Will the current divide between communities of color and the police ever be bridged?
Minneapolis NAACP President Jason Sole said that change won’t happen unless a “clean house” takes place at police departments.
Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Kappelhoff said that all facets of the community, from business to elected leaders to ordinary citizens must be involved to enact change.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau claims that her department is now working with the community to promote and improve policing.
Long-time North Minneapolis resident Cathy Spann said it shouldn’t be up to her and other citizens of color to fix police-community relations.
The four speakers discussed the topic March 28 at the “Bridging the Divide Between Communities of Color and the Police” forum, part of the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) News’ Human Potential series held at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theatre.
Before introducing the four guests on stage, MPR Reporter Brandt Williams asked, by a show of hands, how many of the estimated 300 people in attendance have ever been stopped by the police or have been stopped in the last year. Williams estimated nearly half raised their hands.
“We need to have that public trust,” stated Harteau.
“People I know have a hard issue trusting the police,” admitted Spann, the Jordan Area Community Council executive director. “I live in a community where people deal with the police on a daily basis,” she pointed out. “We’re secondary victims; we’re primary victims of violence.” She continued, “It affects us in every core of our body when we are stopped by a police officer, [especially] it’s being harassed and innocently stopped.”
Kappelhoff oversaw criminal and civil investigations in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and other U.S. police departments during his nearly two decades in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. He noted, “There weren’t any accountability mechanisms…to find out these police officers doing misconduct. Very few officers were disciplined in Baltimore and Ferguson when incidents of misconduct did occur.”
“You need a strong layer of superiors” to provide accountability in police departments, said Kappelhoff.
Sole, a criminal justice instructor at Hamline University, reiterated that getting rid of bad cops would be a huge step in the right direction. But that responsibility equally falls on the department’s leaders and the “good cops” as well.
“Why is it my job to weed out the bad [officers]?” asked Sole. “We’ve got to talk about White supremacy in law enforcement. There are people who automatically don’t like me.” He added that he and other Blacks “live in fear of being stopped by an officer on a power trip.
“What I mean by cleaning house — when you see it, get them out of there and find someone willing to wear that badge with honor,” stressed Sole.
Harteau added that whenever it is necessary, she will dismiss the police officer involved in misconduct: “If it’s aggrievous (sic) to me then they should get terminated,” she pledged. However, because of due process, such action sometimes is overturned or changed by an arbitrator.
“Officers have rights to go through the processes,” continued Harteau, who added that she is also restricted by data privacy laws from publicly announcing her disciplinary decisions.
“It’s the 10 percent [of police officers] that tears the community fabric apart,” said Spann. “It’s not the 90 percent who come doing their job. I don’t want to hear any more excuses. I want it to be fixed.”
Jacob Ladda of Minneapolis asked Harteau to explain how much time her officers spent in such training as weapon handling and community relations. Harteau said her department has put in place several “progressive initiatives” as part of former President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing’s “six pillars” plan:
- building trust and legitimacy;
- policy and oversight;
- technology and social media;
- community policing and crime reduction;
- training and education; and
- officer wellness and safety.
Ladda later told the MSR that he wasn’t completely satisfied with the chief’s response.
“I don’t feel she reflected with truth in her answer,” said Ladda. “The sooner we get to transparency the better.”
Harteau admitted afterward that it’s hard to give “very long answers” to some audience questions based on time constraints. “I can’t talk about all that needs to be done or [what] we’re doing. That’s a challenge.”
Said Sole, “I’m getting exhausted with conversations. I need to see this behavior [of police misconduct] stop. We are still seeing rogue officers. If it’s one rogue officer within the police department, then the entire department is flawed.”
“We didn’t come up with solutions. We had a healthy dialogue about issues in the community and communities of color. We got a lot of work to do,” surmised Spann afterward.
“People clearly are still frustrated,” Harteau concluded. “We need to do a better job communicating the changes that are happening. A lot of good things are happening, and I hope people start telling those stories. We need to hear those more.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.