The U.S. Department of Justice report on the occupation of the Fourth Precinct police station is a 108-page confirmation of what most people already knew:
North Minneapolis is a toxic mix of demoralized police officers overseeing a community that is often afraid of them. Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau don’t care much for each other, and when things get tough, that becomes a major problem. When faced with a crisis, some politicians are apt to follow their instincts or cater to their interests rather than show a united front. Hodges doesn’t communicate well, or enough. It’s hard to be a police officer in north Minneapolis, but it’s even harder to be a young black man.
Given the historic nature of the confrontation that happened after the death of Jamar Clark, the outcome of the 18-day protest occupation could have been much more dire and the DOJ report much worse. A city under siege doesn’t usually get a good report card.
“No city in America has been through anything like it,” Hodges said at a news conference Monday. There were tense moments and sporadic violence from the protesters and incidents in which police used unauthorized force, but the city did not explode like other cities across the country.
City officials and community leaders each took credit for the restraint and relative peace. Both deserve some.
Cops, especially officers of color, were taunted, hit with rocks and food and targeted with Molotov cocktails. They were frustrated by a lack of direction, kept clueless to the strategy being implemented by the mayor’s people, sometimes even without the involvement of the chief. It’s not surprising some of them disobeyed orders and followed their instincts for self-preservation.
Overall, officers acted with incredible restraint and patience under extreme duress and with little support. They deserve credit.
On Monday, Hodges and Harteau stood side by side, as they often did during the occupation, with no hint of the animosity revealed in the DOJ report.
“The role Chief Harteau played was inconsistent over the course of the occupation, in part because Mayor Hodges led the decisionmaking and operational processes at different points, which is legally within her authority based on the City Charter,” the report said. “The apparent strained relationship between Mayor Hodges and Chief Harteau, and the mayor’s unfamiliarity with the implications of the terminology she used when in charge, likely contributed to the inconsistent direction given to MPD personnel and the resulting frustration among officers over poor communication and inconsistent, uncoordinated leadership.”
It was good of Hodges to acknowledge her shortcomings in public: “The people of Minneapolis — all of us — needed to hear from me more clearly, more frequently, and more consistently. My communication fell short,” she said. “Regardless of whether it was because I lacked the bandwidth, I was constrained for legal reasons, or I simply lacked the skill, I did not communicate in a way that would have helped the situation go better. I’m sorry.”
The report commended city officials for many of their actions, or lack of actions, and for the overall outcome. But the criticisms go to the very heart of the knocks against Hodges in her bid for re-election: that she lacks a strong voice and doesn’t play well with others. It’s clear in the report that she was either unwilling or unable to inspire cohesion or even wrangle an unruly City Council as City Hall officials sought their own solutions.
Hodges is right — she had to face an unprecedented crisis in the city’s history, but it’s still not clear whether her “soft” approach prevented more violence or allowed the protest to go on too long.
There’s no way to know either whether any of the candidates seeking the mayor’s office would have handled it any better, but I’m guessing it won’t be long before they start questioning whether Hodges has the bandwidth to do the job.