Finding a path forward on police reform

It has been two weeks since Jamar Clark lost his life. A broad swath of people have seized this moment to call attention and demand an end to the ongoing problem of mistreatment at the hands of the police directed at poor and minority people, especially black people, in our city.

And then a week ago, in only what can be considered a reprehensible hate crime, white supremacists tried to murder five of our citizens who were participating in the call to action. I acknowledge that perhaps I should have spoken up publicly sooner than now.

I will not register any opinions about the specific facts of the tragedy surrounding the night Jamar Clark was shot. The fact that a federal investigation has been requested by the Mayor, and agreed to, is a good thing and will help ensure that to the extent possible, the facts will ascertained and disclosed.

Likewise, I have not been present for any of the controversial events in and around the 4th Police Precinct. I hope an investigation into these matters will occur.

I am grateful to Mayor Hodges, police leadership, Congressman Ellison, city leaders, and protest leaders who have been responsible in the time since for their work in calming the situation, whether increased tension was a result of police actions or that of outside agitators.

The level of antipathy large segments of our community feel for the police in the aftermath of this tragedy is real and it is not irrational. The reasons for that have to be acknowledged and tangible policy change and systems change need to occur if those feelings are ever going to subside.

I will mention, only for purposes of some context, that I and many I know have been abused by police, both verbally and physically, for being LGBTQ. Probably worse, I’ve seen police respond with a total lack of empathy and caring when members of my community have needed their service, intervention and protection. With regard to members of the black community and other racial minorities, I have witnessed daily, banal indignities from police. I am aware of corner cutting given too often to basic civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Numerous legal settlements amounting to millions of dollars are testament of unacceptable police violence. I’ve witnessed instances of utter lack of compassion for the most ill and marginalized on our streets from responding officers.

I do not seek to equate my own experience with the nature of the comprehensive level of oppression that black people and other minority people live every single day of their lives — I am keenly aware of my white privilege.

I’ve also witnessed incredibly wonderful responses from police too, so I know that it is possible. I know many individual officers who are smart, progressive, committed to treating people with respect and dignity, and have acted heroically in small and large ways. It is sometimes awkward and difficult to criticize the police who do things I am incapable of, and who have to see things on a daily basis that I’ve never seen with my own eyes and pray that I never do.

I accept the argument that police culture exists within a larger system of racism and white privilege in our society. However, police power is the raw manifestation of the power of our government. Police are the only individuals authorized to legally use physical force, up to and including lethal means, to enforce government power. The misuse of this power in turn helps perpetuate the larger systems of racism and privilege — and actually works against the goal of civil order and safety — which is the core function and purpose of police. It is of the utmost importance that police submit and are accountable to civilian authority, which is in turn accountable to the people, voters, in our democratic system where power originates.

The best way I know how to respond to issues and problems is with policy solutions that come out of a movement for change, and can in turn help drive transformation. I have been researching police reforms for quite some time now, more intensively over the past year. It is past time to get this work rolling. I invite all good ideas. Just as important, I invite all who care about this to come together to launch a larger legislative campaign to get the best of them passed, signed, enacted into law and implemented.

At the same time, much needs to be done to build an economy that works for everyone, systems of finance, education, transportation, health care, housing, and social supports that give everyone an equal shot at opportunity — and to ensure that our democracy truly upholds the ideal of full equality for everyone. These things need to happen in tandem.

The themes elevated by a number of police reform efforts across our country serve as a great guide for what we might pursue here in Minnesota. Just to mention a couple of resources: from the President’s Task Force on 21st Policing (http://tinyurl.com/PresidentTF21stCenturyPolicing), we can learn much about restoring trust and legitimacy, developing strong policies and corresponding oversight, the principles of procedural justice, effective and appropriate use of technology and social media, engaging in community policing and reducing crime, providing better training and education, and ensuring officer wellness and safety.

From the Center for Popular Democracy and PolicyLink, (www.justiceinpolicing.com/) there are important ideas around ending mass criminalization, tracking and measuring racial impacts of policies and policing, diversion and restorative justice programs, guaranteeing safe and just police interactions, banning bias based policing, making sure police are subject to community control and independent oversight, independent investigations and prosecutors, demilitarizing departments, and improving police department practices around training, consent to search and use of force.

I look forward to working alongside and in support of anyone of good will who shares my belief that change for the better is possible and wants to be a part of this effort to create and pursue passage of a package of reform and transformation so we can return to the time when police are more widely regarded as partners, guardians and allies in creating a better place for all of us to live together as community.

How, exactly, this package will be finalized and prepared for introduction is under discussion with leaders of several of the great organizations who have been at the forefront of movement building that have given rise to recent policy changes for the better. Stay tuned on how to jump in and be a part of this important work.

Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-61) represents neighborhoods in downtown, southwest and south Minneapolis. He originally posted this commentary on his Facebook page.