Four nights of peace in Ferguson give us all a moment to breathe a little more deeply. It gives us an opportunity to escape the hypervigilance a situation like that brings to everyone: people of color, white people, officers, civilians. I have felt that tension as I have walked on the North Side, I have felt it as I walk downtown, and I felt it as I have walked the first floor in City Hall as our officers have come in and out.
The tension we feel here is not about Ferguson, not really. It is about Minneapolis.
We in Minneapolis have some of the worst disparities in outcomes between people of color and white people in the country. We have some of the worst segregation in the country. Our unemployment rate overall is very low yet our unemployment among people of color is very high, including African American people; while unemployment for white people is declining, for people of color it remains stagnant. Housing, health, education: on any of these metrics Minneapolis is at or near the bottom in outcomes for people of color.
All of our disparities are wrong and intolerable and I along with countless others are dedicated to ending them.
I have been saying for a long time that these gaps impoverish our community for everyone. We have a legacy of brutal oppression of people of color in this country, this state, and this city. We have a legacy of quieter oppressions, too. I often make the argument that the economic price we are and increasingly will be paying for this is high: were we in this region to end our racially based gaps by 2040 we would be able to put $32 billion more dollars of personal income on the table. I make this argument for two reasons: one, it is 100% true. Two, it is an argument that most people can hear.
These gaps impoverish our community, too, because they leave many people of color rightfully furious and many white people feeling freaked out, often not quite knowing why, but suspecting it might be because we might just be benefitting from the inequities that exist.
What’s happening in Ferguson reminds white people that many people of color are angry about how they are treated and their relative lack of opportunities. White people are confronting right now (or vigorously or angrily denying) that we feel bad about the relative advantages we have. Right now many white people are compelled to unwrap our fears of what it might look like for us if we were to share those advantages with people of color. It has also unwrapped our discouragement that things could change for the better. Most of all, right now white people are having to face – consciously or unconsciously – how scared we are of people of color’s feelings about racial disparities.
These fears – and the systems that aim, in part, to protect us from facing these fears – are hugely painful and detrimental for white people. Not in the same way as for people of color and certainly not with the same impacts, but harmful nonetheless. Ending our deep inequities will benefit people of color, and ending them will benefit white people.
At the center of this communal conflict we place police forces. The tensions live highest in the places we ask people to enforce our rules. The opportunities for misbehavior and retaliation on any side are high. And when a situation spirals downward, the potential to unleash fury spirals upward. On any side.
The Minneapolis Police Department under Chief Harteau’s leadership is forging a path forward called MPD 2.0. At the heart of it is the expectation that officers’ guiding question be, “Did my actions reflect how I would expect a family member to be treated?” It is up to me, the City Council, and all city and community leadership to support and work toward that vision.
We must create opportunities for our police force and our community to build relationships and trust with each other, which means more rather than fewer opportunities to interact as human beings. That’s why in my proposed budget I funded more officers. It allows officers to get out of cars more often so that our residents and officers can actually talk to each other, and create the human contact that builds relationship and trust.
We must have a department that looks like and reflects the community it serves. That’s why in my proposed budget I put in on-going dollars for Community Service Officer classes. CSO classes are the best ladder we have for people of color from the community to become Minneapolis police officers.
And we must have as much clarity about police/community interactions as possible. Speculation and assertions recede as clear evidence rises. That’s why I have long championed body cameras for police officers and why I put in my budget funding to implement a full program. Cameras aren’t foolproof, but they go a long way in more accurately portraying what actually happened in an interaction between the police and the community.
We must do this. However, more important than even community and police relationships – and make no mistake, they are vitally important – is the work we are doing to eliminate disparities at all levels in Minneapolis and the community. None of us – white people, people of color, officers, civilians – can afford to take our eyes off of that prize. The well-being of our entire community depends on it.