Rep. Ilhan Omar calls for expansion of federal oversight into Minnesota police practices

Chris Juhn/MSR News Rep. Ilhan Omar at a April press conference in Brooklyn Center regarding the police shooting of Daunte Wright

Rep. Omar pens open letter that DFLers sign off on calling for investigation

Yesterday U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar penned a letter calling for  U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the U.S. Department of Justice to examine the practices of several Twin Cities law enforcement agencies:

“On April 21, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced you will conduct an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and their patterns and practices. I write to ask you to consider opening additional investigations of patterns and practices to include the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), Minnesota State Patrol (SP), Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the Brooklyn Center Police Department (BCPD), the Richfield Police Department (RPD), the Edina Police Department (EPD) and the St. Anthony Police Department (SAPD).

The May 2020 murder of George Floyd under the knee of MPD officer Derek Chauvin showed millions of people around the world how MPD policed—and continues to police—Black, Indigenous, and people of color in our community. However, recent years of similar law enforcement actions in Minnesota show that the murder of Mr. Floyd is not unique—it is a pattern among many Minnesota law enforcement agencies. When Philando Castile was killed in 2017 by SAPD officer Jeronimo Yanez at a routine traffic stop, media outlets reported his long history of being pulled over repeatedly over a decade for minor—if any—violations. Since the SAPD began publishing demographic data on traffic stops, the “share of Black people its officers pulled over has increased each year.”

In Richfield, officers from the EPD and RPD killed Brian Quinones in September 2019, after an investigation the officers involved faced no legal consequences. The most recent police killing in Minnesota of Daunte Wright by BCPD officer Kim Potter—a 26-year veteran of the force—illustrates that this is not an issue of training or fear. It is a pattern that repeats among many law enforcement agencies throughout the Twin Cities metro. Across the state, Black Minnesotans are disproportionately arrested for low-level crimes and are disproportionately likely to experience violence at the hands of police.

The law enforcement response to the mass movement that has arisen in opposition to police killings and violent over-policing of BIPOC communities has also been met with extreme and unnecessary force. In preparation for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the State of Minnesota created a joint-command response called Operation Safety Net (OSN). Rather than keep residents safe, community members and elected officials highlighted that this “response” obscured the chain of command and resulted in excessive violence to community members without accountability.

 Law enforcement used “less-lethal” munitions and chemical weapons indiscriminately, even targeting journalists before a federal judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order against law enforcement entities. The entities present during these protests—HCSO, SP, MPD, BCPD, and other agencies–should not be allowed to let a “partnership” such as OSN obscure their responsibility to uphold civil and human rights.

Local medical professionals have researched the long-term medical consequences of this egregious militarized violence, finding that dozens of people are facing permanently disabling injuries following police escalation at protests over the last year. Indeed, as soon as OSN partners stopped approaching protestors with violence, there was no longer violence at the protests. The MPD practices that led to Mr. Floyd’s death are not unique among Minnesota law enforcement.

These issues are visible both in proactive law enforcement settings like traffic stops and arrests, but also in the law enforcement response to protests shining a light on these injustices. Minnesota has some of the nation’s worst and most persistent racial disparities, and the DOJ’s investigation of systemic issues in Minnesota law enforcement would be an important step toward addressing our state’s racial inequities. It is for these reasons that we request the DOJ consider additional investigations of other law enforcement entities that also contribute to this environment of racial violence and injustice.

Thank you for prompt attention to this matter.”

The letter was signed off on by: Minnesota Senators Chris Eaton and Mary Kunesh, Omar Fateh, and Patricia Torres Ray;  Minnesota Representatives Esther Agbaje, Aisha Gomez, Fue Lee, Sandra Feist and Sydney Jordan; Hennepin County Commissioners Angela Conley, Irene Fernando and Marion Greene, Brooklyn Center Council Member Marquita Butler, and Minneapolis City Council members Jeremiah Ellison, Cam Gordon, Andrew Johnson,  Steve Fletcher, Andrea Jenkins, and Jeremy Schroder.