ST. PAUL — Democratic lawmakers and activists are calling for the Legislature to turn its full attention to passing further police and criminal justice reforms after the police killing of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center this weekend.
Members of the People of Color Indigenous (POCI) Caucus on Tuesday, April 13, called on their fellow lawmakers in St. Paul to halt budget negotiations until police accountability laws are passed, saying reform cannot wait.
Following the death of George Floyd, who was also Black, at the hands of Minneapolis Police in May, the divided Legislature passed a series of reform bills that many Democratic lawmakers and activists at the time said did not go far enough. That chorus has grown louder since Wright died on Sunday.
At a Wednesday, April 14, news conference in Brooklyn Center, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, D-Minneapolis, said last summer’s bill package was “simply inadequate in protecting the lives of Black Minnesotans.” Torres Ray was one of seven senators who voted against last year’s bill package, saying she couldn’t justify voting for a bill that didn’t go far enough in her eyes.
“The legislation that we passed in July ... would not have prevented the killing of George Floyd, nor did it prevent the killing of Daunte Wright on April 11, 2021,” Torres Ray said Wednesday. “(They) lacked the strength and the depth necessary to fundamentally alter, change, transform public safety and bring about meaningful police accountability.”
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State Rep. John Thompson, D-St. Paul, was a friend of Philando Castile before Castile was killed during a traffic stop in 2016 in the Twin Cities metro area. Thompson at Wednesday’s news conference called on legislators to end state budget negotiations “until the budget says Black lives matter” by investing in education, housing and infrastructure for Minnesotans of color.
“I’m tired of seeing Black bodies laying on the ground, Black people dying in this state,” Thompson said. “So I’m asking this whole body to take a bold move and end budget negotiations until they say Black lives matter here in this state.”
Former Brooklyn Center Police officer Kim Potter, who is white, was arrested Wednesday and charged with second-degree manslaughter for the killing of Wright. She had already resigned effective immediately on Tuesday, along with Brooklyn Center Chief of Police Tim Gannon.
Thompson said he doesn’t think the charges against Potter go far enough. Several activists contrasted Potter's charges to those of Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American former-Minneapolis Police officer who was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk, a white woman.
“As an African American male, I know doggone well ... anybody else with this skin color would be in silver handcuffs right now with murder charges,” Thompson said Wednesday.
The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee later on Wednesday passed four bills aimed at reforming policing and criminal justice in Minnesota, two of which are being championed by Thompson.
Thompson’s two bills would end qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, as well as allow families of victims of police violence to view body camera footage of the incidents and use the footage as evidence in civil court.
Other bills passed on Wednesday include a bill led by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and establish a state-regulated recreational marijuana market. Proponents say the bill would help address the disproportionate rate of marijuana convictions lodged against Minnesotans of color, which historically impact people’s ability to retain employment, housing and more.
Another bill approved by the committee Wednesday will establish a citizen oversight council of police departments, which bill author Rep. Aisha Gomez, D-Minneapolis, says will allow citizens to have a say in policing in their communities. All four bills passed the committee Thursday but need to be approved on the House floor and by the Republican-controlled Senate before they can be signed into law.
Senate Republicans have drawn ire from Democrats for not holding hearings on police accountability bills thus far this legislative session. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Tuesday agreed to hold "fact-finding hearings," but said he wouldn't promise to pass any bills into law this session.