ST. PAUL (WCCO) – Outrage over the police shooting that killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop is mounting pressure for more police reforms at the state capitol, following the changes approved last year in wake of George Floyd’s death.
“It makes absolutely no sense that they continue taking the lives of black people and then gas lighting us and expecting us to sit on the sidelines and ignore what is happening to us,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney and former president of the Minneapolis NAACP.READ MORE: 'We Don't Have To Do It': Mask Mandate Confusion Abound In Twin Cities
Armstrong joined other community activists and DFL legislators who are a part of the People of Color and Indigenous—POCI—Caucus in Brooklyn Center on Wednesday to call for the state lawmakers to pass more legislation to reform policing and better protect people of color.
A sweeping public safety proposal in St. Paul includes making body camera video available within 48 hours when there’s an officer involved death and it would create a model policy for responding to protests. It would also establish local civilian review boards and prohibit peace officers from affiliating with, supporting, or advocating for white supremacist groups, among other provisions.
“I’ve been out on the front lines for many, many years. We’ve been saying the same damn thing, a million different ways, and for some reason, our legislature acts as if they cannot understand the basic principles of human dignity and human decency,” Armstrong said.
Pain and shock reverberates in Brooklyn Center and across the state in the aftermath of Wright’s death, a 20-year-old Black man fatally shot by a police officer, all while Derek Chauvin’s murder trial for George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis is underway just miles away.
In wake of Floyd’s death last summer, which sparked a global outcry when a bystander caught on video Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, the legislature approved with bipartisan support the “Minnesota Police Accountability Act.”
The law has provisions that directly responded to the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death, banning chokeholds and certain neck restraints and changing the legal definition for when deadly force is appropriate to require use “judiciously” with respect for human life.
It also establishes that officers have a duty to intervene and report illegal use of force, prohibits warrior-style training and allows local governments to offer incentives to encourage a person hired as an officer to live in the community he or she is sworn to serve.
When Gov. Tim Walz signed the legislation last summer, activists and DFL lawmakers made clear that the bill does not go far enough and lacks key policy changes they would like to see implemented.
Now they say further changes take on a new sense of urgency.READ MORE: Police Reform A Major Sticking Point As Legislative Session Nears Its End
“The legislation that we passed in July, and subsequently was signed by the governor into law would have not prevented the killing of George Floyd, nor did it prevent the killing of Dante Wright,” said Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, and chair of the Senate POCI Caucus. “The legislative measures adopted last year lacked the strength at the depth necessary to fundamentally alter, change, transform public safety, and bring about meaningful police accountability.”
Top Republican in Senate vows to hold hearings in wake of ‘unjustifiable mistake’
Many of the DFL proposals on police reform are now lumped together in one sweeping omnibus that funds corrections, public safety and more.
Several of stand-alone proposals on policing haven’t gotten a hearing in the GOP-controlled Senate yet, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, on Tuesday vowed to hold “fact finding” hearings designed to listen to the public’s concerns.
Those hearings will come within the next two weeks, he said.
The top Senate Republican called Wright’s death an “unjustifiable mistake” and acknowledged that there could be room for more legislation, though he declined to give specifics.
He stopped short of committing to taking further action, citing time restraints before adjournment next month. The legislature is compelled to pass a two-year budget before the last day of session on May 17.
“I’m not promising that we’re going to do more reform,” he said. “I’m promising to listen to see if something is warranted.”
“I’m not saying it’s impossible,” he added. “I’m just saying we’re in the last five weeks and we just started passing the budget bills and that makes things very, very difficult in this short timeframe.”
He praised the bipartisan work on police accountability last year and said he is having “fruitful” conversations with both Gov. Tim Walz and House Speaker Melissa Hortman on this issue.MORE NEWS: Minnesota Weather: 80-Degree High Expected Monday; Summery And Damp Week Ahead
But some DFL members say promising hearings is inadequate. They want immediate action and have threatened to hold up budget negotiations if nothing is approved swiftly.