When Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington unveiled recommendations aimed at curbing deadly police encounters in February, they billed it as the nation’s first and most comprehensive statewide response to police brutality.
“We are not going to let these recommendations just sit on a shelf and not go anywhere,” Ellison told reporters at the time.
And then COVID-19 struck.
Many of the calls for change — from de-escalation training to mental health resources for officers — required state funding and legislative action, both of which fell by the wayside as the global pandemic occupied lawmakers’ attention this year.
The death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police on May 25 could change that by the time the Legislature reconvenes for a special session in the coming weeks.
The black man’s final, videotaped moments, in which he pleaded for help while struggling for breath under a white police officer’s knee, prompted outrage that crossed traditional partisan divides.
Harrington, whose department oversees the same agency that is now investigating Floyd’s death, described it as “exactly the kind of scenario we talked about.” Ellison meanwhile again called for the type of systemic change that the task force sought. He said this past week that now is the time for the Legislature to revisit its recommendations.
Perhaps now, after watching Minneapolis burn, there might be a more receptive hearing at the Capitol.
A day after Floyd died, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, tweeted that the “evident injustice in the disregard for [Floyd’s] humanity is appalling.”
“Going forward, I will work with other local and state leaders to see this pattern never repeat itself,” added Gazelka, whose caucus has vowed to make the June special session a fight over the governor’s emergency pandemic powers.
The recommendations before the Legislature came from a 16-member task force that spent more than a year on discussions and public hearings around the state. They include creating an independent unit to investigate cases of deadly force and to increase the power of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board to allow officers’ licenses to be suspended or revoked at the request of a supervising officer or sheriff.
State Sen. Jeff Hayden, a DFL assistant minority leader who represents the area where Floyd was arrested, said Thursday that police reform needed to be part of any bonding bill discussions when the Legislature returns. Otherwise, he said, “we are not going to have business as usual and start passing bonding bills and start passing all the other things that we need.”
Harrington said last week that the state’s investigation into Floyd’s death would be wrapped up in weeks, not months. Whether the energy for reform is as potent at the State Capitol in mid-June remains to be seen.