By Wayne Nealis
I wish to applaud the Spokesman and the reporting and analysis of Ron Edwards in covering the killing of Terrance Franklin by Minneapolis police on May 10. I would not be sufficiently informed to write this letter without your persistent coverage.
I live in a neighborhood adjacent to where Franklin died. I am writing to share a perspective on the police response and tactics in pursuing Franklin that I think needs to be part of Chief Janeé Harteau’s investigation, the county attorney’s and the Grand Jury’s deliberations.
In addition to the many unanswered questions on what happened that day, we should ask why the police pursued Franklin in the first place. What began with a police report that a person was acting suspiciously should not have escalated to the point where Franklin is dead, police officers are injured and a police vehicle kills an innocent bystander. What happened is inexcusable.
Even if police knew Franklin as a known troublemaker, nothing in the public reports indicate he was a physical threat to area residents. Instead of pursuing Franklin, officers could have backed off and deescalated the situation.
An early opportunity to do so was when Franklin abandoned a car he was in as he ran from the police. Instead of pursuing Franklin, it seems police could have identified him through the other rider or the ownership of the car and questioned him at some later time.
Another opportunity to deescalate and employ other policing tactics was after Franklin was located in the basement of the Bryant Avenue residence where he was shot and killed. Officers could have informed Franklin that he was surrounded and assured him of fair treatment upon surrendering. Officers could also have called Franklin’s parents and/or a well-known minister or leader in the Black community to speak with the youth and help officers resolve the conflict.
Such alternatives to the violent tactics used by the police beg the question why officers would endanger themselves, neighbors and the occupants of the home over the flight of an unarmed person suspected of a petty crime. According to what I have read in press reports, none of these policing options were attempted. Instead a swat team response quickly developed. Such an approach can only be justified had the suspect shot or killed someone or was armed and threatening.
Police conduct in this case falls on the heels of a string of lawsuits the past dozen years that have cost city taxpayers $17 million dollars. Civil lawsuits proceeding on the Franklin case will add millions more.
In each case the victims killed or beaten by police were people of color, mostly African American and all unarmed. No officers have ever been indicted. The circumstantial evidence in these cases appears to show that long-standing racist attitudes are a motive for employing aggressive tactics that do not fit the circumstances.
Unfortunately, this behavior by some paints the entire police force in a bad light. The city might be able to stop making civil payments if our elected leaders were to press for indictments.
I am heartened at the persistent community effort to fight for redress and justice for Terrance Franklin. I grieve for his family and the other victim. I would encourage Minneapolis residents to support this work by contacting their city and law enforcement officials. Our outgoing mayor should not be given a pass on this nor the current city council; and every candidate in this year’s election should be asked where they stand.
Wayne Nealis lives in Minneapolis.