BY JOHN STUART
Quaker social justice values are embodied in “Testimonies,” adherence to peace, equality, community and integrity. A year ago, members of the Minneapolis Friends Meeting began to talk about the policing of our city in the light of these Testimonies.
Too often, we had seen violence in policing. We saw Jamar Clark thrown to the ground, shot, and killed. We saw Terrance Franklin, unarmed, chased into a basement by five officers and a dog, shot, and killed. We saw Justine Damond, who called the police for help, shot, and killed. We saw the murder of George Floyd. We knew – I was a public defender for 36 years – that there was more police violence, beatings, punching, heads slammed onto the squad car, that we did not see.
Too often, we had seen inequality in policing. An ACLU study established that the marijuana arrest rate was eight times as high for Black people as for whites. Traffic stops for taillights, tabs, and “dangling object on mirror” were much higher for Black motorists. Most white people don’t know it is illegal to have a pine tree air freshener on your mirror, but the Black community has learned this from experience.
We don’t know what “community” means to the Minneapolis police. Ninety-two percent of our officers do not live in the city. Disrespect is shown not just in neighborhoods where people of color are concentrated – and it surely is there – but also at demonstrations. Many diverse protesters have been injured by rubber bullets and paint balls shot at their heads. Officers talked openly on camera about “hunting” protesters. The city will have to settle up a lot of lawsuits from these police practices.
But not much has happened to hold officers accountable for racial bias and violence. This leads us to examine the integrity of the department that is meant to “Protect and Serve.” Officer Chauvin had 18 documented complaints before he murdered George Floyd, many of which were for hurting people. He received two reprimands and was appointed as a training officer. Police misconduct in Minneapolis is most often addressed by “coaching,” even for excessive force, so that harmful, disgraceful incidents never see the light of day. This is not integrity.
Twenty-five people from the Minneapolis Friends Meeting, and some friends and neighbors, decided to take action. We scheduled monthly Zoom meetings with city officials to express our concerns. We met with Mayor Frey, and with mayoral candidate Kate Knuth. We met with interim Chief Amelia Huffman and three other women officers, responding to studies that say a police department with 30% women changes its culture. We met with a state legislator, the Chair of the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, the neighborhood activist Don Samuels, and seven members of the City Council.
We let them know we believe police have an extremely hard job, and that we have deep respect for the officers – a very large majority of officers – who do it well. We are disturbed by increases in violent crime. We know we need law enforcement. We know the department is short of staff. We know some of the leadership is trying to change things for the better.
All the same, there is too much violence, disrespect, racism and cover-up coming out of the Minneapolis Police Department. We will keep listening, and keep speaking up. We have faith that at some point voices like ours will be heard.
John Stuart is a member of the Minneapolis Friends Meeting. However, he is writing here as an individual, not on behalf of the Meeting.