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Minnesota governor endorses package of sweeping police changes

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D), center right, listens in St. Paul on Monday as artist Seitu Jones, right, talks about his stencil of George Floyd. (Glen Stubbe/Minnesota Star Tribune/AP)
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The governor of Minnesota endorsed a package of sweeping changes to policing on Thursday after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day spurred an uprising against racism and inequality in the state’s largest city and across the country.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) urged the legislature to adopt proposals that would put investigations of officer-involved deaths in the hands of the attorney general, revamp oversight and disciplinary procedures, and fund community groups that could act as alternatives to the police.

“These reforms have been needed for a long time,” Walz said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “These reforms have been thought out. These reforms have been implemented in other places, and the data shows they work.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) asked the state legislature to adopt a package of sweeping police changes during a news conference on June 11. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

If passed into law, the legislation would position Minnesota at the fore of a nationwide movement to drastically change policing — especially officers’ uses of force, which disproportionately impacts black and brown people.

Since the white ex-police officer Derek Chauvin drove his knee into the neck of Floyd, an unarmed black man, for nearly nine minutes on May 25, millions have taken to the streets to demand systemic policy changes. Elected leaders have begun to enact them.

In cities from San Diego to Houston and Raleigh, N.C., officials have banned police use of chokeholds. In New York state, lawmakers overturned a provision that had kept secret officers’ disciplinary records. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) pledged executive action he said would improve training and strengthen accountability. And in Congress, Democrats introduced a broad police bill that includes a chokehold ban and the establishment of a national database to track misconduct.

The death of George Floyd: What video and other records show about his final minutes

In Minnesota, the state government is divided. The push for change will unfold against the complicated backdrop of the legislature’s special session, which has been scheduled since May, when lawmakers adjourned and left a laundry list of unfinished business.

Democrats, who have been most vocal about the changes, control the House. The party’s People of Color and Indigenous Caucus drew up the proposals that Walz co-signed. Republicans run the Senate, and though they’ve shown support for some measures, they’ve also criticized Walz and indicated their priority will be to curb his power to extend the covid-19 state of emergency.

But some lawmakers have said they wouldn’t vote on other legislation until a police bill is passed.

“Black folks are sick and tired of literally suffering from people telling them to wait until the moment is right,” state Sen. Jeff Hayden, one of the chamber’s top Democrats, said this week. “How many black men and women have to die before an urgent response is warranted?"

Hayden and other members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus have long called for many of these measures, and some participated in a task force that Attorney General Keith Ellison convened a year ago to examine police use of deadly force. But Floyd’s killing — and the attendant days of protest — have given the movement unprecedented momentum.

“We are asking our senators who pride themselves on law and order, who pride themselves on the sanctity of life, to stand with us,” state Rep. Rena Moran, a Democrat from St. Paul, said at the Thursday news conference, making an appeal for bipartisanship.

“We have to do some transformational work here,” she added. “This is about justice, it’s about justice for all of us.”

Experts have cautioned that the road to real change is long and arduous, but the efforts in the state legislature come after a vetoproof majority of the Minneapolis city council pledged they would dismantle the city’s police department and replace it with a new system of public safety. And on Wednesday, the department’s head withdrew from negotiations with the police union, saying it stymied positive change.

“We will have a police department that our communities view as legitimate, trusting and working with their best interests at heart,” said Chief Medaria Arradondo, adding that his advisers would look for ways to restructure the contract.

He then embraced, and qualified, lawmakers’ calls for change: “This work must be transformational,” Arradondo said, “but I must do it right.”