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.