Nearly two years after George Floyd’s murder, still looking for leadership on transforming law enforcement

Say thousands of angry citizens stormed the streets because our drinking water was polluted and the government wasn’t fixing it. Police are called in from multiple jurisdictions to quell the unrest. Citizens report multiple cases of excessive use of force.

When the dust settles, would our most urgent task be to figure out how to fix law enforcement’s crowd control?

No. We’d be rushing to find ways to get clean drinking water.

So when angry citizens take to the streets because of police brutality — such as what happened after George Floyd’s murder — why are we focusing on improving law enforcement practices and slow to act on a law enforcement system that makes many people feel unsafe, and be unsafe?

We’ve now had two reports focusing on law enforcement’s response to the citizen uprising that followed Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) just released a report, prepared by the Wilder Foundation.

It follows the City of Minneapolis’ “After-Action Report,” prepared by Hillard Heintz. (More here.)

Minneapolis police fire tear gas at those protesting George Floyd’s murder.

Neither consultant was asked to look at the bigger picture of law enforcement transformation. That’s a problem. That’s what’s needed

To its credit, Wilder went beyond its charge and provided initial ideas on how the state could prevent future civil unrest. It recommended the state lead efforts “to address tensions between law enforcement agencies and communities through intentional trust-building efforts, police accountability and transformation, and education.”

The report never defined police “transformation.” It’s a term that gets used a lot but means different things to different people.

Some see increased police accountability as transformative.

(For me, police accountability recommendations go into the bucket labeled “Why did this take so long?” For instance, the Wilder report recommended the state make progress toward developing and implementing statewide “use of force” standards. It’s surprising such statewide standards don’t exist already.)

In Brooklyn Center, public safety transformation has meant reassigning some police duties to divisions of unarmed civilian employees who handle mental health crises and non-moving traffic violations (broken taillights and expired tabs).

Transformation also could include moving money from policing into youth, jobs, and public health programs, and other things that create healthy communities and reduced crime.

The Minneapolis/Hillard Heintz report didn’t use the word “racism” once.

The DPS/Wilder report mentioned racism 37 times. It talked about needing to address the uprising’s root causes. Still, there was little concrete.

Further research and evaluation are needed to understand the role of racism and other forms of bias in law enforcement responses to civil unrest and determine additional steps to address community distrust in law enforcement and state government.

Wilder/DPS report, page 76

Comment: More research isn’t needed as much as the political will to act.

The Wilder/DPS report has 20 recommendations and too many action steps to list. Here are a few:

  • Strengthen coordination between law enforcement agencies
  • Create better relationships and communicate with the media and local jurisdictions
  • Seek community feedback, hold listening sessions, attending Block Parties, etc.
  • Promote external, independent investigations into police misconduct statewide
  • Collect comprehensive “police use of force” data.

Community members interviewed by Wilder researchers talked about the need for big changes.

Many community leaders, local business owners, and local government officials recommended that the state prioritize the transformation of policing and law enforcement across Minnesota. These respondents noted that police violence is not limited to Minneapolis or the Twin Cities, and suggested the state take a lead role in transforming policing and law enforcement statewide so that fewer Minnesotans are killed during interactions with police officers, particularly Black male Minnesotans.

Wilder/DPS report, page 97

The report recommended law enforcement work to build relationships and trust with communities, especially those affected by civil unrest.

One action step in particular jumped out, saying law enforcement needed to acknowledge civil unrest’s root causes, such as the “unjust treatment of communities of color by law enforcement throughout history.”

It continues:

[Community members and leaders said] it appears the state does not fully understand and acknowledge its role in the historical and current traumas that play out in communities of color, specifically Black communities, as a result of racism, White supremacy, and a legacy of oppression and discriminatory policies. When entering into conversations with communities, which is only a first step to changing practice, it is critical to name the state’s role in racial and socioeconomic inequities and be explicit about the challenges in moving forward …

Wilder/DPS Report, page 64
Police protect the Third Precinct on the first night of protests over George Floyd’s murder.

The community comments were the most interesting part of the report.

There’s the actual response during the uprising and then there’s the role that the state can take in systems reform. … This is not just one crisis. This came from problems deeply rooted in our systems. Both at a human level and a systems level, there is a need for reckoning with the history of racism in this state, the history of extracting and disinvesting from neighborhoods and communities. It’s hard to pinpoint what the state could have done in this particular instance that isn’t rooted in these bigger questions. I think the state could play a really powerful role in changing these systems.

Business leader

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