In Ramsey County, Minnesota (home of Saint Paul) you can be jailed for up to 90 days, and fined up to $1,000, if you are found in a park after hours. “Hours” in Ramsey County parks are from sun up to sun down, so the hours change daily and in pragmatic terms, are subjective.
I can see having a rule about when you can be in the park, and fixing it to sunlight makes sense, and I can even see a modest punishment for offenders. But three months in jail because you thought the sun was still up 15 minutes after sundown? Note to those reading this from the equator: The sun continues to brighten the northern sky long after official sundown, since the penumbra is quite wide in high latitudes.
That was in the Star Tribune, the region’s newspaper of record. In the same issue is an op-ed penned by a local retired cop who has a new job of screaming at clouds. There was a horrific and tragic shootout at a local bar the other day, in which over a dozen innocent bystanders were shot, one killed. It was a shootout among some bad hombres including one with an open warrant. Old Guy Cop made the argument that if only cops were allowed to make “low level stops” (aka pretextual stops) then this shooting could have been avoided. The argument goes like this: Cops were formerly allowed to pull people over for things like busted taillights. In so doing they would also end up finding felons with outstanding warrants, so they were thus kept of the streets. But now with all the “defund the police” talk this isn’t the case anymore, thus the shooting.
Please allow me to clarify a few things. Pretextual stops are not prohibited, though they are reduced in that county and other Minnesota communities as we (the people) pressured our police to do so after a pretexutal stop initiated killing. They have historically (especially when combined with the perambulation version, where citizen pedestrians are shaken down by police officers) are the starting point for (mostly white) cops killing (mostly black) people with their guns, or sometimes, knees or fists. Pretextual stops do cause the apprehension of the occasional bad guy, but not many of them, certainly not most of them. There has been no defunding of police (though to be fair, the concept was implied and not named in the OpEd). The cloud shouting by this ex-cop, who begged to be called a racist in his own OpEd (yes, he’s a racist, there, I said it) was full of misinformation and negative accusations applied to entire categories of people. The contents, factually, would not have been allowed in a news item in a respectable paper. The Star Tribune should not have published it. But they did, and with it I make the following point.
We are a society in which we have come to expect the police to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals they run across on the street, and act accordingly. That 90 day jail sentence for a walk in the park would not likely happen very often. But the fact that it is a crime to be in the park at night allows cops to bust whomever they like, and leave alone those whom they determine either mainstream and acceptable, or perhaps, too dangerous to approach. Then, it allows prosecutors, if they so desire, to try to jail someone for doing basically nothing, presumably on the grounds that they must have done something, even if the cops didn’t nail them for that thing.
My point is that the lack of rigor and humanitarian thinking by the editorial staff of the Star Tribune, which allows them to not notice a senseless anti-civilization rant when they see it, is part of the broader culture of pretending that we have a fair criminal justice system, when what we actually have is a police state that remains mostly benign for mostly white adults, and significantly dangerous for people of color, and others who don’t exist entirely in societies normative silos.
But, there is hope. Ramsey county is considering changing its park rules. Some of our local police departments really are backing off on certain stops. The Hennepin County Sheriff has tried this: Instead of giving people they pull over for a broken tail light a ticket, they give them a coupon to get the light fixed. Thins are changing a little. They are changing at all because we (the people) are putting a great deal of pressure on The Man. But not enough pressure, and things are changing too slowly.