ST. PAUL — Minnesota Senate Republicans pushed forward with a set of police accountability measures Tuesday, June 16, despite concerns from Democrats and Minnesotans of color who asked them to beef up the proposals.
A Senate panel on Tuesday weighed five proposals aimed at banning chokeholds, boosting police training and opening up information about deadly force encounters and they heard emotional testimony from parents of Minnesotans killed by police, civil rights advocates and law enforcement officials. The Senate started debates on the bills Tuesday night but it wasn't clear they would pass after Democrats proposed and Republicans voted down several amendments.
GOP lawmakers who comprise the majority in that chamber said the proposals would be a first step in addressing tensions between police and communities of color following George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police. Meanwhile, Democrats who control the Minnesota House of Representatives and DFL Gov. Tim Walz urged Republicans to listen to communities of color and advance more proposals that would hold police officers accountable for using deadly force.
The push to change policing laws and pass police accountability measures comes weeks after Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody. A videotape by a bystander at the scene showed Floyd ask for help, saying he couldn't breathe as former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for several minutes. The department didn't immediately mention the use of force in a report announcing Floyd's death.
A possible compromise could be stunted by partisan disagreements and a Friday deadline set by Senate leaders to wrap up the special legislative session.
Republican leaders in the Senate said they felt the measures were a good first start in addressing issues of inequality in policing and acknowledged they would have more work to do re-writing police accountability measures. They also blamed Minneapolis officials for not taking steps sooner to re-write labor agreements with the police union there that could've allowed for harsher penalties involved in deadly force encounters.
The five bills would ban chokeholds unless in situations where an officer is isolated, has lost a weapon or faces a life or death situation, boost mental health and de-escalation training and set up mechanisms for reporting instances of deadly force. The plans also prioritize the sanctity of life in police model policies and require officers to step in if they see peers using excessive force.
“Good cops will not have any problem with the word accountability. It’s the ones that have been pushing the limits, allowed to continue their practices, allowed to despite collective bargaining that happens every other year,” Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said. “These are important first steps, this is laying foundation stones for more subjects to be addressed in the future.”
Family members who'd lost loved ones to police deadly force incidents, civil rights and police accountability advocates and black Minnesotans told the panel that they appreciated the changes but wanted to see more.
Amity Dimock, whose autistic son Kobe Dimock-Heisler, died after he was shot by Brooklyn Park police in September, said the measures didn't go far enough to hold officers accountable for the use of deadly force. And in her emotional testimony, she asked for more training to address those with mental illness and with autism and she cried as she asked lawmakers to help her get answers about the incident that killed her son.
"Why are the police officers that should be being held to a higher standard not being held to a standard at all?" Dimock said. "My son should be alive. And not only that, but my son should be recognized. People should be speaking about his injustice."
Meanwhile, law enforcement groups said they were ready to re-write their policies and asked to have an active role in any changes.
"The sheriffs of Minnesota will do whatever we can do to work through this process," Bill Hutton, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, said.
Democrats on the committee and in the Senate chamber questioned the self-imposed Friday deadline to wrap up the special session and urged their GOP peers to drop the end date to allow discussion about more policing law changes.
“For generations, black Minnesotans have been expected to wait patiently for equity and justice, " Rep. Rena Moran, D-St. Paul, said. "Real criminal justice reforms and accountability for police violence is just one example of needing to wait entirely too long."
House Democrats, including members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, continued taking up 22 proposals they'd put forward and said they intended to bring those to the House floor later in the week.