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MPD culture of racism is no surprise


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The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) investigated and found that the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) engaged in a pattern or practice of racial discrimination against Black people over the 10-year period beginning in 2010. Among its troubling findings, MDHR reported that MPD officers and/or officials created and used fake social media accounts to surveil Black leaders and organizations, including the Urban League Twin Cities and Minneapolis NAACP.

As a nearly 100-year-old legacy institution in this community, the Urban League Twin Cities is outraged and deeply offended by the actions of the MPD, as laid out in the MDHR investigative report. We are particularly aggrieved by the surveillance actions listed on page 35 of the report, which describes how police members created false social media accounts to monitor, influence and discredit the Urban League and at least one other Black organization.

This was unwarranted and fruitless. The Urban League has nothing to hide and has always acted lawfully to advance equity, justice and power for Black people in the Twin Cities. But the MPD’s surreptitious social media sham also was wasteful of public resources, misdirected, and tone deaf to the real threat, which is policing itself.

MPD did not target any white supremacist organizations during the same 10-year period and to date has not initiated social media surveillance of any known hate groups or their leaders.

This institutional pattern and practice of MPD can only be described as an unchecked culture of racism enabled by department and elected leaders who have been unwilling or unable to control or hold them accountable.

We are grateful to Commissioner Rebecca Lucero and her colleagues at MDHR for their careful and courageous investigation and analysis. But the report presents only a small part of a larger and longer story of arbitrary, violent and too often deadly racial injustice perpetrated against Black people by the MPD. The report documents a 10-year period, but Black people have known and reported for decades that we are subjected to pretextual traffic stops, are more likely to have force used against us during those stops, and that the stops result in more frequent arrests, fines and fatalities than white people suffer in similar circumstances.

The report’s documentation of this reality negates any reasonable denial of racism in the MPD and obviates the feckless argument that Derek Chauvin was an aberration.

While we are justifiably dismayed by the state’s findings, we do not have the luxury of wallowing in our contempt. The question for all of us is, what’s next? What difference will the data make? MPD officer Derek Chauvin was recorded murdering George Floyd nearly two years ago and yet the indelible image of his public execution has not changed the reality that white lives matter and Black lives don’t in the hands of countless white police officers.

MDHR intends to pursue a negotiated resolution with the city and MPD that would be legally enforceable. We support that initiative, but it is not enough. Courts can’t change culture. Justice can’t be negotiated.

Police commit deplorable, racist acts against Black people because they can do so with impunity but also because they believe they are protecting and serving “their” community. The express or tacit approval of their supervisors complements the imagined or real support of the broader white community.

It’s time to change that narrative. Those who are protected and served must expressly reject the presumption that you approve of racist policing. That supposition must be rejected firmly, frequently and forthrightly. We call on allies and all people of good will to contact their legislators, county and city elected officials, and police federation leadership and members to express unqualified opposition to racist policing and unfettered determination to end such practices. Demand that they reform, rehabilitate and retrofit policing now!

Our lives depend on it.

Steven Belton is president and CEO, Urban League Twin Cities.



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