Minnesota’s largest law enforcement trade organization picked a public fight with Gov. Tim Walz on Friday over a book read to fourth-graders at an elementary school in Burnsville.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), which represents 10,500 active law enforcement officers, claims that the book demonizes police officers already coping with heightened crime and stressful public relations.
Brian Peters, executive director of the MPOAA, said the book is the latest instance of Walz not supporting of law enforcement. The group’s letter, posted on social media, asks the state Health and Education departments to stop recommending the book, “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice.”
Peters wrote that he also wants to have a conversation about how the book came to be suggested to schools. “You’re programming people at a young age to fear police,” he said. “How can this not be concerning?”
The widely praised book, published in April 2018, is a New York Times bestseller and #1 Indiebound title. Recommended for children ages 4-8, the New York Times recently said the book could help explain racism to children.
The book features conversations among multiple families about a white police officer shooting a Black man who didn’t have a gun. Different family members offer different perspectives. One family member says the shooting was a mistake. Another responds that the shooting was “a mistake that was part of a pattern.” One character refers to cops “sticking up for each other.”
The discussions also touch on slavery and handling anger. The book ends when two children befriend a new kid at school named Omad.
Asked to respond to the letter, the two state departments issued a joint statement, saying the book won multiple awards and was authored by psychologists “seeking to help children process a difficult set of issues.”
Some of the characters’ statements will resonate and some may be challenging, especially when taken out of context, the statement said. “For example, in the same section of dialogue cited as a concern by MPPOA there is a statement that ‘there are many cops, Black and white, who make good choices,’ ” the statement said.
But Peters said the book, “encourages children to fear police officers as unfair, violent, and racist.” He questioned whether the book would make children afraid to seek out police when they need help.
“Our members deserve better from the state than to see their profession demonized,” Peters wrote to Walz.
In a statement late Friday, Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann didn’t respond to detailed complaints but said the governor’s top priority is the “health and safety of Minnesotans.”
Walz “works closely with a variety of law enforcement agencies every day to ensure public safety, and he’s determined to have MPPOA’s voice at the table for conversations on police accountability and reform,” Tschann wrote.
Three GOP House members got on board, issuing a similarly critical statement.
“There are important conversations to be had about race, equity, and how we can make sure every Minnesotan feels protected and respected by law enforcement, but telling children that cops ‘don’t like Black men’ and using children’s educational material to drive hateful narratives about law enforcement is outrageous and unacceptable,” Reps. Ron Kresha, of Little Falls, Sondra Erickson, of Princeton, and Brian Johnson, of Cambridge, wrote.
Peters said the book is the latest example of how Walz is fueling division between law enforcement and the public. On Oct. 23, the group sent another public letter to Walz asking him to refrain from commenting on pending litigation. The day before, after a Hennepin County judge left charges intact against four former Minneapolis police officers involved in the May 25 killing of George Floyd, Walz tweeted that it was an “Important step toward justice for” Floyd.