State aims to rein in Minneapolis police

Photo by Henry Pan Ta’Mara Hill facilitates a group discussion about the consent decree.

Many doubt a consent decree will get the job done

For the past several months, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has connected with community members over how best to rein in the patterns of racism and sexism it found in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), the subject of a two-year investigation. 

Both the City of Minneapolis and the Department of Human Rights (MDHR) have agreed to enter into a consent decree, an agreement where the court holds parties accountable to change. To decide what to include in the decree, they’ve hosted meetings, primarily with and in communities affected by discriminatory policing.

But not everyone thinks the consent decree will result in meaningful change. “We think it’s…a political grandstanding thing, which is good. It puts some public pressure on the City of Minneapolis,” said Linden Gawboy of Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar. “We’re not against the consent decree—we just don’t have faith in it.” 

The MDHR began investigating the MPD days after former MPD officer Derek Chauvin and his former colleagues Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane murdered George Floyd at 38th and Chicago in May 2020. 

During the investigation, the MDHR met with over 2,200 community members, including Minneapolis police officers, who wrote or described their experiences with the MPD. They found in May of this year that the MPD did indeed engage in patterns of racist and sexist policing. 

The 72-page report found Black people were more likely to be stopped, searched, cited and arrested than White people. They also found officers used racial and sexual epithets on body camera footage and spied on activists on social media for no apparent public safety purpose. 

The City and the MDHR soon began negotiations, only for the City to pause them as it accused the MDHR of not having evidence that its officers spied on activists using social media. They have since agreed to resume negotiations with the stated intent of reaching an agreement this fall. 

During the negotiations, the MDHR, in partnership with the Minnesota Justice Research Center, conducted outreach to communities, including those who were formerly incarcerated, that have received the brunt of racist and sexist policing, and also hosted five public meetings throughout the city. 

At those meetings, they heard the consent decree needs to affect changes in use of force, traffic stops, social media, accountability, and training, and to emphasize seeing the humanity in one another.

At one of those meetings held downtown at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in late July, Yolanda Roth echoed that sentiment but said change must go beyond the consent decree. “It’s going to be the union changing the trainings that they’re sending people to and understanding and finally agreeing that racism is what is running our police department, and that is what has to change,” said Roth. 

Founder of Global Rights of Women Cheryl Thomas, who was also at the downtown meeting, said the consent decree needs to address how MPD fails to take domestic violence and sexual assault seriously. “We have a police department in Minneapolis that does not report or investigate crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Thomas. 

“Our community of advocates in Minneapolis has written report after report about violence against women and girls that is most deeply suffered by communities of color and immigrant communities.”

Others with little faith in the consent decree process include Minneapolis Police Sgt. Renee Lewis, who attended the event after her shift. She accuses the MDHR of leaving her out, even though the MDHR conducted outreach to Minneapolis police officers at every precinct.

“One thing that bothers me is that because of who I am, and the job that I do, I feel I’m not welcome in my own city,” said Lewis, who declined a follow-up interview after the meeting ended. “You have to include the people like me who actually do the job. It can’t just be people who don’t have the experience dictating what they think should and should not be.” 

Although the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice For Jamar has not reached out to MDHR about the consent decree, they are considering proposing the Minneapolis Police Department release all data associated with closed complaints over the last 10 years, in addition to fighting for community control of the police, which they state requires a charter amendment, something the consent decree can’t do. 

“The racist thugs, the ones who have had multiple complaints that are completely sealed right now, [should be opened so] the public knows what’s going on,” said Gawboy. “They should be part of the public record and part of the public accountability.”

Readers have until Aug. 31 to suggest to MDHR what to include in the consent decree. They may do so online at mn.gov/mdhr/mpd/contactus or by calling 651-539-1100 and leaving a message.

This story has been corrected from its print publication to reflect that the Department of Human Rights did indeed reach out to Minneapolis police officers in developing the consent decree. They also reached out to those who were formerly incarcerated.

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