Like most people of conscience, I watched the video of George Floyd’s death in horror.
Within moments, messages of anguish started pouring in from members of my multiracial, multicultural mosque, many of whom live and work in Minneapolis:
“How could this have happened? What can we do? When will it stop?” and other expressions of grief, pain and shock.
Elected officials from both parties have voiced similar grief and determination to prevent this horror from happening again. We have seen this pattern of police violence against black people persist for centuries. And so, as we process and grieve this latest tragedy, we must look to what tangible steps can be taken to dismantle the longstanding discrimination that unfortunately runs rampant in our justice system.
The Qur’an teaches us that to save a single life is to save all of humanity. As an imam in a diverse mosque, I work with, pray with and counsel black and brown congregants who every day are forced to live in fear of police violence — whose lives are treated as disposable by our justice system.
To protect members of my Minneapolis community, and black and brown Americans across the country, I offer the following suggestions for change:
1) Require each law enforcement agency to adopt use-of-force policies consistent with the “minimum force” standard instead of the current “objectively reasonable” standard.
2) Change the standard for prosecution of homicides by police officers so that they cannot escape justice unless they have clearly demonstrated the use of de-escalation tactics, reasonable alternatives to deadly force and proportionality.
3) Mandate that all police officers have a duty to intercede, prevent excessive use of force, provide medical aid and report excessive use of force to supervisors.
4) Give the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) the power to self-initiate investigations on police misconduct. Enable citizens to file complaints to the POST board, and make the POST board subject to citizen oversight and recall.
5) Cancel mandatory arbitration in cases of police misconduct firings. Make police terminations at the discretion of the police chief and the mayor, and make their decisions appealable to the local City Council, thus putting the power back with the local citizens.
6) Forbid all police training with foreign military and intelligence agencies.
7) Require all police departments to dedicate 30% of the top of their website to the lives and stories of people killed by police.
8) Require that 1% of every police department budget go toward de-escalation training. Require that an additional 1% of the police department budget go toward de-escalation training for every officer involved in a fatality, up to 10%.
The governor and legislative leadership must immediately call a special session of the Legislature to address these issues and advocate for the adoption of these initiatives. The death of black Americans at the hands of police is a public health emergency and should be treated as such.
Further, this search for justice must be holistic and we must demand anti-racist policies be adopted not only by state institutions, but within our own homes as well. We must practice what we preach with our children and community.
Racism is not a born trait — it is taught. In my years as a faith leader, community activist and advocate for equality, I hold steadfast the belief that love and understanding can overpower any hate, and that we are a state that reflects change and diversity.
This is not who we are, and this is not what we preach.
We must meet this moment by standing in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters in Minneapolis and across the country — by calling for state-based reforms, and by creating positive change in our own homes.
All of Minnesota is watching. Let us create a more just Minnesota where black lives finally matter.
Imam Asad Zaman is executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota and the board chair for Faith in Minnesota.