The second anniversary of George Floyd's murder will soon be upon us. Promises have been made to implement reforms, and battles have continued in Minneapolis over the City Charter. Some changes to Minneapolis Police Department policies have been made. The dust has temporarily settled from the 2021 charter amendments. Mayor Jacob Frey set up a work group on public safety and proposed a new cabinet that the City Council must approve. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo resigned, and a nationwide search for a new police chief is underway. The City Council just approved a new contract for the police union.
The Minnesota Legislature passed limited reforms in recent years — banning chokeholds and warrior-style training, modifying the arbitrator panel, requiring mental health and autism training, limiting no-knock warrants, and requiring police chiefs to report all disciplinary actions to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. Congress reached an impasse over the issue of qualified federal immunity. President Donald Trump signed an executive order with limited impact. In his 2022 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden pledged to fund the police. Republicans are gearing up for campaigns on law and order and against educating students about diverse views of the country's history, including slavery.
Yet George Floyd is still dead. So is Amir Locke, who was shot and killed by a police officer executing a no-knock warrant in February despite the mayor's pledge to ban such warrants.
Where do we go from here? There are significant steps that can be taken at the local level.
A Department of Justice "pattern or practice" investigation is underway. Experts, including police professionals who have participated in some of the 40-plus pattern-or-practice investigations, insist that they are thorough and effective. They often result in court-monitored consent decrees. But they expire. Backsliding occurs. The city must foot the bill, and to have a lasting effect it must retain an independent monitor to continue after a consent decree expires.
The City Council passed a resolution and appointed a work group to establish a truth and reconciliation commission. There have been 40-plus international truth and reconciliation commissions, the most famous in South Africa after the end of apartheid. A few in the U.S., including the Maine Wabanaki Child Welfare commission, have studied racial disparities. North Carolina has had two successful commissions, one on the 1979 Greensboro massacre and one on torture and rendition. Maryland has one now underway on lynching. Some cities, including Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco, are in the process of forming truth and reconciliation commissions. To be successful, the city must retain an expert to help launch its commission and avoid the pitfalls that have undermined some efforts, such as lack of funding or community buy-in.
A critical issue to be reckoned with is racism. Past efforts at police reform, those by Mayors Hubert Humphrey, Eric Hoyer, Arthur Naftalin, Albert Hofstede, Don Fraser, Sharon Sayles Belton, R.T. Rybak and Betsy Hodges, including forming various civilian review bodies, have failed. None have ultimately worked, in large part because the police union has undermined them. Studies of police violence against citizens in Minneapolis have shown that race is a significant factor.
The United Nations elects special rapporteurs (subject matter experts) on various subject matters or countries. They are nominated by the Human Rights Council and elected by the General Assembly. One is Fionnuala Ni Aolain, a University of Minnesota regents professor and faculty adviser of the Human Rights Center at the law school and the special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism. One of her counterparts is E. Tendayi Achiume, UCLA law professor and special rapporteur on racism. Biden has invited her to do a country visit to the U.S. in 2022. City officials, families of victims of police violence and civil society groups should join in inviting her to include Minneapolis in her visit to share her expertise and make recommendations.
These efforts are the right thing to do. They require political will and public expenditures of time and money. Compared with the expenses for settlements of police misconduct cases against the city (projected at $111 million in 2021), they are wise investments. They are consistent with City Council Chair Andrea Jenkins' recent statement that "We must work together."
James Roth, of Minneapolis, is a retired lawyer and civil rights activist.