Two Truths: Policing and Restorative Justice
Updated: Jan 31
We’ve made it through the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and we can now, as a country, pick up again in earnest the unfinished work of justice for all because as Amanda Gorman so powerfully wrote in her inauguration poem "the norms and notions of what 'just is' isn't always justice." The work of racial justice is something I have been learning about and participating in explicitly for 25 years, and I was very blessed to grow up in an anti-racist home before even that. When I sat down to create the campaign platform it was this lifetime of listening and learning that I drew upon. After the killing of George Floyd the urgent demand for police reform picked up velocity. This event also took place in the context of a global pandemic with uneven economic and health effects that has laid bare a vast system of racial inequality, and that has led to an explosion of crime in many cities--our's included. Placed inside this larger context, for the first time many have realized that the needed reforms are bigger than policing, police have been asked to respond to a whole host of social ills outside their control and training, and by the time it gets to them the outcome is rarely anything other than tragedy. Because the demands of today are larger than policing, this campaign focuses on the need for restorative justice. What this means is that continuing with police reforms is vitally necessary, but it is also necessary to build up the larger social safety network, to begin to process with honesty and courage the hundreds of years of racial trauma that are inextricably linked to this present moment, and to learn practical skills that can turn each of us into cultural agents of peace. This is a time when we must live with two truths: we need to reform our policing practices and we need to support our police in keeping us safe from violent crime. In February of 2020 the MN Working Group On Police Involved Deadly Encounters -- a group led by AG Keith Ellison and Commissioner Harrington that included experts from law enforcement (Chief Arradondo was among them) as well as reform-minded experts from the field of criminal justice -- issued a report after four public hearings with 28 recommendations. Because of the extraordinary events that would unfold within months after its release, this expert and community-focused roadmap has been largely ignored. In our thinking about what comes next, we should turn again to this work. The people who created these recommendations not only represent a broad diversity of expertise--of its 18 members,12 are Black or Native. While the recent wide scale awakening to the need for serious police reform is a powerful and necessary step to change, we risk hubris if we reinvent the wheel rather than listening to the experts and community-led organizations who have been doing the work, particularly when much of that leadership is composed of Black and Native people.
Here are three resources that have been important for me in processing these two truths.
In re-reading the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr on the celebration of MLK Day last week, and listening to Black leaders discuss what it means to continue his legacy, two important points emerged for me. First and foremost is the belief that as Reverend Adair Mosley said “community should shape policy, not policy shape community.” In this post-George Floyd moment in Minneapolis, we still have not changed business as usual. We still have not embarked on the work of processing trauma and building a collective vision for the future that we were promised. To do this we need leaders who can hit the ground running with a track record of unlearning white supremacy and participating in, and leading, difficult conversations. I have proposed precinct by precinct truth and reconciliation style commissions, and know that many of our community leaders have been pushing for these kind of opportunities to listen deeply and rebuild trust. Second, many speakers mentioned reparations as vital for the movement forward, which is also a central policy piece of my campaign platform. My training in peace and conflict resolution and the law means that none of these conversations or concepts are new to me, and I know how to translate transformative visions into practical solutions. I look forward to working through some of those ideas in more detail soon.