Those who scoff at efforts to strengthen police-community relations in Minneapolis should spend some time contemplating the disturbing results of a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
The poll of 1,001 registered voters revealed a gaping racial divide over the shooting death of Jamar Clark late last year. While 66 percent of white respondents agreed with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s decision not to charge two Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting, 68 percent of black respondents disagreed.
If those numbers don’t come as a surprise, they most certainly should sadden you. No doubt the results reflect decades of strained relations between the police and the black community and a breakdown in trust in law enforcement authorities and prosecutors.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board has expressed support for Freeman based on the evidence he presented when he announced his decision. But this page also has backed initiatives to improve police-community relations — efforts that should be redoubled in the wake of the Clark case and in light of the division highlighted by the Minnesota Poll.
In Minneapolis, it means adding more black police officers to the force, promoting more black officers into leadership positions, and enhancing recruitment and training programs designed to address racism in the ranks.
Too many black Minnesotans can recount their own experiences getting pulled over by police, they believed, because of the color of their skin. There have been too many headlines about wrongful death and brutality involving white officers and black suspects. Minneapolis and other cities have paid out millions of dollars to settle police misconduct suits over the years, and race has been a factor in many of those cases.
Given that history, it’s understandable that many black Minnesotans would see the Clark case and their police force through a different lens than white residents. But 29 percent of white respondents to the Minnesota Poll also said the state’s criminal justice system does not treat blacks and whites equally.
Improving police-community relations is a priority for Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Mayor Betsy Hodges and other community leaders. The Clark case won’t make that work any easier, but it makes it even more important.