Today, modern technology reveals police-civilian interactions instantaneously. According to the Washington Post, this year alone, 522 lives have been lost as a result of deadly police violence. This number will be inaccurate by the time you read this piece as two people are shot dead by police every day. In our own state, seven people have been shot and killed by police since January, which is on pace with the 12 deaths that occurred last year. Of those 12 individuals, three were Black, representing 25% of the lives lost, despite the fact that only 5% of the population of Minnesota is Black.
The loss of these lives expose the systemic oppression that is so deeply rooted in American society. In Minnesota today, this oppression is blatant in the financial gap that exists between white people and people of color, which is among the worst in the nation, based on median income, home ownership, poverty rate, and education level. On top of this, people of color face unfair treatment by the police force on a daily basis, which often leads to ‘Broken Windows’ policing. This theory states that by over policing minor and harmless offenses, a rule of law will be established preventing larger crimes. Marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted through profiling by race, age, housing, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and religion. Ending this targeting by police is a crucial first step toward limiting police violence.
Another step is to ban stops for vehicle violations, such as expired license plate tags, broken taillights and cracked windshields. Instead, we should institute a policy where police car dash cams be used to assign tickets objectively. If such a law were in place, Philando Castile would still be alive.
Currently, the tenet of law enforcement is to use deadly force when an officer ‘fears for their life’. The training received by Officer Jeronimo Yanez, reported in the Star Tribune, has created a level of paranoia. We must stop this use of excessive force, which has led to the senseless death of so many individuals, and establish the practice of exhausting all other methods of de-escalation. If such a practice had been in place last November, Jamar Clark’s life may not have been taken just 61 seconds after he had an encounter with police.
I propose that in cases where deadly force is used, an unbiased evaluation is conducted by an external or federal agency response team as soon as possible. Such a measure would introduce a level of fairness to the policing of these unfortunate situations and increase trust from the communities involved.
Our government is built on checks and balances, something that is currently lacking from policing. Civilians should be entitled to basic information pertaining to a stop and should be able to submit complaints online or in person.
During all stops, officers should be required to provide their name, badge number, reason for stop, and information on how to file complaints. In addition, a civilian council with the ability to investigate all complaints against officers would add transparency to the interactions between the police and the community. Officers need to work with civilians and neighborhood councils for an intersectional, not authoritative, government that we can trust.
The current racial makeup of police forces is woefully incongruent with Minnesota’s diversity. The argument that it would be too costly to overhaul our law enforcement agencies is not an acceptable response for the lack of equality in representation. This does not mean solely hiring female officers or officers of color, but incentivizing police departments to develop and implement guidelines for the recruitment, retention, and promotion of minority police officers.
Recruitment starts by creating a relationship with young people in our community. Officers should work with cadet units to offer an introduction to police work in order to attract enthusiastic community representation. By fostering this pipeline of community representation, we can attract officers with a personal investment in the protection of their communities. When police units are stakeholders of the communities they serve, violence should naturally decrease.
At the legislature, we deserve representatives that will confront and take on this responsibility to change policing policies and culture. We cannot let our elected officials remain apathetic on police policy reform. We must demand that they take action so that we stop the daily loss of life at the hands of police and the use of excessive force that is so prevalent today in our society.