The acquittal of officer Jeronimo Yanez is devastating proof our state’s criminal-justice system is broken. Not only did this system rob Philando Castile of his life, but it also robbed his family and the broader community of justice. It should be unfathomable that a routine traffic stop for a broken taillight can result in a person’s death, without due process under law, but that’s exactly what happened here.
Sparking grief and trauma across the state, country and world, the verdict caused many to question whether there are any circumstances under which a police officer will be held accountable for shooting and killing a civilian. It’s been a particularly painful process for many in our state.
We’ve wept together. We’ve mourned together. We’ve prayed together.
Now we must move forward together.
Minnesota has a chance to do things differently. We can be a national leader in showing how to prevent these types of gross injustices from occurring with frightening frequency. Doing so is going to take everyone — from everyday Minnesotans, churches and local communities to business leaders, police departments and elected officials — to get on board and change the system for the better. Here are six ways to do just that.
1) Get more comfortable talking about race.
We cannot continue to be Minnesota Nice about police brutality and criminal-justice reform. To end the status quo, it’s necessary for people of all races and from all walks of life to speak out and let their friends, family, communities and elected officials know they are fed up with business as usual. That might mean having uncomfortable conversations about race, or even losing friends, but effecting real change, and achieving real justice, requires sacrifice.
2) Put people over profits.
Cities and departments shouldn’t be padding their budgets by overzealously ticketing people for minor traffic violations. Data show police had stopped Philando more than 50 times in the last 14 years of his life, resulting in $6,558 in fines. While officers are enforcing laws, this type of enforcement borders on harassment — and disproportionately affects people of color and the working poor.
3) Better balance public safety and people’s basic rights.
Police have tough jobs. But there’s a dire lack of oversight to make sure their jobs are done properly. It is past time for the state to create an independent body that not only investigates police shootings but also, rather than a grand jury, determines whether those cases should be prosecuted. The legal standard for the use of deadly force in Minnesota should also be revised to better protect the public against unnecessary deaths and poor judgment calls on the part of police.
4) Statewide initiative for mental health and crisis intervention.
We should have dedicated resources (e.g., hot lines) that people experiencing mental-health crises can use instead of calling 911, because not all crises require a law-and-order approach. If those in distress must call 911, then they should be diverted to a crisis intervention team with the necessary training and experience to de-escalate situations.
5) Police departments must toughen hiring practices.
Too many departments are far too lenient with recruiting officers who have proved they are unfit for the job. Before they were hired by the Minneapolis Police Department, the two officers who killed Jamar Clark allegedly had engaged in excessive force in other jurisdictions. Officers with troubling histories should not be hired for local positions.
6) Require police to obtain mandatory liability insurance.
For years, groups like Communities United Against Police Brutality have been pushing local governments to adopt this approach. By requiring liability insurance, officers will have to think twice before they engage in the use of excessive force, and local governments and taxpayers won’t have to continue footing the bill for police misconduct.
Police brutality isn’t just a black or white issue. It’s a human-rights issue. The tremendous power police are granted must come with matching responsibility and accountability. It is incumbent upon all of us to demand that proper checks and balances be restored before more lives are needlessly lost in police encounters.
Nekima Levy-Pounds is a civil-rights attorney, legal scholar and community activist. She is running for mayor of Minneapolis.