Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

St. Cloud Times. April 16, 2021.

Editorial: We can’t let this happen again

Last week, as the world had its eyes on Minnesota for a trial that could define the future of our criminal justice system, yet another Black man was killed by a Minnesota police officer.

It happened. Again.

Last Sunday, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by then-Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter during a traffic stop.

Police said Wright was pulled over for expired tags, but they later discovered he had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court. Wright’s mother, who said her son called her just before he was shot, said Wright told her that police had pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror.

Potter, a 26-year police veteran, is believed to have intended to use her Taser on Wright, but fired her handgun instead, killing him.

How an officer with so much experience mistook her much-heavier service weapon for a Taser is unclear. And Potter, like many officers, holstered her handgun on her right side and her Taser on the left, according to court records, making confusion even more inexplicable.

Police have described the shooting of Wright as “an accidental discharge.”

It’s still no excuse for shooting an unarmed person who was stopped for an expired car registration and ended up dead. And even if she had grabbed her Taser, was that kind of force even necessary in this situation?

Many have argued that not complying with police or resisting is what puts people into these kinds of situations. But should a lack of complete compliance bring an extrajudicial death penalty? At what level of resistance is force — too often deadly force — the just outcome? Pulling away from police? Yelling? Spitting? Trying to run? Throwing a punch? Brandishing a weapon? Taking a hostage? Using a weapon? Clearly, not all resistance is equal. Nor should all resistance result in the use of force.

Wright, who appears to try to return to his vehicle while being arrested, was in no way endangering any of the officers’ lives. He likely feared for his own, knowing that less than one year ago and roughly 15 miles away, an officer pulled another Black man out of a vehicle and knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes until he died. He might have remembered Philando Castile, shot to death during a Twin Cities traffic stop. Or Jamar Clark. Or any of the long list of Black and brown men who have died at the hands of police across the nation while committing a minor offense or no offense at all.

Police officers are specifically trained in how to react when a routine encounter doesn’t proceed with zero resistance. In their line of duty, when making a mistake can be deadly, they need to be held accountable for treating everyone they encounter with the least amount of force necessary to accomplish their task and keep everyone — themselves and the citizens they are sworn to serve — alive to resolve the issue where it belongs: in court.

Yes, being a police officer is a dangerous job. Working as a police officer is about 4.1 times as dangerous compared with the average job nationwide, and officers must be on alert for those who will do them harm and they must be allowed to defend themselves from deadly force used against them. But pulling away or attempting to flee is not “deadly force.”

The idea that policing is the most dangerous occupation outside of the military is a widespread myth. It is a misperception that contributes to blind public support for police who respond with deadly force to any resistance.

Police officers, in fact, have a workplace fatality rate similar to maintenance workers, construction workers and heavy vehicle mechanics. Logging workers had a fatal accident rate that was 33 times the average American worker, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Aircraft pilots, derrick operators, roofers and garbage collectors are statistically at higher risk on the job.

“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” Imran Ali, Washington County assistant criminal division chief, said in a statement announcing the second-degree manslaughter charge against Potter. “(Potter’s) action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable.”

The job of a police officer carries a lot of responsibility. The duty to protect and serve. But when too many officers only protect and serve those who look like them, when the use of unjustified force is a reflex, they’re committing injustice. And they are increasing the risk to everyone who wears a uniform by escalating fear and distrust of police and increasing the likelihood they’ll meet resistance, starting the cycle anew.

And so it goes.

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Mankato Free Press. April 18, 2021.

Editorial: Hate crimes Proposed law changes would highlight hidden threats

It’s an unsettling fact that the government seems to track parking tickets better than it tracks hate crimes.

But a proposal to modify hate crime reporting in Minnesota to allow reports to other agencies than police and to include hate graffiti can help solve that case of misplaced priorities.

A recent case of neo-Nazi graffiti via stickers on lamp posts in the Mankato area may have fit under the new legal definition of a hate crime and given authorities power to investigate and prosecute.

Hate crimes at the state and federal level have from the beginning been described by a messy set of legal terms and nuances that fostered underreporting. For example, anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas painted on a Minneapolis school were not considered a hate crime because the school was not owned by a “targeted” group. The graffiti would have had to have been painted on the home of a Jewish person to qualify.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, has proposed the change in law, noting the anti-Semitic graffiti was five blocks from his house. While such graffiti doesn’t technically qualify as a hate crime, it has the intimidating effect on school kids and others who have to read it and walk by it.

It has a “community intimidation” effect. It should be a hate crime.

Hate crimes are under-reported by two thirds, according to a report in Police Chief Magazine. Annual FBI hate crime reports show some states reporting no hate crimes at all. Experts say that is related to the complicated and convoluted way hate crimes must be reported by local agencies and many just don’t bother.

The proposal also calls for allowing people to report to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights instead of police as some groups are wary of reporting to police.

Hornstein’s bill (HF 1691) would also expand the definition of those covered by the hate crime law to include “ethnicity,” “gender identity” and “gender expression.” Current protected categories the hate crime law covers include race, sex, sexual orientation, color, religion, national origin and disability.

While Hornstein’s bill may not get through the Legislature on its own for lack of hearings in the GOP Senate, some provisions are included in House omnibus bills. Hornstein told MinnPost he is optimistic the provisions will get heard in conference committees.

We urge the Legislature to change the way Minnesota defines hate crimes as incidents rise and reporting lags. We give power to that which we give attention, and hate crimes deserve attention.

Victims of hate crimes need to be heard and communities need to be able to respond forcefully when random acts of hate surface on their streets.

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Minnesota Star Tribune. April 19, 2021.

Editorial: Walter Mondale, 1928-2021: A rich life devoted to public service

The former U.S. vice president and son of Minnesota deserves this state’s thanks for his contributions.

Walter Mondale — former vice president, U.S. senator, diplomat, presidential nominee and son of Minnesota — has died at age 93. To say that his life was one devoted to public service does not begin to describe all that he gave his state, his country, the world.

The son of a pastor from small-town Minnesota, Mondale served in the Army during the Korean War and went to law school on the GI Bill. His worldview was inclusive and expansive, and he credited his faith with imbuing in him a deep respect for all people that was to guide his life in politics.

As vice president, Mondale would dramatically reshape that office, creating with then-President Jimmy Carter a true team approach that would make the VP an active partner in the presidency. It is a pattern that nearly every president has followed since.

As a senator, Mondale helped push breakthrough legislation in civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protections, fair housing and family issues. He brought a keen eye to foreign affairs and was credited with the discussions that led to the historic Camp David talks between Egypt and Israel. It was Mondale’s intervention to save Southeast Asian refugees from the Vietnam War that resulted in asylum for many, forever changing the face of Minnesota by sparking a major resettlement of Hmong Cambodians here and across the country.

As his party’s nominee for president in 1984, he shattered convention by naming the first woman to run on a presidential ticket, Geraldine Ferraro. It would take until 2020 before a woman would be elected vice president. “I remember the day (Ferraro) was announced,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “It felt to me like anything and everything was possible.”

Mondale was a lifelong mentor for Klobuchar, from the time she was an intern in his vice presidential office (with an inauspicious first assignment of cataloging furniture) and across her career, including her own presidential run. Mondale, Klobuchar said, always saw the job as “bigger than himself, and a big part of that was bringing along the next generation of leaders. He had such a strong moral core,” she said. “It defined everything he did, how he treated people, the hard fights he took on.”

After serving as Minnesota attorney general, two terms in the U.S. Senate, a term as vice president and after serving as U.S. ambassador to Japan, Mondale was pressed into service again for the saddest of duties. Following the death of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone in a plane crash less than two weeks before Election Day in 2002, supporters turned to Mondale, then 74, as a replacement. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a friend of the family, managed the short-lived campaign. “He didn’t hesitate,” she recalled, though the duty was a brutal one. When he lost, Smith recalled, he was most concerned about the young people on the staff and volunteers who had already been through so much. “He didn’t want them to lose hope, to lose faith in politics,” she said. “That was his way. Always thinking of others.”

Smith, too, found a trusted mentor in Mondale. When she was about to be appointed lieutenant governor, Mondale unearthed the original memo he had worked on with Carter about changing the vice president’s role. “He wanted me to have it as a guide,” she said. “He always made me laugh. He had this self-deprecating, no-B.S., dry Midwestern humor. He remembered things about people.”

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School, as well as the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies, said the man he got to know was warm, funny, engaged and on top of political and policy developments to the last. After 17 years of teaching together, Jacobs says he still called him “Mr. Mondale.”

In private as in public, he said, Mondale was “the most respectful, decent guy many said they ever worked with. He had strong views, but also felt like what you believe should not come at the cost of someone else’s self respect.”

Jacobs called Mondale “a builder of modern American government,” launching budget reforms instrumental in creating the modern-day Congressional Budget Office — including the reconciliation process that President Joe Biden would later use to push the American Rescue Plan, with its massive coronavirus relief, through Congress.

Jacobs said Mondale also played a pivotal role in the career of a young senator who had lost his wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash that also injured his two sons. Mondale camped out in the hospital room with the recently elected Sen. Joe Biden, urging him to stay in the Senate, saying it could become part of his family, Jacobs recalled. Biden would later say that when he had to decide whether to run with Barack Obama, his first call was to Mondale, who persuaded him to join the ticket.

In a 1984 introductory video for the Democratic National Convention, Mondale told delegates that, “Dad always taught us that we had a duty to make America better and to help others. That’s supposed to be what America is all about. Every child ought to have a chance to fulfill his or her dreams. I want to make our nation and our world safer. I want to make it more hopeful.”

Minnesota thanks you, Mr. Mondale, for a lifetime of living out that simple and powerful creed.

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