George Floyd’s tragic death happened here in Minnesota. And now, the Land of 10,000 Lakes could help ensure that such killings never happen again.
In our nation’s capital, both parties agree on the need for policing reforms. But they’re butting heads on the specifics. Talks have broken down. It’s up to our own senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, to revive them.
As a former Hennepin County prosecutor, Klobuchar has worked extensively with law enforcement. She knows that those blue ranks include many dedicated public servants. But she also knows systemic racism is real. As one of the most popular senators in the country, she’s better qualified to break the deadlock than nearly any other lawmaker.
In June, House Democrats and Senate Republicans introduced separate police reform bills. The GOP measure didn’t go far enough for Democrats, who voted against bringing the legislation to the Senate floor for a full debate.
Democrats’ objections were valid. They want ambitious reforms, and the Republican bill doesn’t go far enough.
But shutting down debate was counterproductive. There are plenty of significant reforms that both parties agree on. It makes more sense to keep the conversation going and push for additional concessions, rather than table the issue until next year.
Most members of Congress agree that our police system needs more transparency. To that end, they could require that law enforcement agencies maintain detailed records of police misconduct and report findings to federal authorities. Reports would include demographic data to support meaningful investigations into systemic racism and other biases.
Reform could also give civilians a role in holding police accountable. Activists and community leaders like me want help create a bridge between communities of color and law enforcement. Sen. Klobuchar and other federal lawmakers could facilitate that collaboration by creating stronger community partnerships with civil rights groups, religious leaders, social workers and mental health professionals to help police do their jobs — and prevent abusive conduct.
Both parties might also support a public registry for police misconduct so that bad actors like Derek Chauvin can be identified and dismissed before they hurt civilians like George Floyd. Chauvin had at least 17 complaints filed against him, far more than typical for an officer with his length of employment. He received at least one letter of reprimand.
The Minneapolis Police Department’s internal affairs section investigated most of these complaints. How thoroughly it investigated is another question. Internal affairs sections are notoriously opaque in their operations, and critics have suggested that they often downplay police misconduct.
Likewise, police unions are highly protective of their members. An Oxford University study of the 100 largest U.S. cities found that increased protections for police officers in union contracts were correlated with more police violence and other abuse.
Congress has leverage to demand real reforms. Numerous federal programs fund or otherwise assist state and local law enforcement. In 2019, the Department of Justice alone provided Minnesota $80 million in support for “public safety.”
The trade-off is simple: If state and local police departments want to continue to receive federal funds, they must comply with new federal standards.
Some people say it would be best to wait until after the election, when Democrats may well have more clout in the U.S. Senate. That’s fallacious reasoning.
While it would be wonderful to get an instantaneous, radical overhaul of police culture and law enforcement operations, that simply isn’t possible in the current political climate. But it is possible to make real, lasting change to begin to erase systematic racism in policing, reduce police misconduct and end abusive policing tactics.
If Democrats win the presidency and Senate, they can easily pass all the measures they want. But there’s no guarantee that they’ll succeed this November. It’d be far smarter to pass bipartisan reforms now, while continue pushing for even bigger changes next year.
For now, any victory is a step in the right direction. Working across party lines to achieve immediate common-sense policing reforms like banning chokeholds, adding a duty to intervene, investing in de-escalation training and mental health programs would result in less police brutality and fewer Black Americans killed by law enforcement.
It would also mean George Floyd did not die in vain.
Sen. Klobuchar can help achieve justice for George Floyd and so many others — by insisting the Senate take up legislation without delay.
Todd Gramenz is the founder of Black Lives Matter St. Paul and previously served on the board of the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council.