Let me begin by stating that Minneapolis is a great city. It has been home to world leaders in music, advertising, graphic design, theater, education, medicine and more. In addition, it has been home to principled and forward thinking political leaders such as senators Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Al Franken. The city has great dining and entertainment venues, as well as a full range of professional sports. Most of all, it has long been a clean and safe place to live. It has also been known as a place that is charitable and tolerant of others. For those reasons, it has accepted an amazing number of refugees – from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Liberia, Somalia, Eritrea, Tibet and more.
That has made Minneapolis a particularly vibrant place where the warmth of its citizens more than offsets the sometimes frigid weather.
Unfortunately, the city’s tolerance has extended to corruption and racism. That became clear for all to see with the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. Though I’m not black, I have long been concerned about below-the-surface racism in the city after stumbling across corruption within the city council, the mayor’s office, and, in particular, the Minneapolis Police Department in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
Police officers felt emboldened to stop people of color for any reason, at any time. They harassed the homeless. And some brutalized black people. From my office window, I personally witnessed six MPD officers cuff a black man, placing him face down in slush and snow. They then took turns kicking him before one finished the assault by emptying a can of mace in his face. I reported the incident, but since I was unable to get names and badge numbers, my report was ignored.
A series of police chiefs tried to clean up the mess that seems to have begun in the 1930s – one famous for his work in the South Bronx. But those chiefs were often blunted by the city’s police union. For example, when an off-duty officer brutally beat a college student in a downtown bar, he was fired. But the officer was returned to duty following arbitration and assigned to the role of department spokesman. Since then, many others have been fired for cause, but returned to duty following arbitration, even receiving back pay!
How on earth can any chief establish and maintain discipline under those circumstances? Though I support labor unions in general, the police union is most responsible for George Floyd’s death. But they are not alone.
The public has failed to demand better. Indeed, many are in denial that racism is a problem. Not here in Minnesota! They have decried racism at the same time they joined the white flight to the suburbs ostensibly in search of better schools, which explains why 65 percent of students in the city’s schools are children of color and 70 percent are living in poverty. Meanwhile, schools in some of the city’s suburbs have larger budgets and facilities that would shame many small colleges.
To be clear, Minneapolis is not an outlier. Racism exists in every city, in every state. Indeed, it has grown as result of President Trump’s actions and words.
Racism will only end when our governments – all of our governments – take it seriously and take steps to end segregation and inequality. More important, all of us need to confront racism whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head. We need to block the Websites which racists use to congregate and plan their hateful acts. We need to hold racist politicians accountable. And we need to make sure that law enforcement officers are charged for their crimes. The Minneapolis Police Department should take the advice of Mayor Frey and immediately arrest the officer who murdered George Floyd along with his three accomplices.