This state and country are crying out for greater police accountability, and our elected leaders must pay heed.
It's increasingly difficult to argue that the episodes we've all seen could not have been prevented, or that training alone is to blame. In Daunte Wright's killing last week, Kimberly Potter was a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center force and the senior officer at the scene, actually training the others.
Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged with murdering George Floyd, was also the senior officer on the scene last May and also training. Americans must acknowledge that broad, systemic changes are needed to shift incentives toward more just, equitable law enforcement that respects the rights and dignity of individuals. It's a plea the Star Tribune Editorial Board has made repeatedly for years.
To do that, we must first dispense with the idea that death at the hands of police is the province of one race, or one ethnicity, or one geographic area. A recent Star Tribune analysis found more than 200 such deaths over 20 years, cutting across all lines. Everyone has a stake in creating a better system of law enforcement and criminal justice.
Some states are moving past Minnesota in adopting such reforms. Colorado in 2020 ended qualified immunity for law enforcement — a doctrine that makes it more difficult to hold police accountable. New Mexico recently did the same.
Maryland just passed a sweeping set of reforms that overhauls disciplinary procedures; allows the public to view complaints and police files in cases of alleged misconduct; and creates a new statewide standard limiting officers to "necessary" and "proportional" force, backed by potential possible criminal penalties. It also imposes serious restrictions on so-called no-knock warrants and nighttime home raids.
"The job we have in front of us is based on a lot more than what happened on Sunday," Minnesota DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman told an editorial writer, referring to the day Wright was killed. "This system is creating tragic outcomes. It's a system that we know from the number has unacceptable outcomes in communities of color, unacceptable levels of death and trauma."
The Legislature adopted some necessary and substantive changes after Floyd's death in 2020, banning chokeholds and neck restraints; prohibiting "warrior"-style training; changing the arbitration process in disciplinary cases, and strengthening the role of the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board. At the time, DFL Rep. Carlos Mariani, who leads the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice division, hailed the changes as creating "a modern accountability framework of laws that will help to end the type of police brutality that killed George Floyd."
But Mariani, in talking to an editorial writer, made clear that he knew even then the work was not yet finished. "It was a start," he said, "not an end point." Republican Sen. Warren Limmer, who leads the Judiciary and Public Safety committee, called the bill at the time "a good first step in effecting responsible policing." Mariani went on to hold 11 hearings on police accountability this year. Limmer, he said, held none. Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka now is pledging as a "goodwill gesture" to hold fact-finding hearings soon but added that "this is complex and we are not just going to jam it in the next four weeks." Gov. Tim Walz told an editorial writer that he believes there are systemic, nonpartisan changes that community advocates and police alike can back, including stronger POST standards, additional civilian oversight, ending no-knock warrants, and changing which situations require armed police. The Legislature is where people are supposed to be heard, Walz rightly added, and where real, lasting change can occur.