“I can’t breathe.”
“I’m about to die.”
These were among George Floyd’s last words. His killing was a tragic reminder of the deep, structural racism that has been allowed to prevail within our society. The justice system will determine the officers’ fate, but the work to prevent similar atrocities doesn’t begin or end in the courtroom.
Unfortunately, instead of recognizing the urgency of adopting meaningful police accountability reforms in the recent special session, the Senate’s Republican majority failed to meet us in this moment and as a result Minnesotans must wait even longer for overdue change.
With the world watching to see how we would respond to this crisis, the GOP refused to budge from its handful of proposed half-measures, and instead stuck to its arbitrary self-imposed deadline and walked away. This let down Minnesotans who deserve positive interactions with law enforcement and to be safe in their communities, no exceptions.
We — the members of the Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus — developed a strong series of proposals — through an equity lens and informed by generations of trauma — to increase accountability, prevent violence and rebuild trust within communities.
First, we must reform investigations and prosecutions of officer-involved deaths and other wrongful actions, including changes to use of force laws; create a new crime for unjustified use of force resulting in death or bodily harm, and strengthen the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s independence.
Second, we need to increase accountability for police and expand public transparency by collecting real-time data on deadly-force encounters and establish greater citizen oversight, including public members of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board to use the power of licensing to shape policing based on community building and disrupt patterns of harming African-Americans, other people of color and indigenous peoples.
With the powers and responsibilities police officers have, we must raise standards of conduct to support excellence in the field. De-escalation and mental health crisis intervention training must be expanded, as well as training regarding responses to people with disabilities. “Bullet-Proof Warrior” style training — notably relied upon by Minneapolis officers — must also end, as must the use of deadly chokeholds.
Finally, we have to take concrete steps to repair and build community trust, create community-centered public safety, and work to ensure more officers can live in the communities they serve.
These concepts aren’t new. Unfortunately — much like the recent special session — changes are met with insistence the reforms are unworkable, that law enforcement agencies are implementing adequate reforms and training requirements on their own, or worse yet — like we continue to see from the Minneapolis Police Federation — claims that there is no problem to be solved at all.
For the legitimate public safety missions of law enforcement to succeed, relationships between police and the communities they serve must be strengthened. Changes — both structural and cultural — are desperately needed to restore trust.
Everyone with an election certificate has an obligation to recognize that black, brown, Asian and indigenous people deserve to live with human dignity. This isn’t possible when people live in fear of what their next interaction with law enforcement will look like. Defending status quo systems that have caused trauma for generations, pretending racism doesn’t exist within powerful entities like law enforcement, or other politically expeditious reasons to sidestep our critical duty are unacceptable.
The POCI Caucus and DFLers in the Legislature are committed to reaching an agreement to advance real accountability measures. Keeping in mind our already yearslong efforts, one month removed from George Floyd’s killing we cannot be content with business as usual. It’s time for Republicans to fully grasp the gravity of this situation, recognize the goals we’re seeking to achieve, and join us.
George Floyd should be alive, but he isn’t. Rightfully, the wheels are moving to deliver justice to his loved ones. Now is the time to come together to change the whole system, so that all Minnesotans — black, brown, white, Asian, and indigenous — can be safe from police in their neighborhoods and justice may be served.
Carlos Mariani and Rena Moran, both DFL-St. Paul, are members of the Minnesota House. They submitted this on behalf of the People of Color & Indigenous (POCI) Caucus.