On Jan. 5, I was sworn into office as a Minnesota state representative. It was a proud moment for me, my family and the thousands of voters who put their faith in me to amplify their voices at the Minnesota Capitol.
My path to the Legislature is intertwined with the history of our nation — one premised on hope, freedom and liberty, but also mired in the painful history of a country built on systems of white supremacy.
I don't have to look much further than my grandparents to see this. My grandfather worked as a laborer during his upbringing in Mississippi. My grandmother's formal education ended in eighth grade when she had to work in the cotton fields to help support her family. As a young man, my grandfather had to flee Mississippi and the Jim Crow South after an altercation with a white man that put his life in danger. By way of train, he ultimately found refuge in Chicago, where I was later born and raised.
I share this story because it is not lost upon me how my family history, like that of so many other Black folks in this country, illustrates resilience. It's possible to rise above the barricade and pursue opportunities, while still experiencing the painful realities of living as a Black man in our country.
Just a day after I was sworn into office, I was reminded of why my grandfather had to flee Mississippi: White supremacy is still prevalent in our society two generations later.
On Jan. 6, I watched in horror, but not disbelief, as a mob stormed our U.S. Capitol with the intent to disrupt democracy. The riot was powered by the chants "stop the steal," which had no factual basis. I watched participants carry American flags as if an illegal, violent insurrection was somehow a sign of patriotism.
Rioters took photos with officers, and we later learned that some rioters displayed their law enforcement badges and told the officers that they were storming the building to help them. Five people lost their lives after that day, including a Capitol officer. As investigations continue to unfold, we are discovering that not only are some of the rioters members of our military and law enforcement agencies, but that some are linked to violent white supremacist groups. Further investigations show there was high coordination between these extremist groups and their members participating in the insurrection.
I immediately thought of my grandfather and how he had to flee for his life, of my children who have yet to understand the complexity of our history, and my inability to do something in that very moment to protect them. I imagine millions across the nation felt that same call to action to ensure that those so proudly affiliating with white supremacist groups will not be the same people tasked with protecting and serving our communities.
Public safety and white supremacy are patently inconsistent.
Although the insurrection took place in Washington, Minnesota is not immune to the violence we saw on the steps of our nation's Capitol. In 2010, the FBI published a report warning about the rising number of white supremacist affiliates strategically infiltrating the military and law enforcement fields. It recently published another report with the same conclusion.
In addition, the Minnesota Justice Research Center published "Trust in Policing: The Role of White Supremacy," a report that provided further evidence of this concerning trend in our state. We may have missed the first warning, but we cannot ignore the second. It's time for bold legislative action.
In response, I introduced HF 593 to prohibit our licensed police officers from "affiliating with, supporting, or advocating for white supremacist groups, causes, or ideologies or participation in, or active promotion of, an international or domestic extremist group. …" This bill would provide our police licensing board with the ability to root out individuals who would have such affiliations or beliefs.
White supremacy has always been a public health crisis that we have yet to find an effective vaccine for. We must respond with urgency to make sure our law enforcement officers look out for all community members. I thought this could be a bill that would receive bipartisan support. But every Republican legislator on the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee opposed it.
This is not the time for "whataboutisms" and "both sides" arguments. Our FBI and Minnesota-specific research warns that we have a clear and present danger lurking among us. It is our moral obligation to make sure we do the right thing to protect all Minnesotans. My bill is the bare minimum.
I urge Minnesotans who care about public safety to reach out to their legislators and ask them to support HF 593. Together, we can take an important step toward eradicating white supremacy from the ranks of law enforcement and creating a Minnesota free of fear and tension between Minnesotans and those tasked to protect us.
Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, is a member of the Minnesota House.