Cops killing unarmed black people is a horrific assault on the sanctity of human life, but it is not a “national” systemic issue. In 2019, there were nine cases of police officers using lethal force to kill an unarmed black person. It is a localized phenomenon, not just in terms frequency, but also in terms of authority and responsibility. Here’s why.
There is a hierarchy of authority to address issues and grievances in American politics, just as there is a hierarchy of authority to address issues and grievances in the workplace of a private business. An aggrieved worker at Amazon should not consider the political leaders in Washington as the cause or the cure of a workplace issue at Amazon. The aggrieved worker should follow the procedures and the management chain at Amazon to get resolution. Likewise, a victim of police brutality in Minneapolis should not consider anyone who lives outside of the state of Minnesota as the cause or the cure. Everyone with responsibility and authority for such matters lives in Minnesota.
In America’s constitutional structure of federalism and subsidiarity, limited powers are vested in the federal government, while most powers are in the domain of the states. Responsibility for the civilian police forces is in the domain of the states. Thus, the police departments in Minnesota are the responsibility of state and local leaders in Minnesota. No leader outside of the state of Minnesota has any authority over their policing function.
In the case of George Floyd, his murder on May 25th by a white cop was a heinous crime. The crime itself is being addressed by the local judicial system, as it should be. The accused cop and his three accomplices have been fired from their jobs and have been arrested and appropriately charged. The justice system must play out from there.
The bigger systemic question Minnesotans should ask themselves is why the cops, who the leaders of Minnesota manage and oversee, did this? Systemic issues in the policing function are, by definition, local. Cops from New York do not kill black people in Minneapolis. Cops in Minnesota do. Each city or town in Minnesota has a local police department with leaders who are responsible for the training, culture, and behavior of their officers. Throughout Minnesota, a hierarchy of political leaders have oversight and responsibility for the local police departments.
Here is the hierarchy of leaders in the state of Minnesota who are responsible for the 800 officers in the Minneapolis police department, including the four who were complicit in the murder of George Floyd. No other leaders in America have authority or responsibility in this matter:
Minneapolis Chief of Police: Medaria Arradondo
Minneapolis City Council President: Lisa Bender
Minneapolis Mayor: Jacob Frey
Minnesota Attorney General: Keith Ellison
Governor of Minnesota: Tim Walz
In addition to these local and state leaders who were elected by Minnesotan voters, there are national politicians who, while having no constitutional authority in this matter, do have responsibility for the well-being of Minnesotans. They also have substantial gravitas with which to influence the elected state leaders:
U.S. Representative for the 5th Congressional District (Minneapolis): Ilhan Omar
U.S. Senator from Minnesota: Amy Klobuchar
U.S. Senator from Minnesota: Tina Smith
In the aftermath of the George Floyd travesty, the good citizens of Minnesota should be asking these Minnesotan leaders some very pointed questions. Here are some examples:
- All of these leaders are members of a political party that makes frequent public affirmation of its commitment to the progressive advancement of minority concerns. Why then have they allowed the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to continue its long legacy of documented racial tension and conflict? The details of this disturbing legacy can be found in the Wikipedia entry for the MPD.
- Why have they allowed the Minneapolis Police Department to maintain a workforce that does not match the diversity of its community? 19% of Minneapolis residents are black, whereas only 9% of the police department is. No one outside the state of Minnesota is responsible for this.
- Why have they allowed Bob Kroll, the president of the police officers’ union, to continue in his role, despite the 20 complaints that have been registered against him during his career?
- Why did they allow Derek Chauvin, the killer of George Floyd, to continue being employed as a police officer, despite the 18 complaints registered against him during his career?
- Why was Thomas Lane, one of the accomplices, hired as a police officer, despite having a criminal record?
- What have they done to address the concerns of the 2016 commission that examined the MPD and discovered that it is almost impossible to process a successful complaint about improper police behavior? Does the collective bargaining agreement of the MPD union make it structurally difficult to punish abusive officers?
- Why are police officers in Minneapolis permitted by department guidelines to kneel on the necks of apprehended suspects? 44 suspects lost consciousness due to this technique in the past five years in Minneapolis.
- Why does the MPD union have so much self-serving influence over the activity of political leaders? More specifically, how much money does the MPD union contribute to the campaign funds of local politicians?
- What specific changes are going to be made within the Minneapolis Police Department to ensure that this never happens again? The MPD’s culture, operating procedures, hiring practices, and training practices are all within the oversight of leaders in Minnesota.
The anger and frustration that erupted after the George Floyd murder is understandable. No human being should die that way.
However, that anger and frustration might be obscuring the proper path forward. Mass protests across the country will not force the leadership in Minnesota to fix the problems. Rioting and looting across the country will not force the leadership in Minnesota to fix the problems. Vague accusations of “white privilege” and general affirmations of “black lives matter” will not force the leadership in Minnesota to fix the problems.
All of these reactions are simply serving to excuse the leadership in Minnesota from their direct accountability for the travesty. There is no one to blame for George Floyd’s death other than the four police officers involved and the leaders of Minnesota who are responsible for their oversight. No leaders in any other state are responsible for the tragedy. No leaders in any other state can fix the root causes.
The only people who can force the root causes to be fixed are the voters in Minnesota. The American principle of self-government means that the leaders who hold the most direct and proximate political power over our lives must fear the retribution of voters in future elections if they fail in their missions. One of the great truths of American politics is that if voters don’t hold their leaders accountable, it doesn’t matter which political party holds the reins of power.
I’m not suggesting that Minnesotans need to abandon the Democratic Party, even though all of the responsible leaders in this matter are Democrats. However, if Minnesotans prefer the professed ideals of the Democratic Party, they should at the very least hold the specific Democratic leaders named above fully and completely accountable to those ideals. Demand that these leaders take real action, not just appease you with virtue signaling or pander to you with word-salad slogans.
I’m also not suggesting that Minnesotans abandon their constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to express their grievances. Civil protesting is an American right and often an important responsibility. I’m challenging them to direct this energy toward the leaders who are actually accountable for the George Floyd tragedy.
Toward that end, the address of the Minneapolis City Hall is 350 S. 5th Street, Minneapolis, MN. The address of the Minnesota State Capitol Building is 75 Rev Dr Martin Luther King Boulevard, St. Paul, MN. And if your leaders still don’t take notice and remediate the problem, make sure to show up in force at your local precincts for all future primaries and general elections involving these leaders.
If voters are unwilling to force the political changes that are glaringly obvious in the leadership hierarchy of Minnesota, then this problem will never go away.
The same is true of every community and state where the few cases of lethal police force have resulted in the deaths of unarmed blacks, such as St. Louis, Baltimore, and Louisville. The civilian policing function is not a federal responsibility, and true change can only occur within the state and local political structures, no matter which political party is ascendant in them.
(Written by James Keena, author of the gripping new novel “2084: American Apocalypse”, which is available at Amazon)