Tag Archives: Police shooting

Political costs of black lives not actually mattering

The real cost, the important cost, of black lives not mattering to the white establishment, the police, and others, is of course uncalled for injury and death of, mainly, young black men, but also anyone of color regardless of gender or age. But here I simply want to point out a different thing, which will circle back. These are my opinions as an observer of politics in Minnesota, and focus on the Twin Cities. I am not issuing an endorsement or a criticism of any individual in office, formerly in office, or running for office. Just pointing out some key realities and giving my perspective, which is in my view at least partly correct, but likely subject to revision.

Here is the typical scenario. Something happens that brings together a group of Minneapolis or other Twin Cities metro area police officers, and a person of color, probably a male of a certain age.

There is a certain chance the man has in fact done something to attract legitimate attention of the police, but maybe he hasn’t. Either way, he now has the attention of the police. This is scary for many police officers who happen to have a racist streak, because black people of all sorts are scary to many white people. Add to that the fear that naturally comes along with being a police officer, etc. etc., and you end up with the cops shooting the black person. It is even scarier for the person of color because he or she is now confronting a real chance of violence, injury, or death.

This is not good set of circumstances for a rational and productive conversation.

There are usually two other elements. One is the idea that the black person has a gun, or that it looks like the black person has a gun, or in some cases, the black person is “acting in a way consistent with having a gun,” a formulation recently seen in the media that would totally make me laugh if it wasn’t so utterly un-funny.

The other element is a video, either taken by a passer by, or a dash cam or cop cam video.

And, in the cases of these meet ups that we usually hear about, the cops end up shooting the citizen. Usually killing the citizen.

Now we come to the political elements.

First, acknowledge that a black person shooting at the cops with a gun is liable to get shot to death. But, a black person with a gun in his or her possession is likely not violating any laws. Minnesota is a conceal and carry state, and as a country, we are gun happy and love guns and everybody could have a gun, nearly. So putting the gun in the hands of a black person does not justify their death on the street. Keep that in mind.

When we have a police shooting in the news, there will be all sorts of information, often contradictory (and thus not that reliable) about what happened. Pretty quickly, the prospect of a video of some kind comes into play. Investigators justifiably want to keep the video under wraps for a period of time in order to not influence witnesses. Community members, the family of the slain, and others, justifiably want the video released. But, the people who have the video, such as the State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or a County Prosecutor or similar, get to choose when to release it.

I strongly suspect that the cops and prosecutors hang on to the video longer than the absolutely need to. A little bit of that extra time may be in an abundance of caution. But I suspect that most of that extra time is some sort of power play, and is inappropriate.

The mayor of the city in which this happens is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The mayor likely wants to please the citizens by releasing the video sooner than the cops do. But the prosecutors make the point that if it is released too soon, and this ruins the case, then the mayor would be responsible. And so on. So, the mayor tries to put the issue off, making the claim that we simply have to do what the police do, and not interfere with the investigation.

You know the drill. We see it every week or so somewhere in the US. The Twin Cities Metro has this happen every few months, it seems. It is happening right now, as I write this.

Which brings us to three elected individuals, what is happening to them, and what I opine about it.

Mike Freeman is the Hennepin County Attorney, and thus, responsible for making many of these decisions about what to do. He just now decided to not prosecute the police after a recent police killing. There was a video, there was a gun, the community is angry,etc. There is a good case to be made (though I’m not saying this is what happened) that at the moment the cops emptied their guns into this particular black man, they were justified, because maybe he had this gun pointing them. But there is also a good case, it appears, to be made that the entire incident was botches by the cops, and that the police essentially goaded this man, who was clearly having some problems of his own, into this confrontation.

Mike Freeman has been County Attorney for a long time. (Full disclosure, I’ve known him as a politician, and was a member of a group he represented in private practice.) I am not entirely sure what happened at this year’s County nominating convention, but Freeman did not get the endorsement of the Democratic Party, as one might normally expect. Another guy got that endorsement (though Freeman is still running in the primary). I strongly suspect this pushing off of the established candidate was because of a general feeling among the population that we’ve had enough. I don’t know if giving the endorsement to the other guy was definitely that, or if it was the right reaction. But I suspect the idea that black lives need to matter more was behind this fairly stunning political shift.

Betsy Hodges was the Mayor of Minneapolis. She lasted one term, then got replaced with a new guy. A major contributing reason for this was almost certainly because of a string of events in the city where black lives were being shown to not matter, and with Hodges not jumping in on the side of the community. She said good tings, but when push came to shove, she did not march into the police chief’s office, grab the video off her desk, and give it to the press.

Now, with this latest shooting, we see the new mayor, Jacob Frey, under the political gun. I don’t have an opinion on Frey. But I do see him doing some of the things Hodges did. He is, I suspect, being cowed by the police establishment. He is not coming down hard on the side of the community. He will not last as mayor if this happens one or two more times this term. And yes, it is unfortunately likely that the opportunity for Mayor Frey to tell the Minneapolis cops to shove it will arise two or three times in the upcoming term. I hope he does. But I expect him to not.

Hodges did stand up to the police union, but she did not stand up to the prosecutors. She should have risked the case being damaged, if necessary, to get at least one of the videos related to a shooting while she was mayor out to the public. If the public, the community under threat here, is actually making a mistake by demanding early release of videos, then so be it. Let’s find out if releasing a video two days after the event really does mess up the case. Personally, I doubt it would. But even if it does, we know broadly that the problem here is deep, wide, and systemic. What happens to a cop in a given shooting, with respect to the criminal justice system, is actually not as important as forcing overall, deep, systemic change in how the system works.

Hodges, down. Freeman, threatened. Frey … figure it out.

Gun Control and School Shootings

When a school shooting happens, good people become horrified and many ask for better gun laws.

The answer that comes from the anti-safeguard lobby, those who mainly want guns to be unregulated with respect to ownership, safety, use, or disposition, is that such laws would not have stopped the tragedy that prompted the conversation.

They may be right (but see below). But they have missed the point. The problem is, the people who suddenly want to do something about senseless gun deaths have also missed the point. Continue reading Gun Control and School Shootings

Philando Castile’s Killing: Some geographic background

Philando Castile told his mother that he was reluctant to carry his legal, permitted, firearm because he was afraid that if he had a run in with the police, they would simply kill him.

Later that day, a Saint Anthony Village police officer pulled Castile over for a broken tail light, and then, at the first opportunity, fired several bullets into his arm and torso. A few moments later, Castile fell into unconsciousness, apparently dead. The police then apprehended Castile’s companion, who was in the passenger seat, and, treating her like a criminal, handcuffed her and stuffed her in the back of a police car. Later, it was confirmed that Castile was killed.

I would give you a trigger warning for the following video, but I don’t care if it triggers you. I want it to trigger you. You and everybody else needs to see this.

I used to live a block from this incident. It is a city called Falcon Heights, which is the location of the inaptly named “Saint Paul Campus” of the University of Minnesota, and also the home of the Great Minnesota Get-together, the Minnesota State Fair. In fact, the intersection at which this killing occurred is at the north entrance of the fairgrounds. This makes me think that it would be a good idea to put a monument there, a monument to how dangerous the police can be, for all the fairgoers to take note of when they go to the fair, from now on.

Back in the old days, a few years ago and on back, when I lived walking distance to the fair and the site of this shooting, the police would be at this intersection in numbers, helping people cross the street, controlling traffic, keeping people safe, during the State Fair. Then, one year, there was a bogus terroristic threat against the fair, so the police apparently redistributed themselves and stopped protecting people at that intersection. Or, perhaps they changed their policy for some other reason. Crossing the street, pulling your car out, etc. was then a matter of every person to themselves. (There were always a few cops standing around watching the chaos, but not helping.) Now, that intersection is added to the ever growing list of American Police killing grounds. Yes, a monument, at this intersection, to remind the people and whatever police might remain controlling traffic during the two week long fair event would be appropriate.

A couple of blocks from this intersection are two or three blocks or corners that are in Saint Paul and that have a bad reputation for crime. As I noted, I used to live there, and after I was no longer living there, my daughter lived there part time for several years. This is the school district she went to. I also worked on that campus for two years. I know the area, and the neighborhoods.

The exact location of the shooting, and to the west and north, is a palatial residential community with small single family houses, and a few bunches of condos and apartment buildings, mainly down the street from where this killing happened. I should mention that Falcon Heights, as well as nearby Lauderdale, and Saint Anthony Village, are all patrolled by a sort of amalgamated police department. These various cities (which adjoin the well known Roseville, MN) share various such services, including police fire, etc. and tend to be umbilically connected to Saint Paul, where the major utilities come from.

The immediate neighborhood is occupied by many people who are connected with the University, a fair number of retired people, some students. Most are white, but there is a strong Asian presence, because this is one of the main neighborhoods into which the Hmong immigrated back in the day. Also, many apartment dwellers in the area are from countries all around the world, because the are connected to a major university. My daughter’s grade school, another block north of the shooting beyond where we lived, is famously international. Each year they hang flags representing all of the countries from which the students come, and there would always be dozens of them.

So that’s the basic cultural context. A neighborhood where bad things don’t happen, filled with people who probably carry out their share of white collar crime (or who are academics, and thus have other problems) but otherwise pretty quiet. Nearby are the scary neighborhoods, the neighborhoods that are actually pretty typical urban zones, with varying degrees of charm, development, decay, all that. Nothing exceptional. But I have the sense that the people of Falcon Heights, Saint Anthony, Lauderdale, and this part of Roseville, a generally liberal and highly educated enclave, collectively identify, label, and talk about those other neighborhoods, which are blacker, crimier, scarier, bits of the “Inner City” (a term disdained by Twin City dwellers, just so you know) creeping out into the “better neighborhoods.”

The victim, of course, was a school employee and citizen of good standing who didn’t live in any of those nearby scary neighborhoods, and was not part of an inner city creeping, even if such a characterization was valid (which it only barely is). But he and the others in the car were black, and they were driving down a street where the city police probably feel a duty to keep the Inner City away, keep the blackness away. One good way to do that is to encourage black people to avoid driving down that particular street, a major local thoroughfare, and instead, stay south and in the city. Let Saint Paul take care of its own problems. Don’t be driving through our quiet neighborhood. How do you do that? Pull over black people with broken tail lights, obviously. Then shake them down. Make them regret driving down that particular street.


People who live in the area know that this is a zone where the cops pull people over all the time. For years I drove down that street twice a day or more, and very often saw people pulled over. The cops even have a trick with traffic speed postings, changing abruptly between 30 mph and 40 mph in a couple of places, allowing them to stop “speeders” more easily. I regard this traffic stop as part of that process, of the police policing the blackness impinging on a neighborhood of special snowflakes.

It is rather shocking that a murder of a citizen by a cop on this street did not happen sooner.

Here is a piece by Shawn Otto that you should have a look at.

This also: