THE STATE OF SOCIETY
Racism feeds violence, and violence feeds racism
How, when, and why did our nation become hopelessly racist (if that is indeed what happened)? Racism was not readily apparent in 2008, as a black candidate for president won decisively. It was not apparent in 2009, when a black president’s black nominee as attorney general was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate. But in 2010, Cesar Chelala wrote an article titled “Is Racism Still Alive in America?” In it, Chelala said, in part, “After the initial high of Obama’s election, there is now a changed atmosphere in the country. Violence is an inescapable companion to racism. And violence, or violent outbursts racially motivated, are certainly on the increase in the U.S.”
Chelala’s words are clearly more appropriate today than they were in 2010. The message couldn’t be more clear than on the front page of the Star Tribune for July 8, where the first headline read, “Snipers ambush Dallas police, killing four.” (By the time this page went to press, the toll had risen to five.) The rest of the page concerned the killing of a black man by local police.
By now, three points should be clear to all. First, for some reason, our system isn’t working. Second, as Chelala told us, the subjects of racism and violence cannot be considered separately, but only together. Racism feeds violence, and violence feeds racism. Third, any solution must begin with our black president. This is not to put the blame at the president’s feet; Chelala’s article goes on to say, “Threats against President Obama have increased by 400% since President George W. Bush left office, the highest numbers on record.” This suggests that more fault may lie with the president’s most militant opponents than with the president. Nevertheless, only he is in a position to formulate the necessary response.
I would suggest that the president direct the Department of Justice to convene an ad hoc congress consisting of invitees from the fields of sociology, education, criminology, law enforcement, churches and social-service groups, special-interest groups (especially the NAACP, Black Lives Matter and affiliated groups), the gun lobby, urban renewal, and others. Each should be invited to speak and even express their anger one time — but only after agreeing to listen respectfully as all others speak. After that, a representative of the Justice Department should act as moderator of a forum on how to end both racism and violence. The end result should be a report to be reviewed by the attorney general then released to the president and the public.
If this proposal is less than perfect, I submit that it is at least more promising than anything that is happening today.
Robert W. Thurston, Plymouth
Again, we are spiraling down a hole of racism supported by the narratives of police brutality and a genocide on people of color. In this crazy age of video access, it is almost impossible to not have a visual recording of these events, and they are chilling. Racism exists. Police brutality exists. And too many black lives are lost.
Yet, these narratives always exist within a binary as if we can only choose one of two sides. Black lives or police. The outrage of the last three days has now been punctuated by the slaughter of Dallas police officers. What do we do? Is it black lives or police lives?
The heartbreaking footage in the aftermath of Philando Castile’s shooting is chilling and surreal. Neither girlfriend (who is not allowed) nor police officer touch the man dying between them. She bravely and respectfully engages the officer in a debate about what happened. He is paralyzed.
Mr. Castile is not the only thing that sits between them. As Gov. Mark Dayton wisely stated, racism does, too. It’s like a virus that seeps in and grabs hold — usually early in life — stubbornly refusing to yield.
I have tried to be a part of undoing my own racism for 30 years, but, while it has shifted, it still exists in me. The biggest difference is that I am more aware of it than I used to be.
I sat outside this morning with the pups, and the landlord of the duplex next door came by. He is a white man and visits infrequently. The tenants are all African-American. He asked if I still had his number. I did. He wanted to know if everything seemed fine in the duplex. I said they were good neighbors, save a rowdy July 4th. He asked a few more questions. I was aware that he saw me as an ally — someone who would call if something untoward was happening. My allegiance was with him, not with the people whom I see on a daily basis. I was acting as his agent. Part of it, undoubtedly, was because I wanted to live in safety. But it was deeper than that. I mentioned the rowdy July 4th, then said, “People need their holidays.” The only thing missing was “those people.” I am not particularly proud of this exchange, but know it and acknowledge it. It reminds me of what still exists inside me.
What if I had been a cop and had stopped Philando Castile? Would race have played a factor in how I treated him? Probably. I would hope that good training would’ve kept me from killing him.
So, back to the binary. I choose to reject it. I believe the following:
• There is racism and it is insidious.
• Police brutality is real.
• There is a genocide happening in this country in regard to black males. Please read “Ghettoside” by Jill Leovy.
• Police officers are poorly supported with training and resources on the part of community, state and federal government.
• The majority of police officers work hard to protect communities and care about what they do.
And, finally, I need to care about black lives and police lives simultaneously — without fear that I am weak and unwilling to take a stand. I am merely rejecting the binary.
Sheila Moriarty, Minneapolis
What is needed to make deadly force less likely
Regarding the killing of Philando Castile and what appears to be a widespread injudicious use of lethal force, why could not police use, as their weapon of first resort, a stun gun, escalating to live ammunition only as weapon of last resort, to be used only in the most extreme circumstance?
Robert Hudnut, Cottage Grove
• • •
I am not going to defend any recent shootings by police officers, because I don’t have facts about those cases, but I do have another fact. I started as a cop in 1966 and retired from law enforcement in 1992. That is 24 years ago. Between 1966 and today, there has not been a single advancement in weaponry for police officers — actually, there hasn’t been any change in weapons for police since John Browning invented the Colt 1911 in the first part of the 20th century. Sure there have been modifications to size, materials, holsters and calibers, but it is basically the same old guns, some single-action, some double-action. Since the invention of the Taser in the 1970, there has been nothing in the line of nonlethal weaponry that works reliably. The Taser is not reliable.
Police officers don’t go out to kill people, regardless of the person’s race or color, but often they are called upon to make split-second decisions to shoot or not shoot. If the cops had a reliable, nonlethal weapon, maybe Castile would be alive — maybe in the hospital, but alive.
When I left law enforcement, I went to work in the private sector for the likes of GE, Control Data and Rockler, and all of them had a product-development department. Why doesn’t the federal government have a product-development department for law enforcement? It is beyond me how we could have made it this far without developing something that stops but doesn’t kill.
I have known officers who have justifiably killed somebody. It ruined their lives, and two of them committed suicide. If you have a tenth of a second to make a decision and all you have to make sure you are going to be alive is a century-old weapon, what are you going to choose? Maybe a phaser from “Star Trek,” but at least the damn government ought to be working on something.
Ken Kjer, Tomahawk, Wis.
• • •
No one is safe until every single person in our communities is safe. And no young person of color can feel safe until we all demand complete accountability from our law enforcement. It is beyond time for action that is swift and widespread. I call on the governor, mayors and police chiefs of all cities and towns of Minnesota to come together with actions to stop these senseless killings. Let’s agree to start with these common-sense measures:
1) All police use of force, fatal or not, needs to be reviewed by transparent, independent review boards outside of the police departments, and recommendations for discipline need to be administered swiftly and fairly.
2) Every police officer needs to undergo training in nonviolent de-escalation tactics, and must not be allowed back on the streets until able to demonstrate competence in these tactics. The officers need to practice, practice, practice until a nonconfrontational response is as reflexive as drawing a gun is now.
Our deep-seated racist culture will not change overnight. But the thousands of people who gathered to protest in St. Paul last week demonstrated a rainbow cross-section of our community, brought together in solidarity. I am inspired by the courage of Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and am overwhelmed by the tender comfort offered to her by her 4-year-old daughter in the wake of tragedy. As a tribute to them and for all of our children, let’s do this. Now.
Joan Kreider, St. Paul
• • •
I believe that any police officer who kills someone should no longer be allowed to work in law enforcement. It shouldn’t matter if the killing was justified, self-defense or accidental. When a police officer kills, his service should be over.
Chuck Mann, Greensboro, N.C.
• • •
Simple solution to the problem of police shootings: Relieve all street police of their guns. They can carry batons, pepper spray and Tasers — all nonlethal weapons. The SWAT teams and detectives may carry firearms. The rule of meeting lethal threat with lethal force has not been followed by street police; e.g., shooting in the back or unarmed persons. Take their guns away, because they do not follow or understand the dictum of lethal force against lethal threat.
Bill Schmid, Minneapolis
• • •
This mentality of “us vs. them” that seems so pervasive among police departments across the country has to end. Only through “true community policing” can this be accomplished.
True community policing means being part of the community that you serve. This means knowing the people you serve — their struggles, their hopes and their ambitions — displaying empathy, and knowing that we are really not that different from one another. In this way, the vast majority of people will not be hesitant to speak up about the individuals who are causing so much pain and anguish through gun violence, drug trafficking and other activities that diminish the character of our communities.
Kevin J. Shannon, Minneapolis
• • •
Since the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson almost two years ago, protests against police brutality in the U.S. have become commonplace. Every time a police shooting of an unarmed black man occurs, cities across this nation lie in fear of the fiery riots that happened in Ferguson and Baltimore.
I am a law enforcement veteran who has been a police chief and who worked on the President’s 21st Century Task Force, and I can tell you that policing is not an easy job. Many times we are forced to make split-second decisions that have lifelong ramifications. Despite this, there are things that can be done to decrease what appears to be an increasing number of aggressive police shooting incidents.
While I am a proponent of body cameras, not every department can afford them. However, all urban departments can do a better job of recruiting and hiring community-reflective personnel. Regarding training, psychological and bias testing has to be the core for all new recruits. It should be an annual review for veterans. In addition, de-escalation strategies and tactical maturity should be regularly updated.
The oath that police officers take is to protect and serve. With the community’s help, our streets can be safer and misjudged benign scenarios will end.
Jeffrey Blackwell, St. Louis
THE ROLE OF GUNS
Their presence is the common denominator
The common element to the excruciating events of the past few days (two innocent black men killed— in Minnesota and Louisiana — and five police officers killed in Dallas) is not hatred, not lack of training, not even racism. The common element of these as well as so many recent horrific events in our country is guns. If I had a time machine, I would bring back the authors of the Second Amendment and have them look at America today — the 300 million guns, the assault rifles, the conceal-and-carry statutes, and ask them: “Is this what you intended?”
This is, of course, a rhetorical question — because if these men were half as wise as they are credited for, their response would have been clear and unambiguous. They would say: “Are you people crazy? How can you possibly have the people of this great country achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, amidst all these damn guns? America, do something! Get these guns off your streets. We deeply apologize for the confusion created by the Second Amendment. Its misinterpretation has wrought terrible death and destruction in our country.”
Victor M. Sandler, Plymouth
• • •
I completed my gun permit class in January. We were told: “If you are carrying and are involved in a traffic stop, let the officer know: “I have a permit to carry and I have a pistol on me.” The instructor said the officer will usually say: “OK, thanks for letting me know,” then ask to see your license — or whatever.
I would like to know what kind of training police officers are getting for when they stop a person who is legally carrying a pistol. I don’t know all the facts — but there seems to be a big disconnect between the training and the response to someone legally carrying. It seems that Philando Castile did exactly what we were told to do in class. This was to prevent the officer’s accidently discovering the pistol and not knowing the situation he was dealing with.
Law-enforcement officers need to be trained to know:
1) That they are going to stop people who could be legally carrying a firearm. These citizens will probably let you know they are carrying. These are some of the people you least need to worry about. They have gone through a very thorough background check to get their permit.
2) That Minnesota law allows permit holders to carry guns. We need to make sure training for officers is standardized statewide.
Ron Gesinger, Hutchinson, Minn.
THE ROLE OF RACE
Don’t deny it: Trust has not been earned
In 1991, I was in a play at the Illusion Theatre in Minneapolis called “Miss Evers’ Boys.” I was the only white person in the cast. One night we were in the dressing room talking about a shooting that had taken place in north Minneapolis — a cop had shot a black kid. I said that when I was growing up, I had been taught that if ever I was in trouble, I should find a policeman. The guys all looked at each other and shook their heads, and when I asked why, they said they had been taught the exact opposite: that if ever you were in trouble, go to anyone but a policeman.
I was stunned. I was 35 and up to that point had no idea how different things were for black men. And now, 25 years later, nothing’s changed. It was bad then and bad before then and still bad now. I don’t think it’s gotten worse; I think it’s always been like this and it’s just being recorded and reported more.
There is a huge and undeniable gulf between the cops and people of color. I have a 14-year-old nephew who is Guatemalan by birth and very dark-skinned. He lives in Edina, and I recently talked with him about how to behave when someday he gets pulled over by the police for no apparent reason, because it’s going to happen and I’m terrified that some nervous suburban cop is going to hurt him.
I don’t have an answer, but I believe two things. One, the attitudes on the police force need to change. Yes, it’s a hard, dangerous job, which is why we need intelligent, well-trained and probably young men and women in that profession — a new generation of cops who will step up and say, “We’re here for everybody. If you’re in trouble, come find me.” And two, the white community needs to stop making excuses and say, “Yes, this is real, we see it, and it absolutely has to stop.”
Peter Moore, Minneapolis
THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP
To speak out or not to speak out, and when
Shame on Gov. Mark Dayton for the public comments he made following the tragic shooting death of Philando Castile by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. When political officials like Dayton (and I would include President Obama in this as well) shoot off their big mouths and come to conclusions prior to having all the facts regarding tragedies like this, it only causes more divisiveness in our communities and country. Every day, our men and women in blue leave for work wondering if they’ll make it home safely after their shifts. In their efforts to “serve and protect,” they’re afraid that every move they make will be publicly scrutinized, which not only puts their lives at risk, but also the lives of people in our communities. Now we are dealing with the horrendous tragedy and aftermath that took place in Dallas on Thursday evening.
I currently have four family members who are police officers, in addition to my son, who recently graduated with a degree in criminal justice and is attending a law enforcement skills training program. I fear for their safety every day, along with that of all our men and women in uniform. So, Gov. Dayton and all you other officials who like to draw conclusions before having all the facts, do us all a favor and keep your mouths shut. Let those in our justice system do their jobs and come to a final conclusion based on evidence and facts. God bless all our men and women in uniform. I appreciate what you do and salute each and every one of you.
Laurie Thompson, Andover
• • •
I saw the footage of the events following Philando Castile’s death. I am deeply saddened and appalled by what I saw. How is it that the police can kill a seemingly cooperative man for a dubious traffic violation?
A) Is it racist policing?
B) Is it a police training issue?
C) Is it that there are too many protections for police’ bad behavior?
D) Is it bad law the police are enforcing?
E) Is it “all of the above”?
I perceive it now as “all of the above,” and we are all complicit by our lengthy indifference.
I thought that back in the 1960s and ’70s the civil-rights ball was rolling in the right direction. I thought that it would keep rolling on its own inertia after the push from the earlier civil-rights days.
I was wrong. I see now that it requires constant pushing, constant attention, lest it roll backward.
Winston Churchill once said the quality of a person he admires most is the ability to take action, for without action nothing changes, and all is idle talk.
Please be a man of action.
This is an infrastructure issue like none you’ve ever dealt with.
Please help us all make this right, and help us all to keep pushing.
Tim Kleinpaste, Minneapolis