Feds promote trust-building between communities of color, cops and courts

Local skeptics cite past years of wasted effort

News Analysis

National Initiatives officials explained the program to community members and invited comments 6-7:30 pm June 16 at the American Indian Center.
National Initiatives officials explained the program to community members and invited comments 6-7:30 pm June 16 at the American Indian Center.

Skepticism was in no short supply June 16 at the American Indian Center in Minneapolis. The occasion was a community meeting called to introduce the U.S. Department of Justice’s new National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, an effort described as “designed to strengthen relationships between minority communities and the criminal justice system.”

The skepticism hardly surprises. In 2003, a federal mediation agreement brokered by the U.S. Department of Justice ordered the City to address its shortfall of minority police officers. If issues weren’t satisfactorily resolved, the Minneapolis Police Department was to be taken over by the feds.

No such thing happened, despite that conditions are such that the DOJ is back. With another initiative. Why should anyone take stock in or give credence to this National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice?

There are, in fact, those who see it as just one more dog-and-pony show, this one to the tune of $4.75 million over the course of three years. There are those who deem this a think tank designed as a cosmetic device that will do little other than pay salaries created for the project, generate reports, exchange memos and conduct other such official, administrative activity.

Communities United Against Police Brutality President Michelle Gross stepped to the community meeting microphone, speaking measuredly, broaching longstanding concerns citizens in North Minneapolis and South Minneapolis alike have as a fact of everyday life. Reached by email, she told the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, “I was not at all satisfied…but I wasn’t expecting to be.

“Because they are starting from the wrong framing in the first place, the outcome can’t possibly benefit the community. This is just another wasted effort, but with the interesting twist of involving academia to give it a veneer of legitimacy. I’ll at least give them credit for getting more creative in how they waste the community’s energy.”

Material distributed at the meeting by Communities United Against Police Brutality stood on statistics to not only detail a smoking gun but put the Minneapolis’ Police Department’s finger on the trigger. The organization documents what anyone who can tell his or her elbow from a hot rock has to see as inappropriate policing.

A sampling: Between 2012 and March 2015, 962 complaints of misconduct were filed. Five cops were suspended for between 10 hours and three weeks; four got letters of reprimand. These numbers do not speak well.

Communities United’s fact sheet on its work with the Minneapolis Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR) asserts, “So, what have we achieved through 30 months of full-time work [with the OPCR] by two department heads, nine investigators and several support staff, as well as volunteer civilian panelists, not to mention the time, efforts and hope of [the complainants]? Nothing.”

The Department of Justice circulated a handout long on verbiage with a Key Concepts sidebar that was short on clearly, immediately addressing the issue at hand, engendering public trust of a police department in a community with every historic reason to see the MPD as an occupation army. A sample of the language reads that, among the initiative’s accomplishments, we can expect it to, “Establish pilot sites to implement and test strategies to (a) promote procedural justice in policing, (b) address issues of implicit bias, (c) create opportunities for reconciliation and (d) encourage police departments to track the quality of interactions with the public.“

“Anyone proficient in double-talk can read between those lines,” a Little Earth resident choosing anonymity told the MSR. “It’s a smokescreen.”

It was voiced that a considerably more direct solution would be to change the generally perceived attitude of the proverbial cop on the corner. From feeling entitled to pick on people of color to seeing them as no less human than himself or herself.

From the Little Earth neighborhood in South Minneapolis, an attendee, choosing to be anonymous, was brief. Along with the physical rigors, paper testing, and all the rest that goes into police training, “There should be a mental test. They have one, it just works in reverse. Like, you have to fail the test to be a police.”

MPD Deputy Chief and Chief of Staff Medaria Arradondo, who was present at the meeting, offered a more positive view. “The National Initiative team [and I] met with city council members on Wednesday, and many of them were excited and appreciative to have the opportunity to work with the experts on the National Initiative working group. We were chosen because the MPD and our community leaders are progressive and ahead of the curve and we are excited to be one of the national models in community policing.”

We will just have to wait and see.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.