Thomas Falloon, one of my paternal great-great-grandfathers, arrived here in Minneapolis from Ireland around the time of the Civil War. His daughter, my great-grandmother Priscilla, was born in Minneapolis in 1866. A maternal great-grandfather, Daniel Carroll, who arrived in the 1880s, was organizing labor unions in Minneapolis at the turn of the 20th century. His son, my grandfather William Carroll, was also a union organizer, and was there in the pitched battle between union men and law enforcement on First Avenue in 1934. I became an assistant public defender here in 1982 and retired in 2010. My two multiracial granddaughters are seventh-generation Minneapolitans.
We’ve been here for a long time. We’ve been progressives for a long time. And right now, as a lifelong Minneapolitan, I’m ashamed for my community.
Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. Philando Castile in Falcon Heights. And now Justine Damond — in Minneapolis, again.
For the record, I want it to be known that I object to being policed this way. As between the Minneapolis Police Department and the civilian authorities in my town, it is the civilians who must be in control, not the police. These days it appears to be the opposite. It is well past time for our mayor and our City Council to assert their authority. They can start by firing our ineffectual police chief. After that, the City Council should take charge of a complete overhaul of the department.
Since the department can’t seem to hire and train anything but Blue Warriors, the council, rather than the department, should set the rules for what qualifies a person to become and remain a Minneapolis police officer. If the council doesn’t feel it has the expertise to micromanage how cops are qualified and trained, it can hire experts from foreign jurisdictions who don’t think of the citizenry as the people of an occupied country. The council should break up the entire command structure of the department, and demote, fire or reassign everyone in management, because these are the people who have stubbornly failed or refused to reform the culture of our paramilitary Police Department despite scandal after scandal.
I make no exception for the innocent, if there are any, because despite their oath to uphold the law, they did not stop the others.
Finally, the council should make it known that it will no longer negotiate labor agreements with the police union (yes, my Carroll ancestors are no doubt rolling in their graves), because for years the union has done everything it could to defend unfit officers and to block reform. If these things lead to expensive litigation by retrograde elements in the department, feel free to increase my taxes to pay for it. It’s time to decide who runs this town — the citizens, or the schoolyard bullies in uniform.
I’d like to think that a thorough overhaul of the Minneapolis Police Department and its policies will not be happening just because this time the victim is a white woman who holds citizenship in a predominantly white first-world country and who was shot in an affluent white neighborhood, rather than a black or American Indian person shot in downtrodden north Minneapolis. I’d also like to think that the police and the city won’t try to solve their PR problem by simply throwing the Somali-American police officer who shot Damond under the nearest bus. But I’m not that naive.
There are more ways for this case to go wrong than I can count. Minneapolis, which prides itself on its liberalism, has in reality led the nation in hypocrisy on the issue of race. I am ashamed of my city, of its arrogant, hypocritical police force, and of its civic leaders who have shrunk from taking on the elephant in the room for fear that they will lose the political endorsements of the all-powerful police union. Included in those civic leaders are the judges and prosecutors of the Hennepin County District Court, who have tortured facts, law and logic to justify almost anything cops chose to do to the people that I spent 28 years bringing before them for justice.
I’ve had enough. Haven’t you?
Richard G. Carlson, of Minneapolis, is a retired assistant Hennepin County public defender.