Friction strains reform
MINNEAPOLIS» Kim Handy-Jones stands at the front of a meeting room in a workingclass portion of southeast Minneapolis, large pieces of butcher paper labeled “Body Cams,” “Accountability” and “Training” hanging behind her. In the months since a police officer shot and killed her son in neighboring St. Paul, Handy-Jones has met here regularly with a dozen or so longtime Twin Cities advocates of police reform.
But this meeting is different. This time, the room is full. Some of the nearly 80 people present have to stand.
And this time, the majority is white. Handy-Jones, who is black, pauses and bows her head. It’s as though she’s considering her words, what she can and what she must say. “I am so glad — truly, my heart is glad — to see this room so full,” she says softly, before building in a crescendo.
“Now, most of y’all were not here when my son was killed . ... But this is about life, human life, not black and white, not just my son or your neighbor, but about all of us,” she continues. “It took Justine’s death to make that clear, I think, for some of y’all. But I really do welcome y’all to the fight.”
This is Minneapolis, nearly two weeks after city police officer Mohamed Noor fatally shot Justine Damond, an Australian woman who moved here in 2015 to join her fiance. It has become a city divided: The usual loyalties that bind are strained, and the ideals that tend to unite — equal justice under the law — have become a source of pressure, with new alliances and fissures.
In the shooting’s aftermath, the police union has been largely silent in defending one of its own. The city’s white, female mayor — facing a difficult re-election bid in which policing has become a primary issue — demanded and received the resignation of the white, female police chief. Local Somali American leaders have distanced their community from Noor, expressing dismay about news coverage and public chatter that tied one Somali American officer’s actions to the entire community and culture.
And while some white residents long have been engaged in calls for police reforms, advocates say their numbers have suddenly grown.
The shifts in Minneapolis reflect a nationwide debate about officers’ use of force. The Twin Cities area has experienced contentious police shootings before, including the death of Philando Castile, who was shot during a traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb in July 2016. But the response to this shooting has been different. The reason, some say, is clear: The victim was white, and the officer is a black immigrant.
John Thompson, a local activist, said he welcomes newcomers to the cause. Thompson became involved last year after the killing of Castile, his friend and coworker of 11 years. Thompson, who is black, considers Castile’s death and a jury’s decision to acquit the officer involved an indelible stain on Minnesota. He was disturbed by the way Castile — a man he calls a loving father who liked to play chess and video games — was too often portrayed as an armed and dangerous weed smoker.
“But now, this Minneapolis cop has killed a beautiful, middle-class white lady they don’t know how to vilify,” Thompson said. “White people are outraged. And you know what? I say, ‘Come on,’ because we need their voices. We need their white power. We need their white privilege . ... They will not be ignored, and nobody is going to try.”