Ababiy: We’re still waiting for real police reform

After a summer of activism, there is little to show for it from our politicians.

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Jonathan Ababiy

Since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, there has been a profound cultural change in views on racial inequality. A CNN/SSRS poll in early June this year found that 60% of white people said that racism is a big problem, compared to 21% of white Americans in 2011. Another Yahoo News/YouGov survey found that 68% of Americans approved of charging former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck, with murder.

In the midst of all this cultural change, it’s important to examine what about the practice of policing has actually changed in Minneapolis. The people think and feel differently about race and the police now – an accomplishment in itself – but creating actual structural change based on those feelings is another ballgame.

As our politicians have proven, we’ve struck out so far on any significant, progressive change in policing. To be fair, there have been changes and reform made in Minneapolis and at the state level. The problem is that what reform has occurred has been meager and behind schedule in comparison to other cities that have their own policing issues, like Chicago.

For example, in early June, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey negotiated an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that banned MPD’s use of chokeholds and other neck restraints, techniques already banned in some form by New York City and Chicago since 1993 and 2012, respectively. The agreement also announced a duty to report and intervene during unauthorized use of force, which brings up the question: Was MPD not doing that before? Strike one.

The divided Legislature took another pass a month later in July, when they passed a package of police accountability measures. The package banned chokeholds and warrior style training statewide. Frey already banned warrior style training, known for its “killology” vision of law enforcement, in Minneapolis, but the police union ignored the ban and offered the training for free. So, strike two.

The package also included funding for crisis training, better data collection and created a panel of expert arbitrators to examine police misconduct cases. Not bad, but better data collection and an ominous panel of arbitrators does not change the fact that police officers know that they won’t be punished for their misbehavior. Only 12 of 2,600 civilian complaints toward police in Minneapolis have resulted in discipline, a discipline rate of only 0.41% since 2013. Let’s call it a generous foul ball.

In late August, another set of reforms was announced by Frey: a ban on shooting at moving vehicles unless safety is an issue, and a requirement to explain whenever a weapon is unholstered. After an entire summer of meditation on the issue of police reform, the best Frey could come up with is a ban on something police already don’t do very often, and a requirement that police officers do more paperwork. Strike 3.

Frey ran for mayor as a police reform candidate, so it’s astonishing that it took until this summer for some minor, commonsense rewrites of the police handbook. In 2017, the nonprofit news site MinnPost reported that Frey called for changing department procedures to require officers to use all reasonable alternatives before using deadly force. What this proves is that Frey only reacts to police misconduct. He didn’t do anything to prevent it, even after the tragic death of Justine Damond in 2017.

Now, Minneapolis, like New York and Chicago, is in the midst of a crime surge despite no significant changes to the nature of policing before or during the surge. There are many potential reasons for the uptick in crime, like COVID-19, but the blame can’t be put on reform.

So, even with the wind of an entire social movement at his back, Frey struck out. With the new rise in crime, the winds have changed. One summer of activism later, a reformed, accountable and less violent MPD still looks distant.