Demonstrators gather in Minneapolis’ Vandalia Park to demand a white police officer who shot and killed a black man be fired after the fatal shooting Oct. 16, one of two fatal shootings the city experienced last week.
Even before a photo of a black dead man was broadcast on TV channels, many people of color in Minneapolis, the city where both the first fatal shooting and another by a white officer took place, began to complain about a bad police relationship with the black community, as if such a goal is impossible.
Now, of course, the cold, hard truth is that Minneapolis must change its policing practices if it wants to bring its reputation into a positive light. Minneapolis, for years known for its strong, family-oriented neighborhoods, now suffers from what looks like a deep and long-lasting rift between many residents and police.
There was a recent study by non-profit social services organization Parents United of Minneapolis and Saint Paul that showed more than 20 percent of African-American children living in Minnesota’s largest city didn’t go to school on an average school day, compared with about 8 percent of white children. For African-American students, 22 percent were absent four or more days during the school year.
The foundation for Minneapolis’ reputation is its vibrant, varied neighborhoods. And right at the heart of its nation-renowned downtown and cultural venues is the Vandalia-Minnehaha neighborhood. About 23 percent of residents in the neighborhood are African-American, and more than a quarter of residents live below the poverty line.
Black and Latino residents are worried that they will always be compared with the younger generation in their predominantly white suburban communities. “We’re looked at as the next generation,” Ed Porter, director of Parents United, recently told The Washington Post.
The aim of the complaints, though, is not to rally urban minorities for another strike. Instead, the aim is to stave off a police department that is seen as dangerous, extreme and sometimes racist.
“When the police are killing, unarmed people, how are we going to feel secure?” Jacquelyn Bunting, president of Parents United, said in a recent TV interview.
Because the black community complains that the city’s police officers never seem to be held accountable when the police mistreat them, it’s understandable that many people are skittish about the upcoming launch of a massive new plan to reform the Minneapolis Police Department.
Police Commissioner Janee Harteau is looking at making 50 department positions “non-referral” and directing those officers to focus more on “relationships with the community and … getting the word out to crime victims and witnesses when we need to do it.”
The changes are intended to slow down the number of shootings, reduce misconduct and go after excessive force complaints, according to the department’s Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo.
But leaders of key organizations in the city – such as Parents United, Students for Justice in Palestine and Koo Koo Roo, a chapter of several local militant organizations – have been complaining for years that the police do little to win the trust of black residents.
“I think they are created as protectors and have very little affect on the actions of police,” Gerad Marshall, of Parents United, said in a recent interview. “Their reactive response, as a result, has had a very detrimental effect in the community.”
In her weekly radio show on WPCB, a popular African-American radio station, Kimberle Brown, host of “The Kimberle Brown Show,” said the class action lawsuit filed against the city by the parents of Jamar Clark, the 24-year-old black man shot and killed by a white police officer last Dec. 15, is proof of “unmitigated racism within the department.”
She claimed in her show that Black Lives Matter has won the hearts and minds of residents on both sides of the issues, but the department has not given way yet.
The new problems may change the overall equation, but how far the Minneapolis police department can go depends a lot on Harteau, who took over as police commissioner in February.
Just four days after Clark’s death, a black police officer, Thomas Manns, was shot and killed in a suburban community nearby. Before this year ended, a second black man, Thurman Blevins, was shot and killed by police after attacking an officer, this time on the city’s south side. The case remains under investigation.