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Bob Kroll’s letter yesterday to the Minneapolis Police Federation membership showed us what rank-and-file officers voted for in their leadership, and it is yet another sign that the department is irredeemably beyond reform.
I don’t want to focus too much on Bob Kroll because he’s a symptom of a much deeper problem in the Minneapolis Police Department, but it’s worth saying that he’s a malignant presence in our city and should resign.
After watching MPD officers escalate and provoke anger all week, he asserts that if they’d only been allowed to use more violence, they could have put a stop to demonstrations. This is nonsense. MPD officers chose him as their leader.
After we’ve spent the week expressing mourning and outrage at Derek Chauvin’s violence and his fellow ex-officers' apathy, Kroll imagines he could sway our feelings by smearing George Floyd’s reputation. This is despicable. MPD officers chose him as their leader.
I want to be clear: I am about as pro-union as a person can be. The Police Federation should not be thought of as a union. They do not affiliate with the AFL-CIO. They don’t walk picket lines in solidarity. How do I know? Because I do and I’ve never seen them on a line. Not once.
Instead, they distort hard-earned labor laws to defend indefensible behaviors. The City recently lost an arbitration after Chief Arradondo fired a cop for beating someone while in handcuffs. Kroll, on behalf of rank and file MPD, pressed the case and won that officer’s job back.
I am very glad that former city leaders like Chief Harteau and Mayor Rybak spoke up yesterday because it’s important for people to know that this has been going on for a long time.
Why hasn’t it been fixed? Because the crisis we’re in this week has been an implied threat hanging over the city during union negotiations, discipline proceedings, and budget hearings for years.
Politicians who cross the MPD find slowdowns in their wards. After the first time I cut money from the proposed police budget, I had an uptick in calls taking forever to get a response, and MPD officers telling business owners to call their councilman about why it took so long.
We pay dearly for public safety: $195 million a year plus extensive, expensive legal settlements. That should buy us more than a protection racket that’ll take it out on our constituents if we try to create accountability.
Many leaders before us have flinched. Looking at the steep consequences of this crisis, I think that is understandable. The violence and destruction of this week is our worst fears realized.
But now we’re here. And they can’t threaten this any more. It’s happening, and we’re going to get through it. Traumatized, suffering heavy losses, and permanently changed.
The people they used to mobilize to come yell at us about how we needed more cops? They’re either calling for structural change, or they’re staying extremely quiet hoping things will go back to normal. Things aren’t going back to normal.
All of my colleagues got to where they are in different ways. To varying degrees, we’ve all imagined that reform was possible, whether because incremental reform was what we wanted, or because reform was all that seemed politically possible.
I’ve pretty consistently been on the front edge of the fight to give MPD less money and more accountability. To be clear: that front edge hasn’t been especially radical. It's been the most we could find seven votes for at the time.
For example, here’s what I wrote last year, during a summer when the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Council published a poll showing big support for hiring more cops. Compared to the demands in the streets today, it looks weak. startribune.com/editorial-coun…
But that summer (less than a year ago), my advocacy prompted a series of attacks, exemplified by a downtown business owner calling me “More dangerous than the criminals” for opposing increases. I wasn’t even proposing cuts!
That conversation never changes. Here’s a YouTube clip from the 1970s about Hennepin Avenue, in which business owners call for more cops. In my entire lifetime, there's been a mainstream call for more cops downtown.
That is what the people in the streets in Minneapolis have now changed. People got four officers immediately fired. People in the streets got Derek Chauvin charged, and his prosecution transferred to the AG.
It became clear by day two that people were marching for much more than that – the response to George Floyd’s death needed to be much more than any prosecution could offer. What people in the streets have won is a permanent, generational change to the mainstream view of policing.
I don’t know yet, though several of us on the council are working on finding out, what it would take to disband the MPD and start fresh with a community-oriented, non-violent public safety and outreach capacity.
Our city needs a public safety capacity that doesn’t fear our residents. That doesn’t need a gun at a community meeting. That considers itself part of our community. That doesn’t resort quickly to pepper spray when people are understandably angry. That doesn’t murder black men.
We can totally reimagine what public safety means, what skills we’re recruiting for, what tools we do and don’t need. We can invest in cultural competency and mental health training, de-escalation and conflict resolution.
We can send a city response that makes situations better. We can resolve confusion over a $20 grocery transaction without drawing a weapon, or pulling out handcuffs.
The whole world is watching, and we can declare policing as we know it a thing of the past, and create a compassionate, non-violent future. It will be hard. But so is managing a dysfunctional relationship with an unaccountable armed force in our city.
Let’s show the world what Minneapolis is made of.
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