Republican Rep. Tony Cornish of Vernon Center faced backlash Wednesday over commentary where he offered advice on "how to reduce the use of force by police."
Cornish, chairman of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, laid out his advice in a letter to the editor published Wednesday by the Star Tribune.
Among the advice offered was: "Don’t be a thug and lead a life of crime so that you come into frequent contact with police." In another bullet point, he wrote "Don’t flap your jaws when the police arrive. Don’t disobey the requests of the police at the time. If you think you are wrongfully treated, make the complaint later."
He ended his letter by saying: "Here endeth the lesson. No charge."
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, decried the letter, saying its use of the word "thug" was a coded reference to black men.
"I'm disgusted that one of our state legislators would feel comfortable writing a racially-charged op-ed that reinforces negative stereotypes about African-Americans," she said.
In an interview, Cornish stood by his letter saying he was speaking out for "cops [who] haven't had any voice." He blamed political pressure for unspecified instances where he said cops have faced discipline for alleged misconduct.
He also singled out Levy-Pounds as the reason he was motivated to write the letter. He criticized her reaction to the Department of Justice's recent decision to not pursue a civil rights prosecution in the 2015 fatal shooting by police of Jamar Clark. Cornish said that Levy-Pounds was trying "just to get more sound bites."
Levy-Pounds said Cornish "needs to understand, I will continue advocating for justice," adding that "the real reason [he singled me out] is what's in his heart. It has zero to do with me."
Joseph Chase Elliot, a 28-year-old organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a Minneapolis nonprofit, said Cornish's comments do not reflect the reality of many black residents in Minneapolis.
"A lot of people do exactly what police say," Elliott said. "They tell you to do certain things. People do it and still get harassed."
Elliott, who said he received a legal settlement in 2012 after a police misconduct complaint, added that Cornish's advice to not "hang out on the street after 2 a.m." ignores that some workers work late shifts.
The letter by Cornish, a former game warden, comes at a time when Minnesota law enforcement agencies are working to foster trust and improve relations between police officers and communities of color. The recent shooting of Clark, 24, in north Minneapolis last year led to months of protest and unrest.
The shooting highlighted the deep divides in racial views toward law enforcement, divisions that fall along racial lines, according to a January Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Six in 10 black Minnesotans believe police are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than someone who is white, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. Among white Minnesotans, 28 percent felt that police were more likely to use deadly force against blacks.