Reporter gets a personal ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ experience
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau announced four policy changes in her department “aimed at defusing conflicts” between officers and the public. Her new “sanctity of life” policy, when it comes to use of force, must be adhered to as much as possible, she states.
Last week this MSR writer, just a few days after Harteau’s August 8 announcement, saw firsthand the new policy in action.
The Metro Transit #5 bus I was riding on last Thursday was stopped and surrounded front and rear by city police cars at Plymouth and Fremont Avenues North. Several officers boarded our bus through both doors. A White officer stood next to the bus driver and politely said to all passengers, “Put up your hands where we can see them. We are searching the bus for weapons.”
Around 25 bus riders, including this reporter en route to South Minneapolis, complied — all but a couple were Black. Save for the driver, all riders were non-White. Even a little girl who I guessed to be around two years old sitting across from me with her mother had her little hands up during what amounted to an estimated 10-minute “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” exercise.
The officer explained that a shooting recently took place on the North Side. Reportedly, the suspect, a Black man wearing a white shirt and carrying a backpack, hopped on a bus to get away.
There was, in fact, a Black man with a white shirt and a backpack on our bus. When he got off at a scheduled stop, officers immediately apprehended him, cuffed him, and searched the man and his bag. He was later released unharmed before our bus finally was allowed to continue on its route.
This wasn’t the first time I’d had my hands up. I’ve participated in my share of Hands Up Don’t Shoots as a young Black teenager and a young Black adult growing up in Detroit during the 70s.
As a regular user of public transportation, it also wasn’t the first time a Metro Transit bus or train I was riding in was “storm-trooped” by police, after which I watched them take someone off the public vehicle for whatever reason. In all but one case, the person was non-White.
They are typically Black, followed by Native Americans. But this was the first time my hands reached the sky since Ferguson, or since what happened last month after a traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb, and not since community-police relations have reached such a low point.
After the Minneapolis Police officer told us that our collective hands could return to our sides, laps, whatever, he thanked us for our non-negotiable cooperation, after which I heard some grumble loudly of the inconvenience. Some sympathized with the man temporary detained by police on suspicion.
Others, like me, just held our peace. It was no less nerve wracking or less inconvenient for those like myself who remained quiet, but to paraphrase the late Richard Pryor, who once quipped a real statement of fact when dealing with police while Black, “I didn’t want to be an accident at their hands.”
“I want everybody to go home safe,” Harteau was quoted as saying in a newspaper article last week.
I didn’t go home immediately after the quick sweep of the southbound #5 last Thursday morning. I eventually got to my destination safe, but not without some anxious moments. Some young Blacks sitting near the rear of the bus that day didn’t like what happened. One of them took offence when asked by one officer to stand up and grumbled something while they stood.
Luckily for all of us — the passenger, the officer, and the rest of us — cooler heads prevailed. As far as we know not one person present, not even the two-year-old girl, did anything wrong or was involved in the shooting.
Whether Harteau’s new edicts will make a difference in improving community-police relations is too soon to evaluate, and who can determine if it made a difference in the outcome of this incident? It was, after all, just another summer day in North Minneapolis.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.