George Floyd memorial

A memorial for George Floyd was set up by Shakopee community leaders at Huber Park May 31.

More oversight and accountability for police and better relationships between police departments and their communities could help prevent deaths like that of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers, several legislators and candidates for Scott County said this week. 

Members of the two major political parties still often differed on the nature of the problem and what to do next. 

Disproportionate violence against black people by white officers stems from generations of racism and racist systems throughout American life, local Democrats said, echoing protesters and civic leaders throughout the country.

"We’re living in 2020, and we would think that some of these issues would go away, but now it’s haunting us," said Sahra Odowa, a disability case manager who is running against state Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, and is the daughter of Somali immigrants. "This is an issue that occurs on a daily basis for many."

Odowa and other Democrats called for higher standards for officer conduct, for the state to allow local requirements for officers to live in the communities they police, and for better mental health support for law enforcement and the general public, among other changes. 

Local Republicans were less likely to point to systemic racism's role in recent events. They often focused on the need to investigate the former officers charged in Floyd's death and said the Democratic governor and Minneapolis mayor didn't do enough to stop riots that followed some protests. 

Some legislators and candidates in the two parties found some agreement on the issue, however. Many praised Scott County's law enforcement agencies for their work around race and communication with the public and supported the idea of making disciplining problem officers easier. 

"They should be going by the same rules as the rest of society — more so, because they’re peace officers," said Bob Loonan, one of two Republicans running against state Rep. Brad Tabke of Shakopee. Police union protections for cops who should be fired seem to be part of the problem, he said. 

"There’s definitely a huge trust problem on multiple sides of this," Loonan added, and the state needs a bigger conversation. "Someone’s going to have to go first and trust."

Floyd is just one of the latest emblems of violence against black people, which stretches back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow; his death isn't even the only one to draw protest and rage around the U.S. in the past few weeks. 

Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be fatally shot by police as whites, according to a Washington Post database. Philando Castile was among them four years ago, when a Hispanic officer fatally shot Castile during a traffic stop in a St. Paul after Castile explained that he had a firearm in the vehicle. 

A task force overseen by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington in February recommended several policies to reduce deadly police encounters, such as by publicly tracking those incidents, creating a special Bureau of Criminal Apprehension unit to investigate them and mandating de-escalation training for all agencies. 

The Legislature's People of Color and Indigenous Caucus this month also laid out a similar slate of proposals that have support among local Democrats, including Andrea Nelsen, the Prior Lake Democrat running against state. Rep. Tony Albright, and Lindsey Port, who's seeking the seat of state Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville.

One would provide state money for non-law-enforcement community "problem-solvers" who could partner with officers for different situations, such as a mental health crisis.

"Police officers shouldn’t be forced to be in a position where they are the only problem-solvers," said state Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage. 

The state proposals could come up in a special legislative session this year.

Cantrell isn't running for re-election; in the race for his seat, Democrat Jessica Hanson and Republican Basil Martin's campaigns didn't respond to emailed requests for comment this week.

Republican Pam Myhra, another candidate for the seat, in a written response didn't discuss certain policies, saying, "All levels of our government share the key responsibilities of providing justice, promoting peace through law and order, and protecting the defenseless and vulnerable."

Other legislators and candidates likewise didn't point to certain proposals or otherwise didn't comment on the issue. Hall and Albright didn't respond to email requests for comment. Erik Mortensen, who's in the running against Loonan and Tabke, couldn't respond because of travel.

U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minnesota, and her opponent, Prior Lake Republican and former Marine Tyler Kistner, both called Floyd's death tragic but haven't publicly discussed policy changes. 

Several recent proposals are on the table in Congress, such as ideas to end the federal program transferring military equipment to police departments or to outlaw chokeholds by officers.

"Our communities are in pain," Craig wrote in an email statement. "We must take time to listen, learn from and reflect on the events over the last several days and the long history of racial inequity in this country."

Kistner's campaign didn't respond to a request for comment this week. 

Pratt, who chairs the state Senate's jobs and economic growth committee, said he was mostly focused on helping and listening to business owners whose establishments were damaged in riots around the Twin Cities. 

He said he'd want to take a statewide perspective rather than basing policy off of one problematic department. If all of the stakeholders — law enforcement, activists and so on — can agree a policy change could help, "I'm happy to support it," Pratt said. 

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