First of two public forums centered around police-community relations; second forum will focus on racial disparities in education, housing
In preparing for this year’s Minnesota legislative session in March, the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage (CMAH) is seeking “input from diverse voices that will lead to legislation.”
Formerly the Council on Black Minnesotans, CMAH held a police-community forum last Saturday at Heritage Park Senior Center in North Minneapolis. CMAH Executive Director Louis Porter II said a similar meeting is scheduled at St. Paul’s Midway YMCA February 27, where racial disparities in housing, education, human rights and other areas will be the focus.
Around 20 persons — mostly CMAH board members — attended last week’s three-hour morning session. Board Chair Doris Baylor pointed out that it was a “working group — not the end but the beginning” of discussing possible legislation that improves statewide police-community relations, especially in Minneapolis and St. Paul and especially among Blacks and other people of color.
“The police department for the most part is a racist institution and [it] wasn’t intended to hire a person of color in that job,” noted retired St. Paul police officer Mamie Landford.
“Minnesota is one of the hardest states for Blacks and people of color to get into law enforcement” because of entry requirements, added Anthony Hines, the Minneapolis chapter president of the National Black Police Officers Association. Some departments’ minimum requirement is either a two-year or four-year degree.
Hines later said his objective was to get across the importance of “changing the mindset, not only of the community but also of the officers who are coming into the department. That we are more than just 9-1-1 responses or just here to take you to jail.”
Two DFL state legislators — Rep. Rena Moran (St. Paul) and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (Minneapolis) — also spoke to the group, which then divided into smaller groups to brainstorm and prioritize pertinent issues. Moran talked about a bill on the use of police body cameras and how the data collected can be used.
“My hope is that [the bill] is strong enough, transparent enough,” Moran pointed out. “I am a strong advocate of body cams. They should be on all the time.”
Champion also supports the bill but said there must be clear guidelines established on how the data from body cameras is used. “Who should see that tape? How that tape should be reviewed” is his concern, “and under what circumstances should it be reviewed.”
However, a bill that Moran proposed to require all police officers to live in the same community they serve did not get out of committee. “It didn’t get a hearing. I am very, very disappointed” that her police residency bill didn’t get more consideration, but she said that the discussion on the topic is only the beginning. “I am going to keep it alive and put it forth again.”
Champion pointed out that both the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments do not favor a proposal to have all police-related shootings routinely examined afterwards by an independent source. Ramsey County Deputy
Sheriff Suwana Kirkland, who was a participant, said she is the only Black female on the force. She started there in 2006. Education is not only important but vital for entrance and advancement in most police departments in Minnesota, she pointed out.
Later, Kirkland told the MSR, “Not only is it good enough that you have that degree, but you also put it to use. It’s not just good to say you have a two-year degree or a four-year degree, but make sure that you are including in that curriculum cultural competency and key components of community policing that directly affect our community, things we want to see our police officers have.”
Champion reiterated that having police live in the community can foster better relations with neighborhood residents. “You have a different perspective on how they are, and a different perspective about the community to whom you serve,” he said. “I think it changes the dynamics because you [the police] are members of that community in a real way, and you understand how you fit in that community.”
On the idea of independent reviews of police shootings, “That’s important…if you want transparency and accountability for individuals and for the [police] department, for someone else to investigate them and not investigate themselves,” said Champion. This, he said, will provide “honest answers to what occurred and what didn’t occur. I think that helps with community and police relations.”
“I really thoroughly enjoyed it,” reported Contrina Lamb of St. Paul, a Minnesota Army National Guard member, after the forum concluded. She attended because “we wanted to see how we can help out in the community.”
“We think we got a lot of good information and a lot of ideas,” said Porter, “and we can really take this and use it to begin forming recommendations for legislation” either independently or with working with other groups.
“We have a lot of work to do around policing and police brutality,” said Moran. “It is about having our community safe. How do we ensure that our communities are safe with those who are charged to serve and protect?”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.