MN Legislature fails to deliver significant police reform

police reform
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“If they think that we’re going to stop seeking reform, they are sadly mistaken. This is only the beginning,” said Rep. John Thompson (DFL-St. Paul) regarding the lack of police accountability measures in the recent public safety bill that was passed on June 29.

Last year, legislators passed some police reforms measures after the murder of George Floyd, but much of the police reform has not lasted. Democrats feel that this bill falls short of what’s needed to prevent more people—Black and Brown people—from dying by police violence.

“Every Black man is a suspect. We all look alike,” said Rep. Thompson during a phone interview. He said his friend Philando Castile, who was shot by police during a traffic stop in 2016 by former St. Anthony police officer Jeronmio Yanez, was racially profiled because of White Supremacist ideologies.

“You can’t tell me that’s not happening in our communities,” said Rep. Thompson. “It’s clear what I’m seeing in these communities and I’m living in it.”

Two weeks ago, leaders of the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-majority Senate reached a deal on the most controversial bill of the session, agreeing to a $2.6 billion bill that includes several policy changes. They include the regulation of the use of no-knock warrants, civil asset forfeiture reforms, and disciplinary actions taken against police officers for problem behaviors.

According to the Minnesota House of Representatives website, many of the measures would not have been included if it were not for the work of The House People of Color & Indigenous (POCI) Caucus who stood up against the Republican Senate that wanted to keep the status quo.

However, most of the police reform measures that had been included in the bill—many of which were blocked by Republicans—were not in the final package. Omitted were restrictions on pretextual traffic stops like the Brooklyn Center police killing of Daunte Wright in April. But in certain situations, officers who pull someone over with a summons for court must inform them of the court date and release them without arrest.

Also omitted was prohibiting police officers from associating with White Supremacist groups and requiring police agencies to release body camera footage within 48 hours to family members of a person who was killed by police.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope) tweeted “The original House DFL bill reflected the voices and urgency from the community stakeholders across Minnesota.” He added that the “fight” is not over. “There are things worth fighting for, and Black lives is one of them.”

From the floor debate, Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsored the bill in the House, called the police reform measures in the bill “meaningful.” He said the bill fails to demand more police accountability, according to the House website.

Yet, Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge) said the bill focuses on the “demonizing of law enforcement,” and Rep. Donald Raleigh (R-Circle Pines) offered an amendment that would make it a misdemeanor for a person to reveal personal information about a police officer if it poses a threat to the officer’s safety, according to the House website.

A day before the House and Senate passed the final bill, Governor Tim Walz implemented several police reform measures by executive order on June 28 to “increase transparency and accountability among local and state law enforcement,” according to his office.  

The actions included investing $15 million in COVID-19 relief money to community violence prevention grants; ordering State-level law enforcement agencies to share body-worn camera footage of deadly police encounters with relatives of those killed within five days; and increasing transparency and accountability through the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).

Rep. Johnson noted that he was pleased with Walz taking action but still feels that the bill was “rushed.”

Sam DeLeon welcomes reader responses to sdeleon@spokesman-recorder.com.

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