As the next Hennepin County attorney, I have two major priorities: to rebuild trust and to restore effectiveness in the office. Yes, the plan is that simple. I am not a politician, and I had never imagined running for political office after more than 20 years as a prosecutor, deputy city attorney and district judge. Then, in 2020, the world changed.
First, George Floyd was murdered. That nine-minute video affected me deeply. I was depressed. I had a familiar feeling after 60 years in this country as a Black person: Things still haven't gotten better for us. My colleagues and I tried to put out a statement, but we were prohibited from doing so as judges.
Then the Minneapolis City Council pledged to "defund and dismantle" the police. I lived in north Minneapolis in the early 1990s. I know what it's like being neglected by public servants — including police. We are left to solve our problems on our own. It is not the utopia that these young activists envisioned when they attempted to stand in solidarity with my community at Powderhorn Park. But as a judge, I had to be careful, so I held my tongue publicly for the next year.
One weekend the following summer, four people were shot within a mile of my house, one of them was a young child. There were no protesters, no TV coverage, just an article on an inside page of the newspaper. Around that time, I decided it was time to get off the sidelines and run for Hennepin County attorney.
I am new to politics, but I thought politicians were supposed to be accountable to the voices of regular people in the community. Even in the midst of a record violent crime surge, not a single state legislator in Minneapolis came out against the failed ballot question that grew out of the Minneapolis City Council's pledge to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. This charter amendment, supposedly advanced on my behalf as a Black person, lost 64-36 in my neighborhood and 2-0 in my household. Our politicians, once again, listened to a few loud voices over the majority. They are out of touch with reality.
When we had fully staffed police departments and a low rate of crime, Hennepin County voters were pushing for the county attorney to prioritize criminal justice reform over all other goals. And I was, too. But the real-life circumstances have changed.
In 2009, we had seven homicides in north Minneapolis. Last year, there were 46.
Unbeknown to many outside the criminal justice system, Minnesota — and especially Hennepin County — already takes one of the most progressive approaches to prosecution anywhere in the country. We have the fourth-lowest incarceration rate in the country.
I believe that our more lenient approach to prosecution is good as long as we fulfill our core responsibilities as prosecutors and law enforcement. Over the last two years, we have not. Car thieves know they will be released on the same day without bail; juvenile carjackers have nowhere to be placed for short-term detention or treatment, and dozens of homicides in Minneapolis from 2021 remain unsolved. And our leaders stood on a stage and told the world that we would end policing in Minneapolis. Since the murder of George Floyd, many criminals have heard the message that we don't care about their actions, and they have acted accordingly.
My first priority right now is to restore the effectiveness of the office by emphasizing our core responsibility: swift, effective and fair prosecution. And we need to send a clear message that we care about crime and that we will prosecute. We should also give people who make mistakes second chances, bolster alternatives to incarceration and continue the fight for reform.
My second priority is rebuilding trust in the office. We need to rebuild trust with everyone: law enforcement, public defenders and, most important, community members. You cannot accomplish your mission without the support of your partners.
While other candidates talk about this work, I've actually done it. We brought crime down from "Murderapolis" highs in the late 1990s to record lows in the early 2000s by getting the police and the prosecutors into the community. We might not have made the headlines, but our work was extremely successful in terms of both building trust and effectively lowering the rate of crime. I'm confident that we can do it again if the next Hennepin County attorney holds the effectiveness of the office above their own political agenda. This is an important job. Let's take it seriously.
Martha Holton Dimick is a former assistant Hennepin County attorney, former deputy Minneapolis city attorney and former Fourth District judge. She is one of seven candidates in the nonpartisan race for Hennepin County attorney. The top two finishers in the Aug. 9 primary will move on to the general election in November.