Harteau has to go

Justine Damond

Latest shooting shows her officers lack training, prone to violence

Commentary by Harry Colbert, Jr., Managing Editor

Tragically, the chickens have come home to roost.

The list of names just keeps growing as the police culture of violence that has been permissible (and even celebrated) when dealing with people of color has spread to now include the most unlikely of victims, despite warnings that this event would someday come. Jamar Clark should still be alive. Philando Castile should have celebrated his birthday on July 16. Justine Damond’s family should be looking forward to a coming wedding instead of a funeral. Clark, Castile and Damond are all dead … all at the hands of area “peace” officers.

And the bottom line … Twin Cities area police need comprehensive retraining and Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau needs to be relieved of her command. Same for St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth.

It is clear that a good number of officers are not mentally nor emotionally prepared to be in law enforcement. Police are taught that every encounter with a civilian is a potentially life threatening one, thus they go to a call for the proverbial cat in a tree expecting a gunfight. Add to that the inherent bias when police come in contact with people of color and as demonstrated, it’s a tragedy waiting to happen.

Interestingly enough, the two most recent shooting incidents, the killing of Damond – who was white – and the shooting of two pit bulls in their back yard, were at perpetrated by officers of color and the official response is in stark contrast to the response when Clark – an unarmed 24-year-old African-American – was killed by white officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze.

Nonetheless, the culture is clear … shoot first and don’t even bother to ask questions. This has been known to residents of color for quite some time. Now our white brothers and sisters are feeling our angst. No person should have to fear an encounter with police, but this is the culture of law enforcement and that culture starts from the top down. And that’s why Harteau and Mangseth need to be relieved of duty. In fact, we should start demanding the shield of any chief in an unjustified officer-involved shooting.

Going too far? Not really. Trust, if everyone’s got “skin in the game” I’m willing to bet there will be greater emphasis placed on training, addressing issues of mental health among officers and weeding out “rogue” cops.

But we shouldn’t have to ask for Harteau’s and Mangseth’s badges, they should be honorable and willfully relinquish them.  Knowing that won’t be the case, it is upon us as citizens to hold chiefs’ … and mayors’ and city councilpersons’ … feet to the flame.

The fact is, it is past time we did this.

A lot of white residents (and some of color) just didn’t get it when groups were marching and shutting down highways. As much as they were marching for police to stop killing us with impunity, they were marching for total reform so that all citizens can be safe from police tyranny. Sadly, it seems it took an unfortunate role reversal for some in the majority community to wonder aloud, “what the heck is going on?”

Welcome to the club of which no one wants to be a member.

As we call for police reform, let’s call for media reform as well.

Journalists, it’s time you acknowledge your bias in coverage. Within moments after the identity of the officer who shot Damond was announced, the reporting shifted from mourning the victim to examining the officer, citing his three prior complaints. Yes, prior complaints are absolutely a prominent part of the story … the same way it should have been prominent in the cases of Mark Ringgenberg, Schwarze and Yanez as they could demonstrate a pattern of aggressive behavior.

Both Ringgenberg and Schwarze have been sued for excessive force prior to their killing of Clark – Schwarze sued just 10 days before the killing of Clark. Yet, both Ringgenberg and Schwarze continue to collect checks from the Minneapolis Police Department, Ringgenberg in the department’s second district and Schwarze in its fifth. Somehow though, the narrative that many of my counterparts in media ran with was to dig into a possible criminal background of the only person in that case who didn’t survive the 61-second encounter.

Quit blaming the victim for his or her own demise. Even those currently accused or formerly convicted of a crime deserve the right to survive an encounter with police. While police are neither judge nor jury, far too often they serve and executioner and we as journalists cannot ignore the rights of a human being just because of his or her past or current circumstances. To state it plainly, we can’t condone nor make it permissible for police to abuse and kill because of a person’s lifestyle or life choices.

Yes, absolutely, every officer should go home to his or her family at the end of each and every shift. Let me state it again. Every officer should go home to his or her family at the end of each and every shift. Period. Neither officer nor suspect … nor increasingly, complaining witness … should fear death upon encounter.

Change has to come from all fronts. The first front is the removal of Harteau and Mangseth.





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