Over the last year, Minnesota has been splashed across international headlines for use-of-force police calls that have ended in death, most recognizably the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police Officer, and most recently the accidental shooting of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center Officer.
Both of these deaths sparked protests that turned into dangerous, violent, and damaging riots. The George Floyd riots moving through our Duluth streets last summer.
Every racially connected incident in the last year has been ripe for rioting and the voices that are stepping up to the microphone to address us all have made no effort in calming the tensions festering below the surface in our communities.
After the death of Daunte Wright, Governor Walz tweeted, “I’m closing monitoring the situation in Brooklyn Center. Gwen and I are praying for Daunte Wright’s family as our state mourns another life of a Black man taken by law enforcement.” Before the details of the situation were made public, the Governor was calling out the entire law enforcement system. Just yesterday, California congresswoman, Maxine Waters, spoke in Brooklyn Center during a late-night protest saying, “I’m going to fight will all of the people who stand for justice. We’ve got to get justice in the country and we cannot allow these killings to continue. We’ve got to stay on the street and we’ve got to get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know we mean business.” In a city where tensions are high, and within 24 hours of two Minnesota National Guard members being injured in a drive-by shooting.
In Duluth, the person behind the microphone was Duluth Human Rights Commission Chairperson, Bettina Keppers, a social worker whose brother is a sex offender in Wisconsin. During a recent press conference, Bettina, a woman who appears white, spoke out on ‘continued police violence’, the systemic racism that plagues Duluth, and called out the local police department for targeting people of color and when interacting with people of color, using force. Bettina spoke in generalities, without naming specific incidents, and demanded that “we need to start lifting and hearing” the black community, yet neglected to bring a person of color to the microphone. Acting, as she announced in the conference, as an oppressor – “if we choose not to listen to BIPOC voices we are choosing the side of the oppressor.”
Bettina said, “When you consider historical and ever-present acts of violence against Black and Indigenous people of color by police in our judicial system, fleeing a police officer should be considered a rational act.” Meaning, Daunte Wright, a young man with a misdemeanor gun charge, breaking loose from officers trying to apply handcuffs and diving back into his car, should give officers no cause for concern and no reason to act with force.
Bettina’s words, as a light-skinned spokesperson on racism, are falling flat. And she is not the only light-skinned person speaking for the black community. Senator Jen McEwen mentions Minnesota as the “deep North” in regards to racism on her campaign website. The Duluth City Attorney is now collecting race data in all criminal cases after 6 months they haven’t found any patterns, but hopes that after a year of data they can “do a deeper analysis” phrased in such a way that it sounds like she hopes to find a treasure trove of systemic racism. Even Mayor Emily Larson has ordered a top to bottom racial bias audit to identify problems. And to top it off, Bettina Keppers’ Duluth Human Rights Commission is seeking to declare racism a “public health emergency” in Duluth. Even though the National Disaster Medical System defines a public health emergency as “an emergency for health care (medical) services to respond to a disaster, a significant outbreak of infectious disease, bioterrorist attack or other significant or catastrophic events.”
The numbers just don’t back up the claims or concerns of all these women. The Star-Tribune recently updated an article “Every police-involved death in Minnesota since 2000”. Total deaths, in the last 21 years, sits at 208, which includes the unknown person killed by an officer in Burnsville on Sunday. Deaths range from 5 per year (2005) to 14 in a year (2019), with the average being 9 per year. 2020 saw 10 police-involved deaths. The article, available here, lists each death with name, race, gender, manner of death, location, and weapon the person had.
The results illustrate the real risk our law enforcement officers undertake each day. Most of the deaths, 118 (57%) were white, there were also 55 black (27%), 15 Native American (7%), 10 Asian (5%), and 9 Hispanic (4%) deaths. Those killed were also overwhelmingly male (200 to 7 – the Burnsville victim is unknown at this time).
The majority of the deaths happened in the Metro Suburbs (76 deaths/36%) or Outstate Minnesota (60 deaths/33%) with Minneapolis (35 deaths/17%) and St. Paul (28 deaths/14%) a few steps behind.
Forty-seven percent of those killed were armed with a gun (97), 39 or 19% had a blade of some sort, 30 had an “other” weapon, and 29 were unarmed.
Of those listed as “unarmed” deaths, 15 were white and 11 were black. For the white entries, there were 6 people in the database that had no data listed under ‘weapon’, not even an “unknown” as many others had. It’s not clear what the Star Tribune classifies as “unarmed”. One white person was listed as having a clipboard and pen as a weapon, therefore not included in the “unarmed” category. There were also others with airsoft, pellet guns, a golf club, or a baseball bat which would likely be reported as “unarmed”. There was no missing data on entries for the black victims, two victims were listed as having pellet guns, and one a “metal pole” which may not have been reported as “armed”.
These numbers show that there is not a target on the back of the black communities in this state, but the NAACP demands that “Duluth bring police department arrest and use of force rates in line with local demographics.” They say that the population of Duluth is 90% white but 50% of the use of force incidents involve a person of color. That is comparing apples to oranges. If they would like to make a case, they should compare the percentage of the race those that commit crimes to the percent that required force.
It goes without saying that most people want a fair and just law enforcement system. As Bettina Keppers said Daunte Wright did not have to die. His death was a terrible accident and misuse of a firearm by a law enforcement officer that has, like all law enforcement officers, been over the last year guilty before doing anything. The noise surrounding the George Floyd case and others like it has created an environment where cops are now targets. Where they used to go to work to help others, they now go with the hope of being able to protect each other from violence bred by racist rhetoric.
Yes, Bettina, black people should be heard. They should share their experiences and concerns and identify where racism still exists – and white folks should step back and listen. Perhaps next time you’ll pass the mic to the well-spoken and respected Carl Crawford who was voiceless next to you at the press conference.