Minneapolis Police Guilty of Human Rights Violations … Now What?

Minneapolis Police Department squad car in front of downtown Target

This article was originally published on Across The Culture – Minneapolis Saint Paul (ATC-MSP) and has been lightly edited to appear on ATC. Please visit our first-ever local ATC site.

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Last April, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) finished a two-year investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD’s) conduct between the years 2010 and 2020. The 72-page report states MPD’s murder of George Floyd and the behavior leading up to it was just one incident in a clear pattern of regular and unwarranted violence used against the people of Minneapolis. Racism regularly played a role in unwarranted arrests, police assaults of civilians, and police murders of civilians.

Summary of Minnesota Department of Human Rights' investigation into Minneapolis Police Department. MDHR found MPD to be systemically racist.

MDHR’s investigation was launched to determine if MPD and the City of Minneapolis practiced racial discrimination. That question was answered, and the investigation provided much more insight into MPD’s abuses of both power and Minneapolis civilians across racial groups between 2010 and 2020. Among them are the following:

  • More than half of all incidents involving neck restraints were excessive uses of force by MPD officers
  • MPD officers failed to report at least six percent of neck restraints used and 20 percent of car searches that resulted in gun or drug seizures
    • MDHR suggests officers did not report searches to avoid being investigated for racial profiling
  • One out of every three uses of chemical weapons by an MPD officer was excessive
  • More than half of disorderly conduct cases involving Black civilians resulted in chemical weapon use by MPD officers
  • More than half of MPD traffic stop citations between 2017 and 2020 (10,000+ total) were of Black drivers; Black people account for only 19 percent of the city’s population
  • MPD used covert social media accounts to spy on Black community leaders and publicly criticize elected officials with no public safety purpose or professional protocol
  • MPD officers have corrupted every major form of police accountability in Minneapolis with the help of city officials
    • Sworn MPD officers and sergeants are members of or co-investigators with Internal Affairs, Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR), the Police Conduct Review Panel, and Minneapolis Human Resources
    • In 2012, the City abandoned the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) — a group of civilians completely independent from MPD — because MPD refused to cooperate with them on investigations. The CRA was replaced by OPCR which is co-supervised by an active MPD sergeant

No one in city government or MPD publicly disputed these findings.

Saying MPD is violently racist isn’t much of a hot take. For all of the damning discoveries made in the report, it hardly caused a stir in the streets. What could possibly jolt a city harder than video of a public servant slowly taking a local man’s life as he cries for his mother?

It’s hard to expect civilians — overwhelmed by living in a pandemic and the epicenter of the world’s latest racial reckoning — to process more bad news about their police department. But city officials are elected to process and act on such information. So when state officials use a phrase like “in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act” to describe a decade of MPD activity, it seems like it should trigger a more critical response from the City. That, more than anything, makes the City’s continued support of MPD after the investigation as gross as the report’s findings.

With all the evidence and opportunity required to begin trying something new in public safety, Minneapolis is doubling down on conventional policing. How do US city governments, police departments, and local media continue to convince Americans to accept policing as is?

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The Violent Crime We Don’t Discuss

In short, it’s hard to talk about the harm caused by a city’s police department and politicians when they ensure the public safety conversation stays stuck on looting and shooting.

Among the most frustrating MDHR discoveries are the details of Minneapolis city officials’ direct responsibility for several issues named and willful neglect of many others. Just as important as highlighting how awful MPD has been is scrutinizing the people who oversee and fund it.

Simply put, City Council, the Mayor, and other elected officials are expected to act like they care about civilians. For contrast, the Chief of Police is the only police officer expected to convince Minneapolis civilians of MPD’s goodness. Even the person in that position — no matter how progressive on paper — preaches loyalty to cops that is as strong, if not stronger, than their duty to residents.

Since Minneapolis politicians make bigger promises and proudly claim to know and do better, they should be held as responsible for MPD’s failures as MPD is. Now that MDHR has shown the City’s various accountability measures for MPD are all corrupted by entanglement with MPD, how could the average concerned citizen with that information trust anything the City says about police accountability?

They couldn’t, so the City and MPD make sure the information is made irrelevant.

Mayor Frey cushioned the MDHR report in an April 2022 press conference by pretending he had no role in MPD’s human rights violations despite the report stating otherwise. Both he and then-interim Chief of Police Amelia Huffman offered lip service that portrayed them as clueless to all the “repugnant” and “deeply concerning” stuff MPD did under their watch.

With much of the press’ focus on MPD officers’ use of bigoted language, the meat and potatoes of the MDHR report were left to spoil in that press conference. Frey and Huffman were allowed to get away with the notion they had nothing to do with anything bad and will be a part of everything good MPD does moving forward. It’s why the cyclical promise of a new mayor or police chief keeps people hopeful: no one knows how guilty the people in those positions really are. Local journalists and news outlets are eager to take these powerful people at their word, print their quotes, and move on. Why get dirty?

This is how good-faith, research-supported public safety ideas get bullied out of thoughtful public conversation by empty promises and half-baked more-crime-more-cops rhetoric. This is how an obvious truth such as MPD’s criminality becomes a doubtful and possibly risky thing for people to say.

This pattern isn’t unique to Minneapolis: unethical media practices in recent public safety talk are nationwide. Among them are blind acceptance of police statements as facts, refusing to discuss more serious harm caused by powerful people (e.g. wage theft, lead poisoning, cash bail), and excluding significant research and public support of the belief that preventive safety measures are more effective than police at reducing violent crime.

In short, it’s hard to talk about the harm caused by a city’s police department and politicians when they ensure the public safety conversation stays stuck on looting and shooting.

What Does Minneapolis Want?

Question 2 — the “Replace Police Department with Department of Public Safety Initiative” — was voted on less than two years ago. But in a city where Behavioral Crisis Response (BCR) teams are successfully responding to thousands of incidents without police and a strong majority of people believe some police funding should go toward social services, Question 2’s failure and the departure of most City Council members who supported it is perplexing. (It is unclear how important public safety stances were in City Council election results, but the impact of losing lawmakers with alternative public safety ideas remains.)

In case you believe this is purely a partisan issue and MN Republicans simply need to get out of the way of real change, consider the loudest opposition to Question 2 came from MN Democrats including Governor Tim Walz and Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

Journalism nationwide on the meaning of “defund the police” is lazy. Survey instruments used to gauge public opinion on this topic are wildly inconsistent, but themes are emerging. When plainly asked if money should be taken from police budgets and put toward social services, most people in Minneapolis approve — like citizens of other big American cities (page 10 of the last hyperlinked source). But survey questions which include accurate yet more loaded language explicitly saying police departments will have less money/cops — “defund,” “reduce,” and so on — receive more mixed results.

2020 MPR Poll Question Asking Minneapolis residents if the City should or should not redirect some money from the Minneapolis Police Department to social services. 73 percent of respondents said "should," 24 percent said "should not."
August 2020 poll question on defunding police which uses the phrase “redirect some funding” instead of “defund police”
August 2020 MPR poll question asking Minneapolis residents if Minneapolis should or should not reduce the size of its police force. 40 percent say "should" and 44 percent say "should not."
Same August 2020 poll explicitly asking if the City should reduce the size of MPD
Fall 2021 KARE11 poll question asking Minneapolis residents if the City should reduce the number of Minneapolis Police Department officers. 55 percent responded "should not" and 29 percent responded "should" with 16 percent saying "not sure."
September 2021 poll question which explicitly asks if Minneapolis should have fewer police officers

Why do the people of Minneapolis hesitate to want fewer cops despite wanting MPD to have fewer resources? Mainly, it seems, because a strong majority believes they would be less safe with a smaller police force. Based on the MDHR report, it would be more accurate to say maintaining or growing the police force is a greater threat to public safety. But who in the public eye would dare to say that?

The margin of error police are given is greater than the space within the margins. National news-level fuck-ups and multi-million dollar clean-ups are now viewed by city officials as part of the process rather than too many big red flags.

Without fundamental organizational culture changes, reforming MPD’s policies, procedures, and trainings will be meaningless.

– MDHR, “Investigation into the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department,” (p.8)

While “fundamental organizational culture changes” is an open-ended phrase, MDHR calling reform “meaningless” is not. Line-by-line changes of what police can and cannot do, often in reaction to a national police scandal, change nothing.

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For all the promoted fear of a world without police, their presence — whether on the streets or in public discourse — and the funding they receive is greater than ever. Even in Minneapolis’ BCR model of public safety, cops, proven escalators of violence, are legally required to show up if a deadly weapon is present regardless if a person is in legal possession of it or is not threatening to use it.

More than anything, it’s hard to accept a department as harmful and dysfunctional as MPD is given so many chances to redeem itself without losing money or influence. It’s hard to accept that Minneapolis residents, despite their well-documented suffering at MPD’s hands, don’t want to see MPD’s presence shrink. It’s hard to accept a city regularly billed as “livable,” “liberal,” sometimes even “radical,” is continuing to center its public safety plan on a known human rights-violating organization. What does that mean for public safety in the rest of the country?

MPD has been proven violently racist … so?

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