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The Minnesota Justice Research Center (MNJRC) utilizes research, education and policy development to equip people with the tools needed to bring the criminal legal system into stronger alignment with commonly held values. Our goal is to transform the criminal legal system, to make it more effective, humane and trustworthy. To do so, we rely on rigorous and balanced research that explores the intersection of values, the criminal legal system, and contemporary issues.
In February we released a report titled Trust in Policing: The Role of White Supremacy and began a campaign to educate the community and build support for a policy related to this important topic. The following blog post is an update on the report and how our research is having an impact.
What’s in the report?
The report which can be viewed HERE is a literature review that explored a 25-year timeline that documented efforts to infiltrate law enforcement by domestic terrorist groups who subscribe to white supremacist ideologies. We cited the FBI, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and numerous other sources that point to this being a problem. Our conclusion offered four recommendations: talk more about this issue; do more research; develop policies that protect both law enforcement and the community, and evaluate the impact of these policies. A webinar that summarizes the report can be viewed on our YouTube channel HERE.
Once the report was released, we began engaging community members and hosted three virtual panel discussions. We engaged legacy Black-led organizations, content experts, public policymakers, and members of law enforcement. Once again, those discussions can be viewed on our YouTube channel HERE. Take a minute to view, like, and share with your community. These conversations were provocative and very challenging.
In addition to these conversations, Rep. Cedrick Frazier used our report as background research to author HF593 in the Minnesota House of Representatives. This bill would have prohibited peace officers from
“…affiliating with, supporting, or advocating for white supremacist groups, causes, or ideologies or participation in, or active promotion of, an international or domestic extremist group that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has determined supports or encourages illegal, violent conduct.”
Staff from the MNJRC testified in support of our research and advised on the policy language. You can view our testimony HERE. Even though the bill did not gain enough support to pass the Minnesota House and Senate, the body the bill was designed to impact, the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board took action by adopting the policy into the revised standards of conduct for licensed officers as the bill directed. You can view the meeting where the policy was adopted by a unanimous vote HERE.
What did we learn?
In writing our report and engaging community members in discussion, we have learned several lessons. First, we briefly touched on this in our report and saw it in action as we held hard conversations: language is powerful.
When you enter into dialogue about policing and criminal legal system reform, the words you use matter. Are people for or against “reform”? (Can people only be for or against?) What is meant by reform? In our case, we made a decision to explicitly use the term “white supremacy.” Some community members felt we didn’t use the term enough. Some law enforcement felt we targeted them as individuals. In order to build bridges, should we avoid using language that carries weight and turns some away? Can we do a better job of stepping back from the terms that divide us to start with terms that represent values we can all understand, like trust? We believe that we should not shy away from hard conversations and it is critical to use and define terms like white supremacy. However, we are learning important lessons about our path to these conversations.
Next, we learned that building bridges across divided communities on these issues is absolutely critical. Our criminal legal system is out of sync with what the community needs. The way law enforcement operates today is unsustainable. And yet law enforcement officials want to be trusted, believe they are trusted and are not ready to grapple with the unsustainability of their current position. So how do we come together? We are wrestling with best practices here but this work has reiterated our belief as an organization that in order for change to happen, we have to build a bridge. Even if we end up on different sides of the bridge and no one is holding hands, we have to attempt to rebuild something new together.
Finally, we learned that engaging in conversations and research around values is an important first step. We assumed that our diverse community might all be able to agree that trust is important but what we learned was that we first needed to dig into what trust means for different people, how trust plays out in day-to-day interactions, and what it looks like. In order to engage in iterative problem solving for huge challenges like reimagining our system of justice in this country, we have to circle back to values through the exploration of lived experiences to inform our approach to the problem, and to more deeply understand individual experiences within the system.
In conclusion, it is important that we take a moment to reflect on the importance of this work. When looking at the big picture, why does the Minnesota Justice Research Center exist? Our highest intention is to transform the criminal legal system. We aim to provide research, education and policy solutions that move the system into alignment with the commonly held values of the community. Regardless if you work as part of the system, are fighting to abolish or protect the system or have been impacted by the system, we invite you to join us as we work towards this goal.
Thank you to everyone who supported the writing of the report which included contributions from academics, members of law enforcement, community advocates, public policy makers and more. A very special thank you to the participants of our panel discussions, Nick Mohammed of the Black Civic Network, Maquita Stephans of the Twin Cities Urban League, Angela Rose Myers of the Minneapolis NAACP, Amber Jones formerly of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, Dr. Tracey Mearas from Yale Law School, Rep. Cedrick Frazier, Rep. Paul Novotney, Dr. Ebony Rhuland, Dr. Matt Bostrom, Sheriff James Stuart, Chief Kelly Mcarthy and Chief Blair Anderson and all who attended.
From all of us at the MNJRC, thank you.
See you in November for our annual conference when we will continue the conversation.