voice for democracy

OPINION EXCHANGE | Democracy must restore law and order when cops resist reform – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Over the last several years, as a resident of Minneapolis, I’ve watched the ebb and flow of several waves of public outrage concerning our police department. I’m politically active, and I believe that democracy is the best tool to fix things. But each cycle, I’ve noticed that not everyone agrees on the basics of this process.
We try to enact reforms and rules for the Minneapolis Police Department, but none of them stick.
When we tried to reduce no-knock warrants, police started carrying out more.
We put cameras on officers, but they hide the footage.
We ban police from getting violent “warrior training,” and the Fraternal Order of Police pays for officers to get it on their own time.
When they feel criticized by the public, they walk away from their responsibilities, but we have to keep paying them anyway.
As much airtime as anti-democracy radicals have taken up in politics in recent years, most of Minneapolis, like most of America, wants the same thing: a fair, democratic system, where we all operate by the same rules. The problem doesn’t come down to any specific rules or leaders. The issue is that Minneapolis police don’t believe they’re subject to democracy.
That’s a reality that makes me fear, deeply, for the future of law and order in our city. The people we count on in tough times, to whom we call in tense situations and in the aftermath of horrors, think that nobody should tell them what to do, and that no rules should apply to them.
The work police officers do to maintain public safety is deeply important. That’s why we must pay attention to who does it.
There’s lots of state and federal rules in place that benefit police officers, like qualified immunity and discipline policies. But the problem isn’t just those rules. It’s that whenever we try democratically to make those rules more fair to us, the police refuse to abide by them. The mayor, the police chief, the City Council and any number of other leaders have tried to change our police, to no avail.
The consequences of MPD’s stubbornness are devastating and hard to keep up with. Shocking stories, like the ketamine scandal in 2018, have faded from public attention. But the result is clear: When our city’s residents can’t trust the law’s enforcers, they can’t trust the law itself, and cycles of violence and homicide run out of control.
As research on protests against brutality has shown, police can’t fight crime without public trust, and our police constantly resist attempts to restore any trust in their department.
We have lots of competing visions for what the city’s future should look like. But at the end of the day, most of Minneapolis wants a city where everyone follows the law, especially the city’s employees. Our police refuse that basic premise daily.
I’m not on board with a lot of the big ideas behind police abolition, or the notion that policing has to be violent. There are plenty of countries in the world where police, while imperfect, don’t kill or brutalize people on a regular basis, and can generally enforce the laws the citizens agree on.
But lots of police departments in this country, MPD included, have dug in against oversight, and more broadly against democracy itself. The violence we’ve seen from Trumpists in our nation’s Capitol Is a grim reminder of what it means when a section of our population loses trust in democracy itself.
It’s time to make something better. With City Question 2, we have the chance to create a Department of Public Safety, with a variety of first responders and public health experts that we can trust. I hope that one day soon, every resident of Minneapolis can call 911 and know that the first responders who arrive will care about their rights, and will care most about enforcing the laws that keep us safe.
It won’t be easy from the start, and I’m sure we’ll make missteps. But it will put people back in control of public safety.
We can’t stake the future of our city on utopian visions or vague promises about community safety. What we sorely need in Minneapolis is to restore law and order. City Question 2 can get us there.
Noa K. Levi lives in Minneapolis.
© 2021 StarTribune. All rights reserved.

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