As an attorney long-experienced in dealing with federal civil rights claims, I write to clarify assertions made by the April 25 front-page article "For Brooklyn Center, suit could be crushing."
Quite to the contrary of the theme of the piece, the likelihood that any Minnesota municipality could be "crushed" by a lawsuit is nearly zero. And, of course, no city would volunteer to settle a lawsuit that would put it in bankruptcy.
Instead, the real problem with police officer lawsuits and municipal liability in civil rights actions is quite different from the problem posed by the article.
As a result of a variety of arcane rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, municipalities can now almost choose when to avoid liability — while exposing individual officers to liability that may send them to bankruptcy and that also strips plaintiffs of any real prospect of recovery.
This is especially true where officers have been fired or accused of crimes.
And while cities may be directly sued, they are actually unlikely to ever face a real risk of large judgments entered against them directly. Such direct civil rights actions only happen if the city itself has a policy or custom that caused the violation of constitutional rights.
Indeed, the Supreme Court has made it clear that cities (unlike other employers) are not automatically liable for the civil rights violations of their own officers. That liability only can occur under state law — and Minnesota "caps" or limits that liability by statute.
Therefore, the possibility of a smaller city like Brooklyn Center facing insolvency is just not a calculus worth considering.
Albert Turner Goins, White Bear Lake
SCHOOLS AND SECURITY
Support liaisons, resource officers — can't we have the both?
While the idea of reimagining safety in our schools is good ("A new tone in school halls," April 25), simply replacing police officers with support liaisons who are not equipped for serious situations like a student with a gun and an agenda is not.
There have been almost 100 school shootings since the shootings at Columbine in April 1999. Without police presence, what happens if another Columbine situation arises? There will no longer be police presence in the hallways ready to take immediate action in places they know like the back of their hand. Instead, school officials will call for police who are not familiar with the school layout and who will need time to arrive.
Why can't we have both school support liaisons and police presence? Squad cars are a good deterrent for those thinking schools are an easy target for a shooting.
Education and all resources necessary to provide it should be the priority. Getting rid of police officers to hire more support liaisons shouldn't be the big win. We need to change the narrative in our schools, but we need to keep our children safe in the process.
Shirley Barone, Oakdale
The writer is a student.
'THE WORDS UNSPOKEN'
Meet people where they're at
I read Tiffany Johnson's April 18 essay ("The white family at Lake Minnetonka and the words unspoken") with interest and empathy. I'm a white suburban great-grandmother blessed with 20 biracial grandkids, infant to adult.
It may be easier for someone like me, as I often do, to greet and interact with strangers of color than some of my peers. My efforts are usually met with friendliness, sometimes surprise, and occasionally dismay or discomfort.
Like all of us on some days, some people of color may want to be left alone to complete their errands, to enjoy some alone time, to be respected and not to be approached.
Please recognize that when you as a white person want to reach out, you might not get the results you want. Meet all people where they are.
Sheila M. Miller, Wayzata
• • •
The essay about the words unspoken brought forth a memory. My wife and I were visiting a friend of hers in the Bahamas. We were excited to witness a colorful Mardi Gras-style parade in the wee hours of the night called a Junkanoo. The crowds lined the streets, and we watched an amazing parade of musicians, floats and costumes. We are white, and the majority of the crowd was Black. I don't consider myself racist and felt I had been raised with the values of inclusiveness. Yet I was having feelings of fear and apprehension in the crowd, and I was asking myself why.
Why should I fear Black people? We were all there to have a good time, not to hurt one another. And then it hit me suddenly: Is this is how Black people (or perhaps any other minority) might feel in a sea of white people back home in the United States? I had, perhaps, just a small inkling of what happens in the mind of someone who is not like the others. I also had a self-realization of how I had been somehow trained by society to fear, without reason, those who were different. I had done a mental backflip, then relaxed, and enjoyed the parade with a new outlook and a little more self-awareness.
The whole experience reminds me of that old joke about the two fish swimming along. One asks the other: "How's the water?" And the other fish says: "What the hell is water?" We are often unaware of the societal "water" we swim in.
Rolfe McAfee, Monticello
Name the laggards
It was disappointing to read that eight counties in Minnesota still have first-vaccination rates below 40% ("Hesitancy could stall state herd immunity," front page, April 25). But it was even more disappointing that the Star Tribune did not actually print the names of all those counties. Many of your readers want to avoid areas where risk levels are still high. We would prefer to do our shopping and socializing in areas where vaccination rates are making it safer to open up again. Please give us the whole story.
Julie Quinn, Le Center, Minn.
Don't limit with stereotypes
I enjoyed reading Patrick Reusse's April 25 column about how Steph Curry's shooting changed the NBA game. To get additional perspective, Patrick consulted former Gopher shooting great Blake Hoffarber for his take on Steph's game and impact.
The column was a fun read, until I got to the closing three paragraphs, where Patrick introduced Blake's wife, Jordan, a former Wisconsin dance team member, and two young daughters, Tate and Wren. "Less basketball, many dance recitals in your future, young dad," an unnamed reporter was quoted as saying to Blake. The article closes with Patrick saying that Blake conceded this point.
While dance is a wonderful sport, I found the suggestion that daughters would automatically align their future athletic endeavors with their same-gendered parent to be sad, closed-minded, tired and lazy. It doesn't matter what the sport is, or which parent played it — the assumption that the girls wouldn't pursue basketball vs. dance was bewildering. I feel pretty confident that if the couple had sons, the reporter's comment would have been centered on creating future basketball players and great shooters.
As a middle-aged woman whose father played sports competitively, and whose mother didn't have the opportunity, I'm grateful that I was allowed to pursue sports of all kinds (including dance) as a young girl, and ultimately focused on playing ball sports competitively as I grew. Under this reporter's line of reasoning, I would likely not be encouraged to pursue sports but other endeavors my mother had focused on.
Can we please think a little more broadly about sports participation and not rely on tiresome gender tropes? There are many women athletes who can thank their fathers and mothers for guiding them to become athletes that suit their talents vs. aligning with the activity of their same-gendered parent. I'm guessing we have thousands of them right here in this state.