No city in America has seen a more destabilizing past 12 months than Minneapolis since the murder of George Floyd. Amid these uneasy times, two things have become quite obvious.
Foremost, police reform is desperately needed. Second, when certain issues capture the public's attention — as policing has — there will always be those who take things too far, calling for changes that are unrealistic and often harmful. Such extreme demands are rarely supported by evidence, or even common sense, so they are pushed through coercive language and aggressive actions.
This is exactly what has happened at the University of Minnesota over the past year. The student government (Minnesota Student Association, or MSA), which is overwhelmingly progressive, has attempted to pressure the school's administration into implementing radical policies. Two examples of their demands from this year are:
1) "Demilitarizing" the U Police Department (UMPD). This is proposed despite the fact that in just the last month, the U area saw 13 aggravated assaults, 52 burglaries, 22 car thefts and four sexual assaults, and a murder in the heart of Dinkytown.
2) No-excuse-required extensions on assignments for Black and Muslim students, along with those who protested in favored causes.
While the proposed policies are bad, the rhetoric employed in furthering them is even worse. In a schoolwide e-mail sent out on April 25, the student governing body referred to the police-involved death of Ma'Khia Bryant in Ohio as a "murder," despite the fact that Bryant was in the process of trying to harm another woman when she was shot, as was clear from the bodycam footage.
Yet this is not surprising given the history of irresponsible rhetoric used by MSA members. Just a few weeks ago, a member of the MSA called for impeding law enforcement by "using up their resources" (i.e., creating fake crime calls), adding that the intent was to "make [cops'] lives hell."
A history of false and incendiary statements should preclude the MSA from having much sway with U President Joan Gabel — who is tasked with overseeing an institution that values evidence, facts and reason. But President Gabel has succumbed to the pressure of the MSA.
Following the death of George Floyd, for example, Gabel made the misguided, politically convenient decision to limit engagement with the Minneapolis Police Department. Her decision came just one day after the student body president demanded that she take this action. Beyond jeopardizing student safety, her move granted legitimacy to individuals who were not proposing good-faith solutions.
Additionally, following the police-involved death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center last month, Gabel sent out an e-mail to the entire student body in which she claimed, "Black members of our community face circumstances that put their lives at risk every day." This hyperbolic statement is irresponsible. Tragic incidents such as these are extremely rare. In 2019, for example, according to a Washington Post database, 12 unarmed Black men were shot and killed by law enforcement in America, out of 2.7 million arrests of Black individuals. Twelve such deaths are too many, no doubt, but far from an "everyday" occurrence.
There is no excuse for the leader of our university to make such reckless statements, which unnecessarily increase fear and deepen the current divide between law enforcement and the public at large.
The irony is that Gabel, no matter how hard she tries, will never satisfy the demands of the most radical on campus. Students have recently protested on her lawn, bringing souvenirs with them — fliers that feature Gabel's image controlling rabid-looking pigs dressed as police with the caption: "Joan Gabel and her Piglets."
Their goal? Force Gabel to obtain the resignation of U Police Chief Matt Clark.
Gabel and other Minnesota political and cultural leaders need to stop caving to unreasonable demands from emotional individuals who are unswayed by facts. Attempting to appease the loudest to the detriment of the community only emboldens the irrational and silences those looking to have productive conversation.
To be clear, none of this is to say that America has wiped its hands clean of racial problems or that police forces are not in need of reform. Problems need to be addressed. To do so effectively, our community leaders need to commit to gathering facts rather than employing incendiary language. Statements that paint a picture of a violent, racist dystopia do a disservice to truth and raise the already unbearable political temperature.
All of us — students at the U and citizens of this state — need to demand better of our leaders. Enough of the dogma. Enough of the rhetoric. Enough kowtowing to those who yell the loudest. It's time to find real solutions, and only honest conversation, absent of muddying language, will help us find answers together.
Benjamin Ayanian is a junior at the University of Minnesota.