Our city, and our nation, are at a crossroads.
For years, we have marched, protested and advocated to end police brutality. In 2015, a 24-year-old black man, Jamar Clark, was shot in the head and died after a confrontation with two white Minneapolis police officers responding to a reported assault. In 2016, Philando Castile, a 29-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a police officer in a Twin Cities suburb while Castile’s partner and her 4-year-old daughter looked on.
But this moment feels different. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, people across the country and around the globe are standing in solidarity with the protesters in Minneapolis. The message and movement of “Black Lives Matter” has at long last gained the acceptance they long deserved.
Will we have the moral courage to pursue justice and secure meaningful change or will we maintain the status quo?
For too long, people who live and work in Minneapolis — particularly black and other marginalized communities — have faced violence at the hands of police. Despite attempts at accountability and reform, the department continues to fail the city — as was laid bare with George Floyd’s murder and the department’s actions since his killing.
What’s more, the Police Department in Minneapolis doesn’t succeed at its core functions — solving the most serious crimes and caring for victims. In Minneapolis, half of all homicides are left unsolved. The department is notorious for their lack of concern for victims of rape, as rapes go unsolved and rape kits are quite literally destroyed.
We have a rare opportunity to reimagine a public safety system that prioritizes everyone in the community. A new system will allow officers to do the work that is needed — and employ the skills needed — to solve our most serious crimes and address the most dangerous situations that our communities can face, while allowing the city to prioritize community investment. Most problems arising from substance use disorders, mental health diagnoses and poverty require medical professionals and social workers — not criminal enforcement or armed officers. Investing more in health care, education and housing is public safety.
We know this can work. Cities like Camden, N.J., have disbanded their police departments and as a collective they built a system that made all of them safe. It worked. Six years after the department was disbanded, homicides were down 63% in Camden and crime is at its lowest level in decades. This is one of many examples that can be used as inspiration for our city. Ultimately, what we decide to do in Minneapolis is for our community to decide.
But true systems change cannot be done locally alone. It will require the full effort of the federal government. We must start by acknowledging the problem. I, along with U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Barbara Lee and Congressional Black Caucus Leader Karen Bass have introduced a House resolution recognizing that the systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color has deep historical roots. Thanks to the advocacy of people across the country, we already have the majority of our caucus’s support and hope to see it go to the floor in the coming weeks.
Not only was I proud to cosponsor and co-lead a bill in last week’s package led by the Congressional Black Caucus, but I announced a package of four forthcoming bills to address the grave inequities plaguing our country.
First, we are working to establish an independent federal agency with the authority to investigate all nationwide incidents of deaths occurring in police custody, officer-involved shootings and uses of force that result in severe bodily injury. This agency will be responsible for conducting unbiased, independent investigations and issuing determinations of responsibility and recommendations on adjudication in each case.
Second, we have watched as police have used excessive force against nonviolent protesters, indiscriminately deploying pepper spray, tear gas, batons and rubber bullets. The bill I put forward will allow any officer who kills or causes bodily harm to a civilian during the response to a protest to be charged with a federal crime. We must ensure that the constitutional right to protest is duly protected, not threatened or stifled.
Next, instead of leading our country with integrity and decency in this tumultuous time, the president has threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy active military members to intervene in protests. Along with Reps. Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal and Veronica Escobar, I introduced legislation that amends the Insurrection Act, curtailing the president’s ability to deploy the military domestically without congressional consent and prevents domestic agencies from conducting surveillance on protesters.
Last, Minneapolis’s economy has been ravaged. We have a moral responsibility to help our communities heal economically. I am working with the Minnesota delegation to create an Emergency Relief Fund specifically for communities trying to rebuild after social and civil rights crises — and ensure that those funds go to Minneapolis. It is imperative we lift up our community rather than continue the cycle of neglect or gentrification of these vibrant neighborhoods.
These are just the first steps. The people of Minneapolis and the whole country are loudly demanding justice. Let us not allow our calls for justice continue to echo unanswered. This is our chance to dismantle the systems of oppression that exist in our society and build a just world.
Ilhan Omar represents Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House.