News sites like the Washington Post; The Guardian have started a formal tracking of people killed by police around the U.S. These databases are cropping up amidst general outcries against police brutality and discrimination against people of color. We know there is pervasive disparity in policing in Minneapolis, so we wanted to localize the discussion to talk about whether Minneapolis has the potential to erupt in protests similar to Baltimore or Ferguson after the deaths of people like Freddie Gray and Michael Brown.
During the first panel discussion, in reply to the question of whether the demonstrations and unrest that took place in Ferguson after Brown’s death could happen in Minneapolis, at least three of the panelists responded with an emphatic “absolutely”.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, a law professor and president of the Minneapolis NAACP, was one of these. “I know people don’t want to hear it,” she said. “But the reasons it happened in Ferguson are already in place here, such as lack of equal employment opportunities, over-policing in communities and too many minorities in jail compared to their population in the state.” Hennepin County’s chief public defender, Mary Moriarty, agreed with her, finding fault in implicit bias, unfair bail requirements and a culture where minorities almost expect they will be arrested at some point in their life.
On the other hand, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman argued that though the local justice system has some faults, it is not as bad as Ferguson, where officers were using citations as a huge money generator for the city. Keynote speaker Mark Kappelhoff, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice's civil rights division, also brought a more hopeful tone to the discussion stating that while “some say we are at a point of crisis, I call it an unprecedented opportunity to build back trust.”
The second panel moved on to debate solutions to rectify disparities and abuse of force. Topics that arose included possibilities of community policing and expunging criminal records to make it easier for people to get housing and jobs.
Minneapolis has been announced as one of six pilot cities for the $4.75 million National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a strategy to reduce bias in the police-community. We are optimistic that this program, coupled with community engagement, activism and support from organizations like the ACLU will help to finally make Minneapolis more just and fair for everyone. Together we can make change.
Watch the full discussion here.