One of the last paragraphs of the June 9 story on the “Stop for me” campaign states that drivers must yield “to any pedestrian crossing any street or intersection.” But many of us feel that law enforcers have not successfully defined what “crossing” actually means. Is merely standing on the curb, but not actually on the street, enough to assert the right to cross? One foot on the street and one on the curb? What about on curb cuts that blur the line between curb and street? Even if it is technically their right of way, few sane pedestrians are going to actually stand inches from rushing traffic to claim the right to cross. A lot more “airing out” of what this law really means in practical terms is needed before we can begin to better address the issue of scofflaw drivers.
Jim Sanoden, St. Paul
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The contrast between how we treat pedestrians here vs. in much of Europe was never more evident to me than when I visited the Netherlands. On our first day in Amsterdam, my wife and I took a walk. As we approached an intersection, we looked for cars and stopped and waited at the curb because a car was approaching. To our amazement, the car stopped to let us cross the street! We quickly learned this was the rule, not the exception.
I believe it would make the roads safer for everyone if we would adopt that country’s theory of liability. Drivers have strict liability if they hit a cyclist or a pedestrian unless the driver can prove that he or she is not to blame in any way. If a driver hits a child, it is even more difficult to avoid liability.
This would make drivers much more careful about following the laws and being more aware of their surroundings. I say this as car driver myself, and sometimes a bike rider and a pedestrian.
Doug Wobbema, Burnsville
INTERACTING WITH THE POLICE
Continued response to the letter from state Rep. Tony Cornish
State Rep. Tony Cornish relies heavily on his own personal experience when offering his “rules” for interacting with police (Readers Write, June 8). As other readers have subsequently pointed out, Cornish’s experience as a white person overcoming poverty in rural Minnesota, while admirable, does not address the issues of excessive force by police officers or unconscious racism within law enforcement. These are the issues the advocacy groups Cornish criticizes are trying to address.
Moreover, even those who follow Cornish’s rules can be victims of police misconduct. I grew up in a mostly white suburb. There were very few black families in town. I was frequently pulled over by police when driving home from school or visiting friends in town. I was once pulled over and detained by a police officer who claimed he was conducting a “routine license check.” On another occasion, I was pulled over by an officer who candidly admitted that I had done nothing wrong but that “some black people steal cars, and we wanted to make certain this car wasn’t stolen.” (Apparently, he did not run license plates.) He then searched me and my vehicle while I stood outside, with my hands on the hood of the car. Finding nothing after 20 minutes, he left without writing a ticket, with all of my belongings scattered on the ground.
I was not a thug, or a thief. I was not using or selling drugs, or committing other crimes. These are the vivid experiences Cornish and others should consider.
Terrance C. Newby, Roseville
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Cornish gave some pointed advice and, as I would expect, was attacked by numerous letters on June 9. He is criticized for missing the real point — the real problem is racist structures, not citizen behavior. He’s criticized for not discussing the element of “race and privilege.” He’s reminded of his omission of the historical element of slavery. Another reader found his letter to be “horrifyingly offensive,” but didn’t say why. Finally, a June 9 report elsewhere in the newspaper referenced the reaction of the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, saying that Cornish’s use of the word “thug” was a coded reference to black men and therefore was racially charged.
Participants in this editorial debate between one man and a few opponents can’t even decide what they are arguing about. That’s our polarized system. There’s certainly ample room for a logical discussion about practical approaches to behavior when dealing with a stressed element of our system — our constantly maligned police officers. I also acknowledge that the problem is bigger than just having “behavior rules” for confrontations with police. Cornish does a good job dealing with one corner of the solution. I strongly object to the fact that political correctness won’t even permit someone like him to define even part of the problem or the solution.
All Cornish wanted to do was reduce the number of broken bones.
Steve Bakke, Edina
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In a recent major symposium on poverty at Georgetown University, President Obama made the point (and I paraphrase) that liberals need to accept that individual character is an issue and that conservatives need to accept that institutional racism is an issue.
With regard to Cornish’s reasoned letter, as a society, what problem are we trying to solve? Is individual character the issue? Or is institutional racism the issue? The answer is yes.
As a society, we are best able to move forward with our personal contributions as well as our collective public policies when we fully embrace this complexity.
Arnie Anderson, St. Paul
The writer is executive director of the Minnesota Community Action Partnership.
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I think Cornish’s letter demonstrates some value. It was poorly written, as connotations of race were certainly there. Let me see if I can clean it up a bit.
1) Avoid actions and activities that bring you into the law enforcement side of policing. Avoid associating with peer groups that engage in such actions and activities.
2) Be aware that there are certain times and locations when police view activity with closer scrutiny and heightened anxiety, such as areas with higher rates of crime and late night and/or early-morning darkness hours.
3) Rules 1 and 2 often inappropriately include race and age, which you cannot control at the time. It is a tragic and unfortunate truth that most blacks experience and most Caucasians cannot fully appreciate. It must both be accepted for what it is in the moment, but strongly addressed as a part of social-change process.
4) Be mindful of how your actions might appear to police. If approached, keep your hands visible. (Though it’s been a while since I’ve been pulled over while driving, when stopped I always make a point of keeping my hands on the top of the steering wheel until after the police officer has made contact with me.)
5) Don’t argue when a police officer arrives, but do ask in a neutral tone if there is an issue or problem.
6) Don’t argue, but do ask if the officer has a body camera or dash camera on and recording. Ask to move into camera view if you are not.
7) Don’t argue when an officer arrives or disobey an officer’s request at the time. If you think you are being treated inappropriately, including being profiled, make the complaint later to the precinct office. Ask for and keep a copy of your complaint.
A similar list should be created for the police officer perspective. I’ll leave that to someone else.
I hope this attempt respects reality and offers genuine guidance for lowering the temperature of police/citizen encounters.
Dennis C. Speetzen, Minneapolis
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A brief note to Minnesota law enforcement officers who want to avoid conflict and charges of inappropriate conduct:
1) Don’t be a thug. You are a sworn peace officer. Uphold the law and make peace.
2) Don’t be a bully. Don’t take advantage of your position at work or at home.
3) When you see people out on the street, think about what is wrong in their lives and our community that their best choice is to be on the street at 2 a.m. Offer support.
4) Make reasonable requests of people, always with the goal of de-escalation of tense situations.
5) Don’t take rude remarks personally. It is part of your job, just like it is part of the job of many of us who deal with the public on a regular basis.
6) Don’t use the weaponry at your disposal as an excuse to find a violent solution to every law enforcement problem.
I moved to Minnesota because it seemed like a wonderful place to live, and it truly is. None of my relatives has served time in jail, and we are all college-educated. Wherever you come from and whatever you do, you are entitled to be treated with respect by law enforcement professionals.
Beth-Ann Bloom, Woodbury