The Minnesota Police Accountability Act: A Barely Lukewarm Reform.
I never intentionally listened to Minnesota’s most famous contribution to recent culture. No, I am not referring to the late Prince Rogers Nelson. I mean Garrison Keillor, who in his droll dry nasal way told a few local radio listeners and then later America about the place he came from where all the kids were above average.
It was a great way to explain Minnesota and its efforts to see that nobody gets their feelings hurt. I guess that rule still applies even if you’re responding to an event of international significance.
George Floyd’s death on last Memorial Day was such an event.
As both a lawyer and a citizen, I have watched many, many police misconduct events, including some resulting in deaths. I have seen the law shield police errors and brutality. Some of these incidents I have watched from afar. In others, I have waded through up to my neck.
And in many of these incidents, many of us have asked the question: will this be the case so egregious or blatant that the city or the state, or the Nation will change?
We know that images and events can move a whole Nation: the passing of Rev. Vivian, Congressman Lewis, and Charles Evers all stir us to remember events from decades ago in the Nation’s struggle for equality that moved the entire Nation, if not the world itself.
Following John Lewis’ death, we were inundated with images at that fate-filled bridge in Selma; and those of us who are over 60 can remember hearing of how Medgar Evers came home to his family only to be gunned down by a cowardly gunmen.
With each tragedy, America was roused from its self-indulgence and sense of complacency to effect some change or at least the consciousness that change must come.
The death of George Floyd should have been such an event. Not only in Washington or London or the streets of Portland, Oregon, but here in the place where George Floyd took his last breath: Minnesota.
Instead, Minnesota has acted swiftly and meekly to do almost nothing to make lasting change. The fact that four former police officers await trial on felony murder charges is not the stuff of change. Indeed, as the jury instruction will teach, they are presumed innocent despite being brought before the court by the normal processes of the law.
The stuff of change comes written in new laws and statutes that will see that there are no more funerals for Black men who like George Floyd are only suspected of a crime. Or, for black women sleeping peacefully in their own homes, like Breonna Taylor.
The stuff of change means we recalibrate the relationship of police officers to the system of justice they profess to protect. And which they are entrusted to represent.
Yesterday, Minnesota failed that test. Yesterday in the passage of the hurried and nearly toothless “Minnesota Police Accountability Act” the Legislature and Governor were not even “above average.”
Whereas other states have already come forward with groundbreaking legal changes — like Colorado — which created a new approach to civil actions against police officers, or New York, which actually criminalized the improper use of chokeholds, Minnesota broke no new ground.
Minnesota failed to even establish a statutory process to make sure police-involved deaths will be independently prosecuted. Or, that the Minnesota Attorney General will be permanently entrusted with that task.
The new law’s only real “change” was to prohibit a maneuver that was already illegal — the use of a chokehold except where the officer fears for his/her own life.
This timid legislation was, it appears, an effort to assure that no one got their feelings hurt: except those of us who expected and demanded lasting and significant change.
It seemed the very least to hope for in the very place where an international movement began.
But here, where all the children are above average, it was not to be.
Perhaps we simply forgot that in the eyes of the law only some of us are among those who are just above average.
Albert Turner Goins