Justice is supposed to be an easy thing. It’s supposed to be black and white, the weighing of scales. And it’s supposed to be blind. We know, of course, that none of those things are true. Justice is a human construction, and like all human constructions it is imperfect.
That’s why the relationships between police and the communities they serve are so important. Experience and research has proven time and time again that when those relationships—between law enforcement and the community—are strong, the net results are good: less crime, more opportunity.
Looking at Police-Community Relationships in Minneapolis
Lately, the relationship between the Minneapolis Police Department and the community it serves has come under some additional scrutiny—this is especially true following the officer-involved shooting of Jamar Clark. After Clark’s death, Black Lives Matter protestors staged action around Minneapolis’s fourth precinct building.
Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman eventually declined to press charges against the officers involved. He laid out a detailed case as to why the evidence simply did not support prosecution. But when police-community relationships in Minneapolis are so strained, it’s difficult for the community to take those details at face value. The trust is too strained, too tested, too torn.
Why Are Relations So Strained?
Law enforcement is tough, dangerous work. Police officers are killed every single year in the line of duty, and while those casualties have been dropping, there’s no getting away from the inherent danger of police work. Between the years of 2000-2015, 149 Minneapolis Police Department officers have been killed in the line of duty. That number is, sadly, far too high.
Disparities in Enforcement
But there’s also no getting away from the fact that African-Americans bear the brunt of law enforcement punishments, having a disproportionately high arrest and incarceration rate. For example, people of color usually account for something like 60%–nearly two-thirds—of all low-level arrests.
Between the years of 2012-2014, African-Americans were ten times more likely to get arrested for these low level crimes. Those are rates that simply do not make any kind of proportional sense unless discrimination is involved.
There’s also the more specific case of Philando Castile. It’s true that Castile had nothing, really, to do with the Minneapolis Police Department, and he was not shot by Minneapolis officers. But Castile was pulled over 49 times in the Twin Cities over a 13 year span. That’s a little less than four times a year.
Reasons for Distrust
That may not reflect directly on the Minneapolis Police Department, but it is emblematic of the relationships between police departments (broadly defined) and people of color (also speaking quite broadly).
I’m not attempting, necessarily, to give some kind of false equivalency to both “sides” here. I’m not trying to say that the communities of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department have equal reasons to distrust each other.
But they do have reasons.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Building relationships between the people of Minneapolis and their police force is going to be difficult, I think. But it won’t be impossible. There are some concrete steps that both the community and the police department can take:
- Further implementation of body camera for officers: There’s a significant amount of research out there that shows incidents of excessive force and complaints against officers decrease when all officers are required to wear body cameras.
- Further training for officers: It’s no secret that we ask our police to do too much. We ask them to be paramedics, mental health professionals, legal experts, and so on. They should get any training they need to help de-escalate conflicts and build good relationships.
- Increased accountability: One of the best ways to build trust with a community is to show accountability. Police have a really tough job, but when they make mistakes—especially mistakes that cost lives—they should be held accountable.
- Know when to assert your rights: A traffic stop is one of the most dangerous moments of a police officer’s job, which means that it’s not the best time to forcefully assert your rights. Follow the officer’s instructions during these situations—you can assert your rights in court. (This is complicated, and it’s not a bad idea to seek out some good legal advice in this regard.)
It Will Get Better
I have a firm belief that things will get better—though that belief isn’t necessarily always anchored by the facts. Violent crime, overall, is down significantly compared to the 1990s. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get better without work, effort, and trust. The work is necessary because the results are vital.