I worked in county government for more than four decades. During that time, I had many occasions to interact with Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner (“Baker is reappointed as Hennepin County’s chief medical examiner,” June 12).
Dr. Baker is one of the most professional, capable and honest individuals I have ever met. Commissioner Angela Conley’s vote to not reappoint Dr. Baker was entirely inappropriate. An autopsy is about science and facts, and the facts are that George Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died. Conley was also wrong to assert that “Baker’s report gave the very reason not to trust these processes that haven’t brought justice in the past.”
When autopsy reports stop including all of the scientific data and facts, that is when people should stop trusting the process. Hennepin County is fortunate to have Dr. Baker as its medical examiner.
Gary Shelton, Prior Lake
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I’m disappointed by the Hennepin County Board’s rushed 5-2 vote to reappoint Baker with virtually no debate in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Not because we have any reason to doubt his character or to suspect him of intentionally misleading anyone — to my knowledge, we don’t. But because this is the exact moment we should be pausing to re-examine “business as usual” at every opportunity.
Minneapolitans are learning that many of our systems are more fundamentally broken than we realized. Floyd’s death and its aftermath are highlighting structural failures that go way beyond the actions of four police officers.
Arguably, Dr. Baker’s report on Floyd was misused/manipulated by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, by some media outlets and by many Americans eager for excuses to “blame the victim.” I’m grateful that Conley sought exploration of this and that Commissioner Irene Fernando also voted no. Has there been a better time to question the way roles surrounding law enforcement are traditionally performed? Why insist on barreling ahead with little public input?
Neither commissioner implied that Dr. Baker is a bad guy who did anything substantively different than what medical examiners always do. But this reappointment offered an occasion to stop and explore how we keep mechanically, if inadvertently, replicating the same deadly outcomes over and over.
It’s striking that the only commissioners calling for that discussion are the only two people of color on the board, who represent historically unheard communities. To many of us, this is a textbook example of systemic white supremacy in government institutions, regardless of the intentions of individuals in office.
The lives and perspectives of black Minnesotans must matter more than ensuring one white person’s uninterrupted career trajectory.
Susan Maas, Minneapolis
Clean water trumps Bakk’s politics
I was appalled to read that state Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and other Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board members have blocked funding for a treatment plant for safe drinking water for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (“Water project snared in mining politics,” June 12). Staff at the IRRRB evaluated the funding request and highly recommended it.
Bakk doesn’t want to approve the funds for the Fond du Lac band because its members have made truthful observations about the environmental degradation caused by mining.
How much state tax money is going to the IRRRB? I hope the commissioner (appointed by Gov. Tim Walz) will see reason and overrule the board’s outrageous recommendation.
Eva Young, Minneapolis
Take a lesson on unions from us
As a lifelong licensed nurse and someone who recognizes a nurse’s power over a patient’s life and well-being, I cannot understand the inability to legislate standards for peace officer practice that circumvents powerful police unions. While I fully support nursing unions and their bargaining power to improve the lot of practicing nurses, I fully support the loss of an individual’s nursing license due to a violation of practice, substance abuse or misconduct.
Policing authorities should be subject to defined legal standards for reporting peace officer misconduct. Suspected misconduct should result in suspension. Confirmed misconduct should result in loss of license. And, the licensing authority should define conditions under which an officer, who has committed an error in judgment, may be returned to duty under monitored reinstatement. Required education, by accredited entities tasked with teaching best policing practices, should be a requirement for license renewal.
It is the constitutional responsibility of our lawmakers that any license conferred under the state’s authority should provide the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of its citizens. Standards for achieving this goal is required by my profession and should be required by any in whom the public well-being is likewise entrusted.
Patricia Arneson, St. Paul
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One of the easier changes the Minnesota Legislature can make to help officers remember that they, too, must obey the law is licensing. As in car license — registration plates on police cars.
They used to show a registration number like vehicles for the rest of us — a readily readable (legible and night-lighted) ID announcing to the public, “Hey, we’re all together in this. It’s not me against you. My squad car can look up your car’s registration at a glance. You can help keep me responsible by a quick check of my plate’s registration and as simple call to my superior.”
The few occasions I’ve tried to identify a squad car driver’s misbehavior — since knowing it all too well in the military police corps in which I served — it’s been tough. An instinctive glance at the plate is like trying to see an officer’s eyes through reflector sunglasses. “Police,” “sheriff,” “state trooper” only tells what’s abundantly obvious. Sometimes there’s “45” painted on the trunk lid, but of what city, what county? One risks passing in traffic to see door insignia. But even then one’s often left to squint.
As the joke goes — one’s liquor is more secure if two Baptist preachers are visiting vs. just one. Knowing you’re being watched and that we’re all “in harness” together under the law constrains bad behavior. Legislators, now’s the time!
John Bipes, Mankato, Minn.
We need to teach about racism
Politicians can change policy. Police can make reforms. People can stick “Black Lives Matter” signs in their front yard. But until discussions of race, racism, whiteness and white privilege happen with children at a young age and continue as they get older, change will never happen. Kids need to learn about race and white privilege starting in elementary schools in order to begin dismantling the enormous power racism holds in this country. People need to be as comfortable speaking about the realities of racism as they are about the weather for change to take place.
Some parents are leery of such discussions entering into their children’s curriculum, but this silence has become criminal. Changing K-12 education to include discussions of race needs to be part of this moment in history.
Elizabeth Hillstrom, Minneapolis
The writer is a teacher.
Somebody change that name
Now that the NFL, the NHL, NASCAR, the NBA and a host of other professional sports organizations have denounced racism and vowed to work for justice for people of color, it shouldn’t be long before the racist name of the Washington, D.C., professional football team is changed, right? Or is the “R” word still too sacred?
Karen Barstad, Minneapolis
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