we told our stories and we held these conversations with the governor’s office hoping that we could get some type of help,” she said. “Then somewhere along the way, they lose communication with us, we reach back out to them and we don’t hear anything back. It’s just so unfair how we can advocate for something, and then have no part of the process in how it gets distributed. We have no say in where it goes, yet we fought and advocated for this funding to be given to people that are hurting.” 

The OJP is currently reviewing proposals from organizations that applied for the funds, though how many organizations and the length of the review process are unclear. Before the RFP application deadline passed last week, Garraway decided she would not be applying for the funding, largely due to the BCA’s involvement.

The BCA is responsible for investigating killings by officers statewide, and Garraway said she, along with many other families that have lost loved ones in encounters with police, feel the state agency lacks transparency in its process and families ultimately feel unsatisfied with the conclusions of these investigations. 

As the agency referring these families to this funding, families may be hesitant to heed the referral due to their complicated feelings toward the BCA. Going forward, Garraway said elected officials need to do a much better job of engaging the people that their efforts are meant to benefit. 

“This is why it’s important to have the community at the table where decisions like this are being made because they consistently do things that are hurtful or harmful,” Garraway said. “Now that money may never reach us because who wants to go through the same entity that we have no trust in?”