My city is broken. Heartbroken by the tragedy that is the easily preventable killing of another unarmed black man by a white police officer, but fundamentally broken beyond. It’s hard to see the city I’ve adopted burning, but it’s harder to ignore that this is a natural response to the rage allowed to build and fester for far too long.
Our country has a problem with systematic racism. I am neither the first nor the best person to tell you this. Those who tolerate and explain for injustice are guilty of injustice. The police are one of few groups we allow to kill in order to protect. Lawmakers have agreed that deadly force is acceptable when no other choice is available. Some of us are quick to assume the reverse, that when deadly force was applied, no other choice was available. The power behind these assumptions is exacerbated when the victim of police brutality is black. Our reactions are stronger when a member of our community is set against a member of another. There are many among us who view black Americans as a cultural “other”. It’s up to us to challenge these reactions.
Our city also has a police problem. Any city where this happens has a police problem. Ours is fundamental. You may have seen reporting recently that fewer than ten percent of Minneapolis police officers live in Minneapolis. Data from three years ago says eight percent. Previous data offered a lower number. This is critically important. A police force sourced almost exclusively from outside its community is one that cannot be expected to genuinely care about the community. Police officers see the city at its worst. If they aren’t also seeing it at its best, they’re able to commit to viewing it (and its people) through a lens that grows more and more negative with time.
Where we hire our police officers from is far from our only problem. Hiring from exclusively within the city limits will not eliminate the threat of racism. There is wisdom in the fear that offices of authority will be sought after by those who wish to abuse that authority. When we say “the vast majority of police officers are good people”, we have to question whether this is something we know to be true, or something we want to be true.
If the Minneapolis Police Department is not inherently racist, it is built to support its members who are. If the officers of the Minneapolis Police Department are not unilaterally racist, their support of the system that holds it steady is. The strength of the department as a monolith comes from its internal culture and its union. A police force where officers are punished for whistleblowing or acting for internal justice is a police force that rewards injustice. The department has a history of allowing racist activity by police officers to go unpunished. Even when punished but allowed to remain in service, a precinct staffed by closet racists is hardly better. The President of the police union, the chosen representative of the city’s police, continues to support violent “warrior-style” training and has a history of defending murder and racist behavior by officers. The system is broken and corrupt.
There are people who will try to use the riots and crimes committed amid protest to discredit those who ask us to focus on the core crime, the murder of George Floyd, a citizen, by an officer allowed the authority to kill. Remember that nothing that occurs today can erase what happened on Monday. Whataboutism and false equivalencies are the tools of oppressive regimes.
The streets may not be safe. We are still within the grasp of a growing pandemic. Be a force for good if you can. Support organizations acting to reform our system. Add your voice to the chorus calling for that reform. But beside that, listen to the voices of those at the core of this issue; those who have been hurt by the existing system, and those at unfair risk to be affected further.
The Minnesota Freedom Fund pays bail and bond for pre-trial detainees accused of nonviolent crimes.
The Minnesota ACLU spearheads the legal fight for the continuing development and deployment of civil rights in Minnesota. Their Campaign for Smart Justice aims to “reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system”.