The discussion of the police response to downtown Minneapolis marijuana street sales and disparate impact upon African-Americans is important, but so far, incomplete.

First, the Minneapolis Police Department effort is not about marijuana sales, but about the reduction of the attendant violence that accompanies the trade. In my 40-year policing career, I worked downtown patrol in the Street Crimes Unit from 1983 to 1986. There was violence associated with the Moby Dick’s crowd and other hard-drinking bars, street robberies, and drug sales. However, the violence was not as deadly as in recent years and certainly not involving the shooting and death of innocent bystanders. Why? I suppose the proliferation of guns and relaxed attitudes about carrying them in public.

Second, there are now 40,000 residents downtown. The residents and businesses expect and demand safety for themselves and their customers.

Most of these observations were already expressed by the Star Tribune editorial (“Downtown’s dilemma”) of Sept. 17, 2017.

Doing nothing is not an option for the MPD. It appears that police efforts, though having a disparate impact, have been effective in reducing violence, at a cost of public trust and confidence. I do not believe there was intentional bias on the part of officers making the drug buys (“Marijuana busts backfire on city,” June 8). In addition to Chief Medaria Arradondo, First Precinct Inspector Eddie Frizell is also African-American. They are both trying to do their entire duty, while navigating the racial history of this country and city.

I think there is merit in retired Deputy Chief Robert Allen’s June 12 commentary (“On net, policy change harms public safety”) recommending the legalization of marijuana. It would likely end street sales in short order. Why would someone want to buy an unknown product on a street corner when they could be assured they were getting a commercially controlled product? That is, however, a long-term and controversial strategy. In the meantime, scaled-back enforcement may well herald an increase in street violence.

That proposal raises the question of what will become of the individuals who have been selling on those corners? I have also served for more than 30 years on a number of nonprofit boards of directors, serving diverse to almost exclusively African-American communities, notably six years on the Minneapolis Urban League Board. Since data about the arrested individuals exists, research into their circumstances and motivation might provide effective intervention strategies. This work would be similar to that of Gary Cunningham in the African-American Men Project.

By no means do I have a solution to this complex problem. I do know, however, that focusing only on the recent visible disparate impact and fixing blame for that will not get us to either justice or safety. There are good and capable people in the criminal justice system and the community. They must suspend their suspicion of one another to produce practical solutions.

 

Gregory S. Hestness, now retired, is a former chief of the University of Minnesota Police Department and former deputy chief of the Minneapolis Police Department.