​Minneapolis officials still have not taken police violence seriously

Minneapolis police
Global News/MGN

Mayor Frey’s and the city council’s plodding, tepid response to police violence since the murder of George Floyd shows a lack of urgency and backbone. 

A case in point is the recent study the City released on revising the Field Training Officer (FTO) program. Its recommendations are more akin to a public relations announcement than serious reform.

Frey said the study indicated that more “quality control” was required. How about some quality control in hiring, disciplining, and firing officers? Any serious quality control process would have ended Derek Chauvin’s career-long ago given his record of misconduct and brutality. Instead, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) made him an FTO. 

Since May 2020, three more Black men were killed by law enforcement in Minneapolis. None of the killings were justifiable. This includes Winston Smith, killed June 3 by local sheriff deputies working with federal marshals.

Even after Smith’s killing, City officials delayed acting, knowing that the next deadly encounter loomed in the months ahead. They did not have to wait long.

On July 6, officer Brian Cummings, defying department recommendations, pursued a suspect in a high-speed chase. The careless act ended with him plowing into the car of Leneal Lamont Frazier and killing him. Frazier was not involved in the chase.

Leneal is the uncle of Darnella Frazier, who courageously recorded the murder of George Floyd. Cummings must be fired.

In late June, a Time magazine exposé criticized the city and local media’s response to the killing of Terrance Franklin, 22, in 2013. The article details MPD officers’ cover-ups and lies. Under these circumstances, any other employer would fire an employee. The exposé should send outrage throughout the city. Yet, the five officers involved—Lucas Peterson, Michael Meath, Ricardo Muro, Mark Durand, and Andrew Stender—remain in the MPD.

The mayor, with the backing of the council, should immediately fire these officers. When the Police Officers Federation challenges the firings, raise the ante by additionally terminating officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, who killed Jamar Clark, 24, in 2015.

It is long past time for City officials to stand up to the Federation. Tell Federation officials that the city aims to clean out the department of those unfit to serve, beginning with all those who have killed unarmed people. Next to go will be those with long track records of using excessive force.

The Federation’s lawyers and leadership will likely file unfair labor practices and ask for court injunctions, but the purges should continue with the firings of the officers responsible for killing Dolal Idd, 23, in December 2020 (officers Paul Huynh, Darcy Klund, and Jason Schmitt). Moreover, officer Ryan Keyes and Neal Walsh who shot and killed Travis Jordan, 32, in 2018, should also be fired.

If the City can fire the three officers who aided Chauvin in murdering Floyd, why not fire the officers who killed Chiasher Vue, 52, in 2019? Seven officers were at the scene firing a total of 59 bullets at Vue, killing him. They are Sgt. Troy Carlson and officers Donnell Crayton, Kyle Pond, Aaron Womble, Toua Yang, Jason Wolff, and Daniel Ledman. Those who fired their weapons should be dismissed. Add officer Ryan Kelly to this list. Kelly, along with Jason Schmitt, killed Thurman Blevins, 31, in 2018.

Last summer at a protest at the Federation offices in Northeast Minneapolis, several speakers called for the City to break the contract. A contract that protects the jobs of the officers that killed Franklin and Clark is not a contract, it is a de facto protection racket as the speakers called it. So long as the City is held hostage to such an agreement, only milquetoast steps to reinvent public safety and policing are possible.

The Federation, under the agreement in effect, acts as the de facto employer as it wins most reinstatement cases. It is not surprising then that city officials refrain from firing unfit officers like Chauvin or Petersen.

However, the Federation’s authority will be challenged if a charter amendment in November passes that would remove the MPD as a standalone charter department. If passed, the MPD will be replaced with a new Public Safety Department that will, in turn, inherit these problems.

Once constituted, its first order of business should be to require all officers to reapply for their jobs and to establish a community-based vetting process to review each current officer’s record to determine who should be retained and who should be let go.

The murder of Floyd caused an uprising across the country and the world that an estimated 25 million people participated in. Yet it is business as usual—City officials appear spineless. It is long past time for the mayor and the council to rise to the historic rebellion of May and June 2020 and fire all those who have stolen someone’s life.

Wayne Nealis is a Twin Cities-based writer and activist.