I am concerned with the push to prohibit police officers from affiliating with white supremacist groups. While it is easy to agree with the thought behind this proposal, the devil is in the details.
First and foremost is, who will decide what a white supremacist group is? While there are groups most people and political factions would probably agree on, it is disingenuous to claim such a label will be easy to apply in all cases. What about groups that claim to be religious organizations? Can we ban a person from being a police officer because of their religion? Can we ban people because they are members of a legal political party that espouses views that some, or even most, people find repugnant? Will the definitions change every time political power changes hands? I believe you will get different answers if you ask the Legislatures of Florida or Kansas vs. California or New York for their definitions. Will we have new McCarthy hearings where we ask people if they are now or ever have been a member of "X" (whatever current group we love to hate)?
Once it is permissible to prohibit police officers from belonging to designated groups, why not extend this same scrutiny using nebulous criteria to all public employees — teachers, social workers, health care workers, and anyone who interacts with and can adversely affect citizens? The battle to create a professional civil service as opposed to a constantly changing gang of political hacks will finally be decided in favor of the political hacks.
And, why only white supremacist groups? There are people, localities and states that sincerely believe there are other types of supremacist groups; why shouldn't they be banned as well? The Nation of Islam has a history of anti-Semitism; why should it get a pass? Wouldn't the crusade against our reputed imperialist past be served by banning membership in the Sons of Italy or the General Society of Mayflower Descendants? The whole thing sounds like the second coming of the Inquisition.
Punishing people for their thoughts is as un-American as you can get, no matter how good the intent. This type of political test for public employees — for make no mistake, this will be based on politics — should have been given a bad name in places like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China and North Korea. This is pushing the dystopia of "1984" to fruition. We should punish people for their actions, not their thoughts or beliefs.
Terrance P. Brennan, Hugo
More options than ones given
In a May 3 article describing the many concerns that have been raised about the use of chemical weapons against Minnesotans ("Crowd-control chemicals may threaten health," front page), Andy Skoogman, speaking on behalf of Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson, was quoted as saying, "The alternative to chemical munitions would be physical force." This is a false dichotomy.
The alternative to police violence is an absence of police violence. As a physician, I see the impacts of police violence on the people and communities I care for, both directly in the form of physical injury, and indirectly in the form of lasting emotional trauma. Police violence is a public health crisis in Minnesota and must be treated as such.
Hannah Lichtsinn, Mendota Heights
DEATHS BY POLICE
We can, and should, expect better
Jonathan Zimmerman tried to take a balanced assessment when he critiques both the left- and right-leaning media ("Fake threats on each side are America's greatest danger," Opinion Exchange, May 1). My bias says he fails. Zimmerman would have us believe that there is equivalence in the exaggeration by the right as to the violence of left-leaning protesters and the exaggeration of the left as to the extent of cops killing unarmed Black people. Really? So somehow the left-leaning media should back off? Zimmerman states that police killings of Black people were "nine unarmed in 2019, down from 38 in 2015." Is this evidence that left-leaning media just won't admit "progress"? After all, "only" nine unarmed Black people died at the hands of police.
I don't subscribe to that example. Zimmerman may have other evidence of the left-leaning media exaggerating, but even one unarmed person killed by police — regardless of race — is unacceptable. To try to mitigate exaggeration (distortion) by the right-leaning press by offering police killings of unarmed citizens as some sort of quid pro quo is unacceptable.
Richard Masur, Minneapolis
Wokeness has outstripped reality
As we have seen of late, campus life at the University of Minnesota can boil over into consequential topics. The issue is whether the purveyors of such controversy grasp the entire scope of the problem. In "U student reform rhetoric isn't radical" (Opinion Exchange, May 11) we see another stab at justifying police reform. Will forcing President Joan Gabel to remove Chief Matt Clark result in the demilitarization of the U police? Will the chemical irritants be discarded? Will the military-style vehicles disappear? There is a reason that these assets are present and available. Have these activists forgotten the images in Minneapolis during the summer of 2020? When uber-wokeness exceeds real-world reality, we have a problem. Throwing a collegiate hissy fit because police sometimes must rely on extreme measures to control a riot is not a responsible position. Do you recall the images on Lake Street in 2020 when police, fire and EMS services could not respond? Or are you so steeped in your radical "reimagining" of police reform that you are willing to disregard the safety of the public and property?
Oh, and the Ma'Khia Bryant incident. In the seconds Officer Nicholas Reardon had to react to her outstretched arm holding a knife, I don't think he had time to process the systemic racism of foster care. I'm sure the girl in pink agrees. The fact that the author downplays the knife that "only serves to justify injustice" for a "teenager" signifies a departure from reality.
Campus activists have attached themselves to the issue du jure. In doing so, they establish a level of credibility. In this case, the reform-minded students lack cogent thought and reasoned alternatives. In doing so they discredit themselves and their efforts.
Joseph Polunc, Waconia
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Tisell's commentary provides a good example of exactly what Benjamin Ayanian was referring to in his commentary "Radical rhetoric on U policing is irresponsible" (Opinion Exchange, May 6), the piece that Tisell is attempting to rebut. There are various items to point to in this regard, but I will focus on Tisell's use of the police killing of Ma'Khia Bryant to support his position.
Tisell obviously has not watched the bodycam video of this tragic event or, if he has watched it, is blinded by his ideological perspective. Bryant was not simply "holding a knife." Rather, she was seemingly lunging to stab another person. If the officer had not fired when he did, any reasonable person would conclude from the video that there was a high probability that the other girl would have been stabbed and very possibly killed. Tisell gives credence to "non-police sponsored accounts" that Bryant was "defending herself." No reasonable viewer of the bodycam footage could credibly view Bryant's actions as those of self-defense.
Tisell suggests that systemic racism should be considered as an important factor leading to Bryant's actions, so as to avoid "blaming the victim." The degree to which this is a valid perspective is too large a question to get into here. However, my point for the purposes of this letter is that the officers on scene cannot cure past systemic racism. All they can do is address the life-or-death events unfolding in front of their eyes in light of the 911 call that brought them to the scene, within an extremely rapidly developing context.
Peter Langworthy, St. Paul
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