Citizen accounts of police encounters are invited
Earlier this month Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) hosted a public discussion in Beltrami Park on the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) misconduct. The group was there to engage with the community, hear stories, and brainstorm solutions to our policing problems.
CUAPB plans to pass these stories and ideas on to the DOJ for inclusion in a consent decree. The decree is a list of changes the DOJ will present in court and require the MPD to undertake.
The DOJ is looking into such issues as police mistreatment of the homeless community, racial discrimination and lack of service to people of color, mistreatment of those with mental illnesses and other disabilities, and use of excessive force on People of Color and protestors.
It was a small gathering, one of several such events intended to hear community ideas and experiences, and it succeeded in its goal. The event was hosted by two women from CUAPB, Michelle Gross and Darlene Scott. They shared some powerful facts with those in attendance, most notably that the police department’s annual budget includes $21 million for expected police brutality lawsuits, money provided by the community.
One solution the CUAPB offers for this is to require that each police officer pay for their own personal liability insurance. This idea, first proposed in the Twin Cities, is now practiced as far away as Colorado yet has never been picked up by the MPD.
The group shared another ongoing strategy to fight police brutality taking place within the ranks, two projects called EPIC (Ethical Policing Is Courageous) and ABLE (Active Bystander-ship for Law Enforcement). These projects are typically combined and work to train police on how to intervene when they witness bad behavior from another cop. Both are being introduced to the MPD.
Though it was cold and windy, a steady stream of citizens stepped up to the mic to contribute to the conversation. Several repeated that they felt the MPD was incapable of respecting the humanity of People of Color, the mentally ill, and those experiencing homelessness. Many advocated for scaling down police power, including demilitarizing the police and getting cops out of situations that could better be solved by social workers.
Noah S., who chose not to disclose his last name, mentioned the training civilians get in the use of firearms and compared it to police practices of unholstering their weapons. He mentioned the civilian Duty to Retreat rule, which says that if there is any way around lethal use of force the shooter has an obligation not to shoot. He compared this to police escalation of the use of force, unholstering their weapons and pointing them indiscriminately.
One woman brought up another worry: discriminatory hiring practices. Nicole R., who chose not to disclose her last name for privacy reasons, brought up the stats for women in policing. She shared the struggle of her two goddaughters in getting hired.
“I do believe they are hiring for a certain person,” she said. “The national average for [women in] policing is 12% right now. The City of Minneapolis stays at 12%. They’re not getting hired at all because one of the problems the City of Minneapolis has is when they get women in for testing, the [fitness] testing is geared for a 210-pound man, not a 120-130 pound woman.”
One woman shared her own personal experience with the police. Tamara Russell had a son struggling with addiction and mental health issues. She said the police targeted him, picking him up for petty violations and stealing his wallet when he was in crisis. She said she is afraid that there is no current way to hold police accountable, that they are too powerful and are not focused on the practice of best care for the people they detain.
Although there is clearly a high level of community concern over police misconduct, the CUAPB say they presently have only 750 community stories about encounters with police. They need 1,000 to share with the DOJ to make sure that the future of policing in Minneapolis is based on what the community wants.
“If your story can save somebody else…from experiencing some of the things that you’ve experienced, it’s worth it,” Darlene Scott said during the meeting.
When the question was raised if the community might be afraid to hold police accountable, one voice stood out. Rabla Said replied, “We’re very institutionalized. We’re very systematically oppressed, and we’re jaded.” She said the community had felt powerless and was just now getting back a sense of control.
“Some people are afraid to hold them accountable,” she said. “I’m not.”
People who wish to share their stories of police encounters can do so at cuapb.org or directly with the DOJ at email@example.com.
R.B. King welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.