Police reform stalls in Minnesota

Minnesota (specifically Minneapolis) was ground zero for the entire George Floyd debacle and the resultant protests, riots and unrest around the nation. It was also one of the first places where the state government vowed that this was the moment for changes to be made and reforms to be enacted in terms of law enforcements’ use of lethal force and how they interact with suspects, particularly in communities of color. But it’s been almost a month since Floyd’s death and there still haven’t been any real changes made, specifically through legislative action. And as of this weekend, the prospects for any sort of a deal look further away than ever. (The Independent)

Statehouse police reform efforts in Minnesota, where the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests over policing, were called into question on Saturday after criminal justice legislation collapsed in a whirl of partisan finger-pointing.

Governor Tim Walz and other Democrats, who control the state House, had pushed far-reaching police overhauls including a statewide ban on so-called warrior training, new rules on the use of the deadly force and accountability measures that would make it easier to fire problem officers.

Republicans, who control the state Senate, supported a shorter list of 11 changes, including banning chokeholds and requiring officers to stop colleagues from using excessive force. Late on Friday night, they also proposed reforming the arbitration process for officers, which many departments say makes it difficult to fire problem police officers, by shifting those cases to outside administrative law judges.

Tim Walz is calling the GOP reform package “weak sauce” and wants to see a lot more done. But the GOP isn’t about to hand him his entire wishlist in one go without having their own input on the process. The GOP was signaling yesterday that they were close to simply adjourning the special legislative session in the state senate and reopening this debate when they next return. The Governor and his Democratic allies insist that that’s not good enough.

This type of stalemate is all too typical and should be familiar to anyone who knows how the government sausage is made. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the federal government, the state legislature or your local county board. The opposing sides bring their own offers to the table and you find a path to meld the two together. But here, the Democrats have tacked on a lot of stuff that’s not really related to potential abusive behavior by police officers or is simply unrealistic. For example, they wanted to include a move to restore voting rights to convicted felons and put the Attorney General (Democrat Keith Ellison) in charge of all prosecutions stemming from cases where police officers kill a suspect. Both of those were too much for the Republicans to swallow.

What’s unclear here is what the Democrats think they have to gain by flatly rejecting the GOP reform package in its entirety. It may not include all of the reform items they’re seeking, but it would put eleven new reforms in place, many of which were being requested by Democrats. It’s better than nothing, right? They would at least be able to put something on the Governor’s desk and claim that they had “done something” in short order. They could always return and hash out the rest of the reform agenda at a later date.

Instead, it’s looking more and more like they will all leave town without having delivered anything. And that’s almost certainly going to lead to more unrest in the streets of Minnesota and beyond.

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