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On the Issues: Police Reform

August 9, 2017


Days after Justine Damond lost her life, gunned down by the police she called to protect her neighborhood, I joined hundreds of community members who gathered to honor Justine’s life and decry her death. This latest shooting brightened the spotlight on the deep divide that for too long has split our community and law enforcement. 


Tension over how to ease the longstanding strain between officers and the communities they serve, especially people of color, hangs heavy over our community. We can and must move toward understanding and compassion with clear reforms that hold the police department, and our city more broadly, accountable for change.   


So many of our neighbors are reeling, searching for a way to heal. The pain is still palpable nearly two years after police shot and killed Jamar Clark on the North Side. Many remain shaken by the police shooting of Philando Castile just a few miles outside Minneapolis’ borders. And now, Justine’s death breathes new life into the conversation around the systemic problems that demand police reform. 


We’ve heard calls to fire the officer who killed Justine, and we’ve heard calls to entirely dismantle our police force. We’ve heard demands that the police department implement serious changes, and we’ve heard about the ones already in place. Our city today needs more leaders who talk seriously about the ways we can come together to build meaningful solutions -- ones that will actually work to foster accountability and deliver lasting results. 


These reforms must be guided by three defining principles: 


  • First, we need to determine the current status of previously planned reforms, and where they’ve fallen short. We clearly need to see more results and better outcomes, but we are not starting from zero.  

  • Second, we need to ensure police officers are held to the same standard in our justice system as anyone else, including through changes to our legal system, mechanisms for misconduct review, and more proactive body camera policies. 

  • Third, we need to settle for nothing less than Minneapolis Police recruits who exemplify what we want our police department to be. We need to thoroughly review our police academy, its recruitment, and its training to pinpoint inadequacies in order to fix them. 

We all need and deserve answers, clarity, and accountability for any reckless police conduct. We need better than what we have, and we need a viable way to get there. We need all voices at the table. Our city needs to listen carefully to all stakeholders, then map out meaningful next steps that reflect the needs of all community members.


Justine was white. But any steps toward police reform must address the fact that people of color live in a very different Minneapolis than white residents. Black Minneapolitans are more than 8.7 times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses, and Native Americans are 8.6 times more likely to end up in handcuffs for similar crimes. These disparities underscore deep-seated issues that hold our entire community back. Different policing standards for our communities of color simply cannot be an option. The stark facts emphasize the urgency of long-overdue change. 


This issue deeply affects our communities, our kids, our businesses, our well-being, and our future. No one person or group has all the answers. But we need to work together, and we need to take meaningful action NOW.


Policing in Minneapolis does not live up to our city’s progressive ideals. The city has had numerous chances to make full-scale reforms, but has not achieved such outcomes. The time for simply talking is over. We, as city leaders and community members, need to hold Minneapolis police accountable to promised reform. We need to refuse anything less.  


Minneapolis has had a civilian review board overseeing police, in some form or another, for over 20 years. This body needs the authority and ability to ensure impactful reforms are underway and that police are meeting the highest standards in their work. We need to keep this civilian-led work adequately funded so that it can achieve its objectives.


One of Justine’s neighbors told community members that the path to healing runs through justice. That’s a challenge -- justice looks different to everyone. But we need to find our way as close to it as possible. 


We can never make the Damond, Clark, and Castile families whole again. But we can get serious about police reforms that drive measurable improvements, to deliver on the Minneapolis Police Department’s promise to serve our community with compassion, integrity, and respect -- and to instill proper consequences if they don’t. 


I am encouraged by new leadership in the police department, and look forward to bringing our community’s concerns and perspectives to the table. Building a stronger culture of justice and accountability will be a long and difficult process, but it’s about time we’re on our way. 


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