I read the 14 letters in the expanded “Readers Write” section of the July 10 Star Tribune. Some were well thought out; some had misconceptions, and two were downright ludicrous. There are literally tens of thousands of daily interactions between police and citizens. We never read of the cases where police defuse or minimize a potential lethal force incident. It is understood that a deadly force outcome reaches Page One. But each case must be looked at within the context of that specific interaction.
In the overwhelming number of investigations, police actions are exonerated. Does this mean “the system” is rigged? I say no! Because police are authorized to use deadly force, they are held to a higher standard. They undergo the scrutiny of departmental rules, state and federal law. Those who violate this are found guilty and dealt with accordingly. Police officers themselves demand this level of inquiry.
But protest groups such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) link all deadly encounters as racist acts regardless of the investigative outcome. If we truly believe that black lives are important, why is there little public outrage over the staggering number of black on black deaths in our major American cities? Or do black lives only matter if police are involved?
Whenever a First Amendment demonstration shifts to riotous behavior with assaults on police, that movement loses credibility and public support. Incendiary comments by politicians like Gov. Mark Dayton do not help matters, either.
We are a diverse country but have one set of laws. Like it or not, police are the last line of defense between chaos and a civilized world. Can we all do better? Yes, we must. But not in an atmosphere of shrill voices and riotous behavior. Failure is not an option.
Joe Polunc, Cologne
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Congratulations to Dayton (whom I voted for twice), BLM and the NAACP. You’ve all accomplished something that neither my friends, my family nor I ever thought possible: You’ve turned me into a Republican.
Two toddlers shot Friday: No one marches for them. Killings in Minneapolis virtually daily? The media and social media barely register the news, so it must not be that important. What hypocrites.
In order to get respect, you must give it, and those groups, through their own inability to confront some truths, their own racism and an inability or downright refusal to listen to anything but their own voice only damages their cause further.
Daniel Carlson, Edina
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Since the devil is always in the details, it is not nearly enough to say that cops should stopping killing black people. What are the rules of engagement (perhaps they vary) when police encounter the public in a traffic stop or some other contact? What changes to those rules are sought by black activists? Be specific, not squishy or vague. In what way are those proposed changes likely to reduce black fatalities? Where have those new rules been used and what happened? Give us something that we can all get behind for positive change. If there are no such answers, then let’s get off the street and into a room and figure it out — together.
Bill Coleman, Plymouth
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Let’s face a reality: Communities of color do not trust police to investigate themselves when an officer is involved in questionable shooting or any other kind of death with a suspect of color. Local community leaders say county and even state attorneys tend to favor the police when there is a controversial situation. So how do we begin rebuilding that trust? I offer one small step forward. I confess that I don’t know how much of this idea is original or if I had come across it before.
The president, through executive action, would create a special unit in every U.S. attorney’s office in the country. The Justice Department would urge local police and other city, county and state officials to allow this unit to take the lead on any controversial investigations. These units could be multi-generationally staffed by headed by retired FBI agents and staffed with able prosecutors, community representatives, representatives of the police union, and a few well-trained investigators in each location. These units would have subpoena power and access to all the evidence available, and would be able to use the best forensic laboratories. And finally, they could also draw upon the incredible resources in the U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country.
Even if it did not have local cooperation, the new unit would investigate and take action on these incidents as a simple matter of policy. Community leaders would not have to petition the Justice Department for an investigation; they would automatically get one.
Are there a lot of details to be worked out with this idea? Sure. But taking this kind of proactive action by the president would signal to our brothers and sisters of color that the federal executive branch of government is trying to guarantee — as best as humanly possible — that impartiality and transparency will be followed when a Falcon Heights or Baton Rouge tragedy happens again. And does anyone think it won’t?
James Gambone, Orono
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On Saturday night, my husband and I marched with the protesters that blocked off Interstate 94. People in the cars that had to stop for us clapped and supported us. Some got out and joined us. We stood on the interstate and sang songs and chanted, but, eventually, I had to leave the group because an arrest could lose me my green card and get me thrown out of the country. So we walked up the embankment and watched from a pedestrian bridge that was crowded with babies and grandmas and kids. We chanted and filmed and shouted and, at one point, the police pointed their guns at us and shot us with markers. People screamed and stampeded, and we had to cling onto the wire fence to not get pushed out or down.
We stayed and continued to watch the standoff from the bridge. The protesters chanted, sang “Purple Rain,” chanted some more, and the police kept pouring out of buses and vans with long sticks and helmets and guns. Someone from outside the protest threw a water bottle at the police, and there were a few firecrackers tossed in front of them, too. But the weirdest thing was how the police kept inching closer and closer, cutting off all exits, surrounding everyone, then spraying them with gas, shooting markers, throwing smoke bombs into their faces.
On the bridge, before the police shot at us, a teenager started shouting, “Police lives don’t matter.” No one joined him, but a woman beside him shut him down and told him how counterproductive it was to the movement. I haven’t heard any other calls for violence against the police like that for the entire four days I’ve been a part of this protest.
This morning, I woke to headlines about the police chief being “disgusted with the violence” that happened last night. It all feels so surreal. Surely, he means to say that he is disgusted with his officers? Surely, he couldn’t have been there and come to that conclusion about the protesters?
What I didn’t know for a long time is how boring most protesting is — how full of inarticulate speeches, awkward moments (one white girl tried to get the crowd to join her in singing “We Are the World”), rambling stories and hoarse voices. Most protesting is just showing up and listening, which might explain why it is often so unsuccessful. We are not a culture of listeners, because listening isn’t very exciting.
But what I have also learned is that there is no substitute for putting your feet on the ground and joining in. No one can stand in for my body. No one can represent my ears and do the listening for me. I need to do it myself. And though I am a Canadian and not very good at making bold statements, I would dare to make one now: You need to do it, too. If you are for peace and equality and safety for all people, you need to put your body in the spaces that are working for that. No one else can listen for you.
Angela Pelster-Wiebe, St. Paul