Minnesota is hurting right now, and not just because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but from the addition of the shared heartache over the senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The deaths of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Thurman Blevins and others at the hands of law enforcement have resulted in communities searching for the best approach to hold law enforcement officers accountable for their actions while at the same time ensuring that they have the tools necessary to keep us safe.
As we all mourn and call for accountability, it’s incredibly important that we do so in a way that does not cause additional harm and destruction to our community. The images we’ve seen on the news of the Twin Cities burning do not represent the vast majority of peaceful protesters.
Not only in Minneapolis, but around the nation, incidents like George Floyd’s murder have left many of our fellow citizens feeling under attack by a law enforcement system which is supposed to protect and serve all community members, not just some. There is no doubt about the need to reform Minnesota’s laws related to police conduct.
Several of my colleagues who are members of the Legislature’s “People of Color & Indigenous Caucus” recently released a statement about Mr. Floyd’s murder. The caucus statement is available here. I thought you might like to read it. I want you to know I share their perspective and support their efforts.
I also share the perspective of Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman who stated in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s killing, “This is disturbing, horrifying, heartbreaking, and something that simply should not have happened. George Floyd’s family and our communities of color deserve justice.”
It is my understanding that the officers involved in this incident have been fired and are under federal, state, and local investigation, with Officer Derek Chauvin having recently being arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter. That is as it should be. I share the sentiments of Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando, who called on the County Attorney to pursue justice to the fullest extent of the law. You can read her statement here. Hopefully, justice will prevail.
However, hope is not a solution. While all of us would acknowledge that Minnesota’s law enforcement officers have extremely difficult jobs, it is also obvious that there is boundless room for improvement in their use of force and the way in which they interact with communities of color.
That is why I support a variety of techniques to address the problem including the continued training of officers in recognizing and valuing community diversity and cultural differences. As part of that effort, it is critical that officers receive training in implicit bias.
Efforts also need to be enhanced to help diversify our law enforcement. This can be helpful in building a law enforcement agency that better reflects the makeup of the community it serves, thereby forging a tighter bond between officers and local residents. In addition, I support the continued training of state and local community safety personnel in the use of crisis de-escalation techniques.
There has also been a bill introduced in the House of Representatives, HF 2376, which would require cities to establish citizen oversight councils for law enforcement agencies. Among other things, these councils would have the authority to “…conduct an investigation into allegations of peace officer misconduct…” The purpose of these councils would be to “encourage and provide community participation in the operations of the law enforcement agency it oversees.” This is just one example of the type of legislation my colleagues and I will be working on.
There will likely be a special session on or around June 12. Legislators are already discussing ways police accountability can be part of the agenda of this session. You can read more about these efforts here.
Law enforcement officers should carry out their duties in an unbiased fashion, and I will advocate for doing what is necessary to accomplish that objective. As Governor Walz stated, “the lack of humanity in this disturbing video is sickening. We will get answers and seek justice.”
Please stay in touch. I value your input and welcome hearing from you anytime.