At the intersection of race and law enforcement are a small number of Black law enforcement leaders in the state of Minnesota. The state’s sole four Black chiefs of police met virtually on Friday, March 5 to discuss the future of policing and race relations in the state and legacy of Floyd’s death.
While Minnesota statewide has a majority-white population, law enforcement forces are still disproportionately white: Of nearly 11,000 police officers throughout the state, less than 250 officers are Black, according to Public Safety Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges. That’s roughly 2.3% of sworn officers, compared to Minnesota’s state population being 7% Black, according to the U.S. Census.
Representation in municipal police departments’ leadership is even lower. Of 411 municipal police departments, only four police chiefs in all of Minnesota are Black — less than 1%. Those chiefs are Blair Anderson of St. Cloud, Medaria Arradondo of Minneapolis, Roger New of Eagan Police Department and Ed Frizell of the Metro Transit Police Department.
The chiefs acknowledged that police departments have historically had fraught relationships with many communities of color, due in part to a lack of representation of people of color within police forces. Arrandondo said Floyd’s death last May changed “the role of policing and conversations about race and this American institution of policing forever,” even beyond Minneapolis.
“There are certain events in our profession as peace officers that resonate to the level where the country takes great pause but at the same time is also really examining, ‘where do we go from here,’” he said. “Clearly, I think we are at that point.”
Anderson said that in the wake of Floyd’s death, changes in policing are coming, some of which he said are overdue. But he said “wholesale change and a complete redesign” is not necessary for all police departments.
“All of us know that 99% of the men and women who go out and do this job do it the right way for the right reasons,” he said. “Sadly enough, we all get judged by the transgressions of a few. That’s particularly disturbing to me because as people of color, we know what it feels like to be judged by your worst element.”
Asked about their views of the Black Lives Matter movement, each of the officials said that racial equity and policing do not have to be mutually exclusive. Hodges said he thinks at the end of the day, both activists and police officers just want their communities to be safe.
“Unfortunately for me, I’ve had to call a mom who lost her kids on the street, but I’ve also had to call families whose family member has been killed by street violence in the line of duty,” Hodges said. “I can tell you, the screams from both of them are the same. I can tell you the hurt and pain that they feel are the same. And I can tell you that the dirt that they go in is the same.”
The chiefs said the policing in America is changing, both within departments and via legislation in government halls. At the center of those changes should be a solid moral compass and respect for the sanctity of life for victims, suspects and law enforcement, no matter their race.
“I think that we need to be cognizant of the fact that this uniform is a symbol of a lot of things and they’re all different,” Anderson said. “This uniform is a symbol of service. It’s a symbol of sacrifice. But to some people, it’s a symbol of oppression and we need to be cognizant of that when we’re talking about making changes moving toward the future.”