Recent policy decisions dodge essential reforms
“What is clear is that tragedies like the one that happened to George Floyd do not emerge from a few isolated bad actors, but from patterns of misconduct,” Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan said not long after the death of Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, there were clear calls locally, nationally, and internationally for the prosecution of the police who killed him as well as demands that police be disciplined and prosecuted in all cases of police misconduct.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was pictured crying next to Floyd’s casket at his funeral, yet he has talked very little about how to ensure that there are no more George Floyds. Most of the talk out of Minneapolis City Hall has addressed concerns other than police accountability.
Twin Cities’ news headlines earlier this month were filled with the political gamesmanship between the mayor and the city council, primarily over the Minneapolis police budget and the number of cops the City is required to maintain.
The city council voted to set aside $8 million from the police budget to fund its Safety for All proposal, which will provide money for training dispatchers to help identify and assess mental health calls, and for mental health crisis teams. The money will also fund the effort to have employees handle theft and property damage calls, which would relieve the police of some of that responsibility.
However, none of the conversations involved how to hold police accountable for their actions or even how to root out the bad actors that are still a part of the Minneapolis Police Department. This is in sharp contrast to conversations held in the immediate wake of Floyd’s death, including promises to disband the MPD.
The backpedaling and lack of real reform coming out of the recent policy decisions has baffled many. Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender complained about the lack of accountability earlier this month after the Minneapolis City Council voted to approve a settlement stemming from an incident involving an off-duty police officer.
“Having served for seven years and voted for many settlements, I find myself hearing over and over that the potential legal risk that we have can be remedied by actions of reform and policy change,” said Bender. “Yet the lawsuits keep coming. Yet the actions don’t seem to be taken to change those policies and practices in a meaningful way so that we’re not back in the same place again and again and again.”
Public wants accountability
The week before the city council passed its cuts to the police budget, it took comments from the community during its virtual meeting. A few hundred responded.
Many were opposed to cutting the police budget, primarily because of the latest rise in petty theft and property crimes. Yet many of the commenters, including conservative, liberal and progressive voices, seemed to agree that despite their disparate perspectives on policing, police should be held accountable.
But the City of Minneapolis has in effect done nothing to hold police accountable. The cops who killed Floyd have been prosecuted—that is, charged with killing him—but only after the intervention of the State as Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and his office seemed to initially drag their feet. His office has never charged a White policeman with killing or injuring a Black person.
It’s not clear how “defund the police” superseded the demands that activists, the Floyd family, and other families who had lost a loved one to police violence had been raising, namely to prosecute the police who killed him and to hold the police accountable for their actions.
While protests raged for days, a local activist group, Black Visions Collective, called a rally and out of it rose the demand to defund the police, which later became “disband the police.” Minneapolis City Council members convened a meeting in a local park days after the rally and pledged their commitment to disbanding the police.
But months later this pledge was torpedoed by the unelected City Charter Commission, which said that the city council did not have a plan on how to proceed if indeed disbanding the police force were ever put to a vote.
The one concrete change in the MPD that has occurred since the death of Floyd has been the City’s agreement to ban chokeholds by police. According to Michelle Gross of Communities United against Police Brutality (CUPAB), there have been few if any changes in the way Minneapolis police operate and no accountability.
Safety for all?
“People are sick and tired of it,” said Gross. “People want a few things. They want George Floyd’s prosecution to go through. We want it to be transparent. We want to see all these other cops who have been terrorizing the community be disciplined and held accountable too, so we don’t have any more George Floyds.”
The City had promised to have what they termed at the time “a year-long public discussion,” but only a week ago did the City create a mechanism to take comments on the police.
“Safety for All,” the proposal recently passed by council members, leaves much to be desired according to Gross. “Safety for all conflates the dedicated mental health crisis with a general or a social service response team, which are not the same. We need mental health professionals to respond to mental health crises,” she explained.
“We need a formalized mechanism to check on homelessness, drug overdose, and other social issues. Homelessness is not a crime, so why would police be involved? Lots of social services calls would be better solved with social workers, EMS, a whole list of things that don’t require law enforcement.
“[Law enforcement’s] job is to figure out if a crime has been committed and gather evidence that will help solve it. It costs $429 for them to respond to the call,” estimated Gross. “We can send alternative responses that don’t criminalize folks and it’s a lot cheaper.”
CUAPB has proposed setting up a dedicated Mental Health Crisis Response Unit of mental health professionals to address mental health crises and a Social Services Response Unit of social workers, outreach workers, and other responders to handle other calls that don’t require a law enforcement response.
“Police are still riding hard on the George Floyd Square as some of the criminal elements feel like it’s a safe space for them,” said Drew Valle, who has been active in maintaining the George Floyd Square and took part in protests for justice for George Floyd from the beginning.” I want them to be not as influential as they are, to stop being judge, jury and executioner. I want strict guidelines around their conduct. These folks need to be on the same level as civilians so they can be held accountable.
“The way they carry themselves has not changed,” said Valle. “I feel like instead of being accountable they are now out for blood. I don’t see a future in which we can work with these folks. They have to get rid of the repeat offenders and start there, and get rid of others who can’t meet the standard. The belt should be tightened until a standard is met.
“Accountability is a concrete step in the right direction. The really violent ones are sometimes even outliers in their own precincts. Makes one wonder how much is part of their culture and permissible in that culture,” said Valle.
MPD chief makes promises
In a commentary that appeared last Saturday in the Star Tribune, MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo made several promises. “MPD members will keep our social contract sacred and value every interaction that embodies the principles of procedural justice and community policing where success is determined by the amount of trust engendered,” wrote the chief.
“Abusive policing will not be tolerated,” Arradondo promised. “Policing that engenders trust and justice will be celebrated. We will hold ourselves accountable… As chief, I will use all my authority and available resources to hold officers and supervisors accountable for misconduct. We need legislators and elected leaders to work to modernize the structure of the current arbitration process that ensures bad cops don’t get their jobs back.”
“This commentary comes two weeks after [MPD Officer] Kyle Mader, with seven complaints [already against him], came to George Floyd Square and terrorized the community,” said Toussaint Morrison, who has been actively involved in fighting police violence and participating in activities at George Floyd Square. “He slammed a guy to the ground and separated his shoulder. If [Chief Arradondo] is serious, fire Kyle Mader.”
In a recent YouTube video Mader can be seen body slamming a young Black man onto the pavement near the corner of Chicago and 38th Street almost directly across from where George Floyd was killed by police last summer. It was reported that the young man suffered a separated shoulder as a result.
“There can be no trust if you have officers who tape over their badge numbers and toe the blue line,” said Morrison.