- Dr. Yohuru Williams and Dr. Michael J. Lansing
Addressing Race-based Policing in Minneapolis: A Consent Decree Invites New Beginnings
Today the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and City of Minneapolis officially entered into a historic consent decree - shaped in part by community perspectives - to address race-based policing and strengthen public safety in Minneapolis.
As so many in our community already know, racialized policing in Minneapolis is nothing new. Long before the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, communities of color across the city experienced unjust law enforcement. As the April 2022 findings from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights makes clear, injustice pervades Minneapolis policing. But the story is even worse than this report suggests. The long history of the Minneapolis Police Department shows that decade after decade, public safety efforts neither served the entire public nor produced safety across the entire city as some communities have been overpoliced and underprotected.
Even as harassment, brutality, and excessive use of force defined policing in Minneapolis, these deeply rooted issues have been contested. Organizers and activists have always resisted the institutionalized violence of MPD. They consistently challenged the status quo and worked to create actual safety for city residents.
To honor their legacy and continued work, we must remember this: the long-awaited consent decree between the State and the City is a beginning, not an end. While independent evaluators will monitor the City and MPD’s progress on the terms outlined in the agreement, there is much more work to be done. As residents, our job is to make the consent decree mean something. We must understand the agreement. We must show up to meetings. We must hold government officials as well as police officers accountable. We must challenge the trends that produce harm in our neighborhoods.
In other words, we must do the hard, democratic work of determining the future of public safety in Minneapolis. No government agency or policymaker or city official can do it for us. It is going to take all of us.
Throughout the summer of 2022, the Minnesota Justice Research Center (MNJRC) laid the groundwork for making sure that many terms in the consent decree came directly from community members. The MNJRC hosted listening sessions across the city. They educated people on what a consent decree is, its potential for change, and solicited critical input to help shape its final version. MNJRC’s goal was twofold; to engage the largest body of stakeholders and to keep community informed and meaningfully engaged in the process.
Read the MNJRC’s report HERE to learn more about what we heard from the community last summer.
This transparency and engagement is essential to MNJRC’s mission. As an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, its primary goal is to “drive meaningful change to Minnesota’s criminal legal system through rigorous and community-centered research, education, and policy development.” It also reflects what community has demanded for decades—genuine involvement in shaping the future and fabric of public safety in Minneapolis.
Consistent with MNJRC’s core values of co-creating a system of public safety that guarantees “humane and fair treatment for all,” and that privileges “safety, wellbeing, and trust,” the information gathered was used to “provide community and policymakers with information and tools needed to create a criminal legal system that truly delivers justice.”
This consent decree will be a historic first for the city. It is a legal, court enforceable agreement between parties that have reached a settlement. Upon approval by the court, the contract is legally-binding and enforceable with ongoing, independent oversight by a monitor.
Again, this consent decree is only one step in a long process toward creating safe communities. Consent decrees and other measures are not magic remedies. The work to change policing culture is long and arduous, and can take decades. This should not dissuade, but rather encourage greater interest and participation on the part of the broader community.
The criminal legal system we seek to transform was not created overnight. It is intricate and complex and resists change. Even so, we have before us the unique opportunity to participate in its re-imagination. We must seize that opportunity.
Dr. Yohuru Williams is the Distinguished University Chair, Professor of History, and Founding Director of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas and serves on the MNJRC’s Research Steering Committee.
Dr. Michael J. Lansing is the Department Chair and Professor of History at Augsburg University.
To learn more about the MNJRC’s work engaging community members to shape the consent decree, check out our report HERE or watch our brief overview of the report on our YouTube page HERE.