Can Minneapolis talk about race?

Can we even talk about race in Minneapolis?

That’s the question to debate in the wake of Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau’s decision to pull out of a “listening session” last night to address concerns by people of color in the city.

“People had discussed agitators set inside the meeting, those whose goal was to get arrested, that regardless of what was said or done, they were to be disruptive and that was further confirmed by some Facebook posts about direct action,” she said.

The session was going to discuss the allegations that African-Americans are being intimidated by police in the city. That’s a worthy subject, for sure.

But is it the kind of topic that can be discussed without confrontation?

“I’m very comfortable with public protests,” City Council Member Alondra Cano told MPR News reporter Curtis Gilbert. “And I think that’s part of the work we do. It involves folks expressing their freedom of speech. I guess she just felt that the risks were a little too high, and that she couldn’t really gamble on this one.”

Nekima Levy-Pounds, a professor at the University of St. Thomas law school, moderated the forum that went on without Harteau (or mayor Betsy Hodges, it should be noted).

On her Star Tribune blog, she called Harteau’s absence “deeply disappointing.”

In order to shift things in the right direction, there are a few things that need to happen:

1) We need to hold the chief accountable for her withdrawal from the community listening session by demanding a public meeting that includes the mayor and the chief to explain the circumstances surrounding the chief’s absence;

2) We need to inquire of the mayor about the scope of her plans to ensure police accountability over and above the implementation of body cameras. Last night’s forum demonstrated the breadth and scope of the problems are much deeper than body cameras alone will be able to resolve;

3) We need a comprehensive assessment of the overall effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the Minneapolis criminal justice system that looks at who is being stopped and searched on the streets, the rate of charging of low level, nonviolent offenses such as lurking, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and obstruction of legal process, the annual costs to the city of such low level arrests, and the health-related and economic impacts on individuals and communities when subjected to such punitive treatment. (We do not need another study, but a critical examination of data already available.) The results should cause us to repeal ordinances that contribute to the problems and revamp the system, where needed;

4) We need a coordinated community response that includes capturing negative police encounters on video, making rapid reports of such encounters, challenging unlawful stops, searches, and arrests in court, and showing up at City Hall until we see the changes that are needed; and

5) We need our Caucasian brothers and sisters to stand with us in demanding police accountability. It is not equitable for communities of color to both suffer the effects of police misconduct and then to accept full ownership for addressing problems that we did not create, nor have control over. White people should be just as outraged by police abuse as people of color and resolve to work diligently to address these challenges, as a matter of human dignity.

None of those things will be accomplished without Harteau. But they probably wouldn’t have been accomplished with theater at the meeting, either.

Harteau is suggesting that those at the meeting were interested in creating an “incident” to rally around.

Maybe. Maybe not. But her reluctance to appear is certainly a signal of the disconnect between the African American community and the city’s police department and our continuing inability to talk about racial issues.

  • daklute

    Wow, that is profoundly disappointing. But, the Mayor’s absence is just as disappointing. Betsy Dodges is quickly earning her nickname.

  • Guest

    What police chief can lead if afraid? This deserves a vote of no-confidence and to terminate her contract.

  • jb

    My first reaction is has Chief Harteau heard of Skype? I agree with daklute that the mayor’s absence is also disappointing. I agree with Guest that the chief gives the appearance of being afraid. But again Skype. Let’s have some statistics. I keep hearing crime rates are down. Finally, are the police afraid of each other?
    I heard an interesting report on Sante Fe community policing yesterday. Maybe we could have an exchange program.

  • Bob

    That the lead point in a 5-point list is to “demand” a meeting to get an “explanation” and hold someone “accountable” for not being at an earlier meeting shows a profound inability to decide what is important and what isn’t within the larger issue.

  • wmcg

    Being a white person, I am interested in the statement that “our Caucasian brothers and sisters” should step up to the plate and demand police accountability. Of course, we should. However, the black community needs to accept ownership of the fact that it has made police relations primarily a racial issue. “Racist cops” is the paradigm here. If instead we promoted general policies of police conduct, more whites might buy into this issue.

  • WISDOM

    NO DON’T LET THIS GO. THIS MOVEMENT IS ON THE RIGHT POWER TRACK, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT DON’T WANT CHANGE. THEY KNOW EXACTIY WHAT YOU ARE ASKING FOR HUMAN RIGHTS,DECENCY,AND MORALITY. THE SAME THING THE LIVE BY EVERY DAY. IT IS MORE RACIST HERE THEN DOWN SOUTH. JUST LOOK AT THE POLICE CHIEF NOT SHOWING UP A BLATANT DISREGARD THE ARROGANCE IN THE PLAY ON PEOPLE INTELLIGENCES. OH I FELT THREATEN. SINCE WHEN A COP WITH A GUN FELT THREATEN.. IT HAS GOT TO THE POINT THAT I DON’T CALL THOSE RACIST PIGS..IT’S ALL WAYS NOTHING THEY CAN DO??????? BUT WHEN SOME ONE CALL THEM ON ME IT’S SOMETHING THAT THEY CAN DO.. I WILL LOVE TO BE AT THE NEXT MEETING.

  • Sheryl Senkiw

    I believe a return to Sir Robert Peel’s “Nine Principles of Policing”, will help. Here are those principles:

    “1· To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

    2· To recognize always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

    3· To recognize always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

    4· To recognize always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.

    5· To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

    6· To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

    7- To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

    8· To recognize always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

    9· To recognize always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them. “

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    And if she’s got any security presence would be deemed intimidation. Can’t win.