Might it be that our political and opinion leaders benefit from these distractions?
It has now been more than three months since Minneapolis police officers shot and killed Terrence Franklin in an Uptown basement. Official information remains scarce. Evidently, the Hennepin County Attorney is still deciding whether anyone should be charged.
Cynics, including myself, suspect that public-relations damage control is behind the delay. The public was interested in Terrance Franklin during May and maybe June. But memories fade. Other news stories come along that grab attention.
That happened in late July with reports that two off-duty members of the Minneapolis SWAT team used racial slurs and made a disrespectful reference to Chief Janeé Harteau’s sexual orientation during encounters with police in Green Bay, Wis. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said that he was “angered and appalled” by the officers’ behavior. The chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Don Samuels, called on the officers to resign.
This was the kind of reaction from elected city officials I had hoped would be forthcoming after the deaths of Terrance Franklin and Ivan Romero (a motorcyclist who died in a crash with a responding squad car). But little was said by city officials then. It took use of the N-word and a reference to the police chief’s sexual orientation to inspire their outrage.
In an amazing display of political jujitsu, Chief Harteau has now put herself at the head of a movement to reform the Minneapolis police — not with respect to officers’ dangerous behavior with guns, but with respect to their attitudes about race and indiscrete comments made while off-duty and drunk in another city.
She launched her own closed-door “dialogue on race” and gave a news conference proclaiming that “this is not who we are.” She called for police to monitor one other’s speech and rebuke politically incorrect expressions. “If you continue to be silent, you’re part of the problem,” she said.
Well, I will not be silent. I would remind the chief that racial slurs, while offensive, are constitutionally protected speech. We are not a people who police others’ thoughts and speech but a people free to speak our minds and occasionally even get drunk. It is the indiscriminate use of advanced weaponry by police to kill citizens that is un-American and truly offensive.
It is often said that white America is a racist society. Some of the strongest evidence for that is the fact that our largely white community tolerates overly aggressive law enforcement against blacks because white people see blacks as potential criminals and think that, regardless of political attitudes, the police should be allowed to do their jobs. They’re unwilling to invest time and attention to examine individual cases.
On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that an unhealthy attitude exists in the minds of “cultural leaders” — religious leaders, media people and academics — regarding white people and their supposed racist tendencies. Yes, there should be a discussion about race, but it should not be the usual one-sided, controlled discussion aimed at predictable conclusions. It should be a real discussion bringing white community advocates as well as minorities to the table.
Let me make another outrageous statement. I think our opinion leaders are less interested in violent behavior by police than in the “racist” content of their minds. There is no political profit in keeping police under control with respect to on-duty violence. There is, however, much profit for certain persons in enforcing and affirming politically correct attitudes. Such attitudes are what drives DFL voters to the polls.
I am white, but if I were an African-American, I would much rather have a police officer shout the N-word at me than shoot me with a high-powered weapon.
Individually, police officers are no better and no worse than the rest of us. It is the trust that we give them officially, while on duty, that requires public scrutiny. And it is high time that the police chief, the mayor and other elected officers make that a priority.
William McGaughey is a rental-property owner in Minneapolis.
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