After nine months and 12 meetings, still no clear path forward
Nearly three months after Philando Castile’s shooting death last summer, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order to establish a law enforcement and community relations council to present recommendations to him and the state legislature.
The 32-person Governor’s Council on Law Enforcement and Community Relations has met over a dozen times, including last week’s session at the State Capitol. The council’s main charge was to identify strategies and recommend specific reforms to improve police-community relations.
During a June 27 meeting, James Burroughs, the state’s chief diversity officer, told the MSR the council expects to submit a final report to Dayton by the end of September. Burroughs said he thinks the council has been successful: “We have developed some common ground.”
There are 15 voting members, which include representatives from law enforcement agencies, the Black Ministerial Alliance, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, ISAIAH, Black Lives Matter and the Minnesota State NAACP.
There are also 17 ex-officio members, including a representative from the Castile family and a representative from the Jamar Clark family.
Last week’s two-hour meeting consisted mostly of a back-and-forth dialogue on how police training, such as explicit bias training, should be conducted and who will do it.
YWCA President and CEO Luz Maria Frias wants serious consideration given to people of color as trainers and facilitators. “What is the selection process…and what does that look like?” she asked.
“We know that implicit bias [training] is very specialized. It should not be confused with cultural training or diversity training.” Frias also argued that if only police officials are used, this may reaffirm the community’s distrust of police.
St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson pointed out that police officers previously trained in bias training should not automatically be eliminated from consideration. “Let’s not suggest that this can only work if it comes from an independent agency or whatever. Why would we not involve them and not use their expertise because it’s not popular?”
Frias then asked, “Where is the objectivity? It is important to have the community come in — we have that level of lived experiences — and also bridge those relationships. If the training continues to be done by law enforcement, then where is that exposure coming from…as these issues continue to arise? The bottom line is the issue of trust and transparency.”
“I appreciate this kind of discussion,” Anderson said, but he warned against “painting with a very broad brush” on law enforcement. “That’s not fair.”
Later, Burroughs told the MSR, “You know you are doing something good when everybody doesn’t agree, but you can come to some common ground.”
“I think we have more to do to make sure that the process is transparent and inclusive of our communities of color in terms of training,” Frias said afterwards. “It cannot be an inside process, meaning the [police] department can’t begin to say it is successful at an anti-bias program and an explicit bias program when no one else is evaluating that.”
Said Anderson, “I didn’t feel like she [Frias] understood what I was saying. The vast majority of police officers do this job the right way for the right reasons. I want to make sure that’s not forgotten when we sit down at these large tables and start talking about wholesale change.”
Jeffry Martin, who represented the state NAACP, told MSR what he saw concerned him. “There still seems to be a lot of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and not enough ‘we’ discussion in the room.”
He continued, “They have worked together for nine months on this. There should be more common ground. It seems like they are just getting to know each other.”
“We come from a variety of different backgrounds,” acknowledged Burroughs. “We were thrust into this in an urgent kind of way.” Two weeks after the Yanez verdict, he said there is a lot of healing to be done. “As we reflect on the verdict itself and the [police dashcam] video, the community is hurting — we, all around this table, are hurting. What can we do to enact change?”
Sam Simmons, a local behavioral consultant and licensed counselor, told the group that on top of existing trauma, the community is dealing with “new trauma” from the Yanez not-guilty verdict. “Kids don’t come into the world not liking the police,” he pointed out.
“If I don’t feel safe by the police, and I don’t feel safe by the community, who do I go to? If I don’t feel safe anywhere, then I am more likely to hurt me and other folk,” Simmons said.
Simmons later said the council genuinely wants to do something, and that their hearts are in it. “The question is, do we get there…and do some real tough stuff that’s uncomfortable.”
Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter suggested that the council take “community policing” into consideration in their recommendations to the governor.
“Not just around a recent incident, the Philando Castile killing,” she said, “but around a need for our community to feel protected and served as equitably [by police] as other communities. It’s not just law enforcement, but community and policing that result in a safe community.”
The council unanimously agreed on one point discussed last week: Clarence Castile suggested that the new police training law be named after his late nephew. “This committee wouldn’t be here today if Philando wasn’t shot,” he said. “We need to do something positive…”
Castile told MSR the council had some really good ideas. “We just got to hone them down and pass them on to the governor.” He was pleased the council approved his proposal to name the police training law after his late nephew.
“It is going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of effort and energy, a lot of agreement and also disagreement,” said Burroughs. “There’s not a perfect process or perfect outcome. We have to get it right for Minnesota and the rest of the country.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.