As we reach the three-month anniversary of George Floyd's murder, we wanted to tap into the insights of faculty and alumni at our member colleges for perspective on the historical and systemic biases that precipitated his murder — how things got to this point, which systems need to change and what that change might look like.
In addition to the following, a June Pioneer Press piece penned by faculty in the criminal justice and forensic science department at Hamline University also provides an excellent overview of Minnesota's system of police training and oversight.
A historical perspective on racial injustice in Minneapolis
Associate history professor and department chair Michael J. Lansing provided historical context of racism in Minneapolis in a Twitter thread. He was also interviewed by MinnPost and U.S. News and World Report. He also wrote a historical perspective piece for The Washington Post.
Leading the way toward lasting change
Chris Montana JD '13 is the owner of first Black-owned microdistillery in the United States, Du Nord Craft Spirits. Below is an excerpt of Montana's interview about the events surrounding George Floyd’s death.
How did you first hear of George Floyd’s death and what was your initial reaction?
I didn’t hear about it that night, because I’ve been so focused on converting the distillery to hand sanitizer production. Once I learned of George’s murder, though, I shut down Du Nord. We sent an email to the staff and said that if they wanted to leave and go to protests that we’d pay them for the rest of the day. It’s such a shot to the gut that you can’t really expect people to focus on work. We said, “Go ahead, go to the protests if you want to. We’ll take care of you for the day. Be well.”
Are you hopeful for change?
I’m fairly hopeful. I hope that we go back to this point in time in the same way people talk about Selma. I hope we say, “It’s difficult to tell exactly when things started to change, but our best guess is it was right now.” We have the nation looking at this issue and we are starting to ask questions about systemic racism in the light of day.
In my opinion, real change happens through person-to-person conversations. We need to reverse this trend of getting further and further into our own bubbles, because the more we’re in our own silos, the less able we are to understand what the other side has to say. There’s a significant portion of America today that doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. They don’t understand why people would get this upset, why buildings would burn. They can’t imagine anyone having anything bad to say about the police. There needs to be a conversation where real education happens, not from having what you thought to be true confirmed, but from being pushed and being made uncomfortable.
I’ve had people who don’t necessarily agree with me reach out and say, “This has opened my eyes a little bit.” That’s new. We can do this right if we don’t go back to business as usual. But I also worry that we can do it really wrong, because I’m worn down that way. I do feel a different energy that’s moving in the right direction and it would be such a shame to squander this chance we’ve been given.
University of St. Thomas:
College of Arts and Sciences’ Tanya Gladney on police reform
Sociology and Criminal Justice Associate Professor and Department Chair Tanya Gladney was appointed by Gov. Walz to the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which is responsible for licensing Minnesota's peace officers. Below is an excerpt of Gladney's interview. Read the full article on St. Thomas's website.
Discussion concerning the current system of policing has ramped up since the killing of George Floyd. What are your thoughts on police reform?
Studies have shown for many years that when we’re looking at communities of color, they don’t perceive law enforcement the same as other communities. Reform is needed to raise the level of equitable service and to reflect on the profession of law enforcement. Reform is a good thing for law enforcement as well by looking at different needs of the community that can be redirected to the proper expertise. That way, law enforcement isn’t expected to show up and have expertise in all these different areas where they can get it wrong. Sometimes they may get it right, but it can be detrimental when they get it wrong . . .
. . . Without a doubt there is a need for law enforcement. But when law enforcement does show up, having the training that will equip that officer to understand diverse cultures, the different nuances and community behaviors is important. Let’s take a closer look at that training. Let’s do a deep dive to see what can be tweaked (or eliminated) and incorporate the voices of the community. They must be part of the conversation.
There’s also confusion when talking about defunding the police. This doesn’t mean eliminating police, right?
. . . Defunding doesn’t mean that you don’t fund the police department, it means you’re taking a closer look to see how you allocate those resources. Words such as defunding, dismantling and abolishing policing will generate conversations on the role of policing in society, but once you move beyond the headlines, there’s still going to be a space for policing no matter what the catchphrase says. Using my sociologist lens, if you don’t eradicate poverty, unemployment, addiction, homelessness – all of those push factors that drive people into crime, people are going to figure out how to survive and in some cases that’s going to be through criminal activities.