Dateline: Friday, March 12, 2021
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey for the past couple of hours was part of a live press conference announcing the city's $27 million settlement with the family of George Floyd. That announcement comes at the end of the first week of jury selection for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the fired Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd last May.
This is a heavy moment. And in heavy moments like this, I think it's really essential to do exclusive interviews with Black media directly. And I'll tell you, this is the only specific interview that I'm doing on the topic today. We were here with you right after the killing of George Floyd. And your coverage was excellent. You asked the right questions. They were rightfully cutting. And I'm proud to do this interview as well with you today.
And so we just got out of the press conference related to the settlement with the George Floyd family. The settlement is for $27 million in total, $500,000 of which is to go to business assistance and community assistance down at 38th and Chicago. The family, along with myself and council vice president Andrea Jenkins is going to be working to make sure that we can get the funds to the right resources there. But today has been a heavy one. It's a somber note. This is not a celebratory tone. This is one of reflection, of insight, perhaps, and looking to how we can improve going forward.
So let's reflect on what brought us here. Some of the people at the press conference had on hats or gear that said “8:46” reminding the public of the amount of time, eight minutes and forty-six seconds that Chauvin held George in lethal restraint. The mortal chokehold lasted 526 seconds. By today’s settlement, the city is paying some $51,330.80 per second for the execution that the world watched on social media. How do we arrive at that number?
Mayor Jacob Frey:
I appreciate the question, Al. It's one that I however cannot answer. We can't discuss the settlement discussions themselves. I certainly wasn't the chief negotiator. Our city attorney was the individual that was negotiating the settlement. I appreciate Jim Rowader's work, and our entire city attorney's office, in getting to a figure and being able to move forward as a collective enterprise. But I apologize, I can't give you any more than that.
Well, that's fine. The important thing for me is to raise the question.
Talk about the city right now, as the city is preparing to go through the trial. The world is watching Minneapolis. Where are we now in terms of what we are planning for to keep communities safe, people safe, businesses safe, and people calm?
Mayor Jacob Frey:
First, recognizing the magnitude of this moment, which is indeed profound, our city has been undergoing trauma after the last nine or so months. And no one has felt that trauma more than the Black community. They've felt it in a fairly acute fashion.
And so yes, preparations are underway. Priorities of safety, which we must have, priorities of protecting First Amendment rights, and then continuing to deliver, of course, city services are really paramount.
One of the assets that we have this go around that we certainly did not last time is the asset of time. We've had time to prepare. And we've been working literally since August of last year towards this point, and that's includes everything from deep community connections, to formalizing our relationships with our leaders and cultural communities, with businesses, nonprofits, neighborhood associations and block captains. We want to make sure that we're able to quickly disseminate information, as well as get the right intelligence from the ground back. And so we've had the time to set up these relationships.
We've also obviously had the time to work with law enforcement partners engaging mutual aid from other jurisdictions and the state, including our request of the National Guard in December. And so this is a difficult time. I recognize that it will be traumatic for so many. But we are prepared.
Any specific advice for residents so community people can safely navigate daily movement and access? Any advice to those who choose to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest and to monitor the trial?
Mayor Jacob Frey:
First, make sure to follow the city's social media pages and website at https://www.minneapolismn.gov/ for regular and up to date information. We've found that one of the best ways to combat misinformation, which undoubtedly will be out there to some extent, is to continuously put forward the facts.
And so you all can help us with that. Disseminate the city's information that we're putting out there. Tell us what's going on as well, whether that's through a neighborhood community relations department, and our neighborhood outreach teams, or through our tips hotline, which is 612-692-TIPS. You can let us know what's happening on the ground.
And for those that are peacefully protesting, we want to protect you. We want to make sure that people are able to express their First Amendment rights. We think and believe fully that peaceful protest is not just an important and critical part of the healing process. It's an essential part of our democratic process. And that work is continuing right now. And I think you look to some of the leaders in our community as examples because the first couple days of jury selection in the trial, we saw some wonderful peaceful protests that went off without a hitch.
If you are a peaceful protestor or a community member and you see something that doesn't look right, tell us. Last go round, in late May and early June, we saw white supremacists and others like Boogaloo Boys, coming in from outside of our city, in many instances, outside our state, with the intent to cause havoc and chaos. They used our peaceful protestors as a shield to do so. That is unacceptable. Our message to them, our message to anyone that is looking to cause chaos, or property damage, or injure people within our city is, you will be arrested. We'll be very firm on that. And so it’s yes to peaceful protesting. We want to keep people safe. If you're going beyond that to use violence, no. We will not tolerate it in any way, shape, or form.
Bring forward both sides of the discussion around defunding or reforming the police.
Mayor Jacob Frey:
This notion of defund the police or abolish the police, is a Rorschach test. I like to be specific about what I am for and what I'm not for. And my position has remained entirely consistent throughout. And that's regardless of whether I'm talking to you in the media, business leaders, or community activists, I've said the same thing to everyone.
I believe we need deep structural change. I believe we need a full culture shift and revamp in terms of the way we do business within our police department.
And by the way, Chief Arradondo is lockstep with me in that mission, in that vision around procedural justice.
I do not believe that we should be getting rid of our police. I just don't. I do not. I've said that to everyone. But, to be specific, if we're talking about safety beyond policing, I'm all on board.
Every single one of my budgets has included new and further investments in safety beyond policing. If we're talking about decriminalizing addiction, again, I am all on board.
However, if we're talking about getting rid of police, I do not think that is the right decision, especially right now.
Minneapolis City Council is considering a charter amendment proposal regarding the future of the police department, where's that now?
Mayor Jacob Frey:
I believe they just voted on a portion of it today. And so there's a couple of different charter amendments that seem to be moving forward, one from community, one from the Council. Let me be clear on what I do agree with and what I don't agree with.
I do believe in a comprehensive approach to public safety. I do believe that we should have alternatives to policing, where you do not need an officer with a gun showing up to every single situation. You just don't. And whether that's mental health responders, or that's social workers, it is helpful to have that additional set of tools and that additional skillset that is beyond and apart from what an officer normally has, so that part, I like.
I'll tell you what I don't like.
I do not think that either the chief of police or the head of public safety should be reporting to 14 different individuals, 13 council members and the mayor. I think that would be a significant reduction to accountability overall. I think that it would be one big finger pointing contest every single time something goes wrong. And the way I see it is when everybody's in charge, nobody's in charge. Right now when things go wrong, or things happen, there's a very clear accountability. You blame the chief. You blame me. And yes, at times, that means that you step up. You take responsibility. And that's where we're at.
But you have in fact initiated some reforms for the department since the killing of George Floyd. You have a change in use of force policy. You have a change in body camera use. You are recruiting more people of color.
Mayor Jacob Frey:
We've put forward a litany of reforms, some of them before George Floyd was killed, and many of them since he was killed. First, I'll talk about the use of force revamp. We did an entire overhaul on our use of force policy to make it as stringent as possible under state law. And in part, the shift in state law itself, which recently happened this last year, allowed us to again be even more restrictive with instances in which officers are using force.
Is that going to solve the whole equation? Is that going to shift the culture of the department? No. I'll be honest with you. It will not. But it is an important step. Second, with respect to body cameras, and this is an area where I think we have made major progress in the last several years. When I first took office, we added accountability to our body camera policy by adding a disciplinary matrix. So in other words, if you don't turn on the body camera when you should be, there is discipline associated with it. And it worked. That accountability took us from 55% compliance when I took office, to around 95% compliance now. So 55% then, 90% to 95% now, that is significant progress.
But we didn't want to stop there. We also recognized that there should be parity between officers who are potentially getting charged with a crime and civilians that are potentially getting charged with a crime. There shouldn't be different rules. Previously, officers were able to review body camera footage prior to providing a statement. But if you or I did something, we wouldn't have that same ability to review the body camera footage. And so now there's parity between the two.
We went even further though, and we wanted to make it really clear that officers couldn't turn off the body cameras while they were involved or encountering a critical incident. So if you get an officer that's on the scene, and they're going to talk to other people, I think there's oftentimes an impression that whatever happened when you turned off the body camera was some form of malfeasance or wrongdoing. Let's just take that out of the equation, keep the body cameras on, and then there's full transparency. So that was a big step as well.
But we've done even more than that. I mean, we've gotten rid of “no knock” warrants, with the exception of exigent circumstances. We've overhauled our de-escalation policies to make sure that de-escalation is baked into every interaction. And we wanted to have all de-escalation techniques reported out on every report. Additionally, we wanted to have that reporting structure in place where more incidents of use of force were actually put in the report. So whether that's an arm bar, or a handcuffing, I mean, even lower level uses of force, we wanted to have that reported as well, so we get a full picture of what's happening. That's a mouthful. It's a mouthful, but we've been doing a lot of work. And a lot of these things are specific. They don't fit in a hashtag. These are not simplistic policies.
How do you grapple with the confluence of what I call the pandemic of 1492/1619 and present day COVID-19 pandemic? And how do you assemble a narrative that connects the question of justice and the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown people?
Mayor Jacob Frey:
It's true, this is obviously not my quote, but when America gets a cold, the Black community gets the flu. And we are seeing those disproportionate impacts play themselves out, and it's deep. It's not just limited to a simple biology of perhaps who has antibodies and who doesn't. That's not at all what we're talking about. It's who's on the front lines. It's who's delivering the food. It's who is stepping up, whether that's firefighters, or police officers, or medics, nurses.
Mayor Jacob Frey:
This is bus drivers. This is cooks. I mean, the people that literally keep us alive in so many respects, literally and figuratively, are the Black community. But they then bear the disproportionate impact in terms of getting sick themselves from it. And so just that is absolutely the case. And it's very real.
Note that deep and systemic inequities that have health impacts associated with them far precede COVID-19. That's where you live and the presence of pollutants. Carbon output, carbon monoxide in certain neighborhoods is far more than in fancier white neighborhoods. You see that all the time. It's about access to fresh fruits and vegetables. We've got food deserts in so many of our Black and Brown communities.
It's housing justice. I mean, you can't possibly think about getting healthy or getting well, mentally, physically, emotionally, if you don't have a stable home to begin with. I mean, you could go down the line, economic inclusion, jobs, all of it has ultimately an impact on health. We know this not by opinion, we know this because the data proves it out. And so you're right, in many instances, we're still dealing with these pandemics of 1492 and beyond. And they're exacerbated even more when a global pandemic like COVID-19 comes through.
So how do we get our city and our corporate and public policy leadership to focus on shifting the dynamic, and not categorizing Black people and Brown people, as the problem? But rather to engage Black and Brown communities as, properly resourced, the owners of the solution? How do we move impacted communities to the solution side of the equation? Being on the solution side of the equation is measurable with money. How do you follow the money and analyze how we can invest differently that in ways that energize development and generational wealth and sustainability in our neighborhoods?
I have said often, Mayor Frey, they get the money, we get the misery. Our misery becomes a commodity which fuels white people’s economic interests. It's unacceptable. What do we do about that?
Mayor Jacob Frey:
And you are right. You've got to follow the money. And oftentimes, people talk about equity. They talk about making sure that monies are affirmatively put towards Black and Brown communities and ACP 50 areas, (insert pull quote box:
The Metropolitan Council defines Areas of Concentrated Poverty (ACPs) as census tracts where 40% or more of the residents have family or individual incomes that are less than 185% of the federal poverty threshold. In 2015, 185% of the federal poverty threshold was $44,875 for a family of four or $22,352 for an individual living alone. To identify areas where people of color experience the most exposure to concentrated poverty, the Met Council further differentiates Areas of Concentrated Poverty where 50% or more of the residents are people of color (ACP50s)) and they're all for it until the actual decision comes down. And a great example was just this last year when COVID-19 first hit, I made the decision that we should push forward and allocate money specifically to our more impoverished areas. We should make sure that business owners, Black and Brown business owners, were first getting that shot to make it through a global pandemic.
And you know what, I'll tell you, I got pushback from a couple council members that didn't have money going to their respective wards. Now I understand the parochial nature of wanting to represent your wards. But when you're looking out for the whole city, and specifically when you're looking out to do right by communities of color and through equity, you've got to make investments where they're needed most.
Given the economic recovery at hand, and the federal government's recently passed American Rescue Plan, where does Minneapolis come in? How do we use this opportunity to strengthen West Broadway, Lake Street, University Avenue in Saint Paul? It seems like because of the egregious nature of the challenges, there is significant opportunity. Do you see a resilience that allows us to move beyond historic entrapments and towards the unbridling of our strengths?
Mayor Jacob Frey:
And it's not just ownership of a business. That's an important component. I also believe that it should be ownership of the underlying land, the property and the building itself.
We see Black excellence on West Broadway, on Plymouth Avenue, on Lake Street. We see it all around the city. And these communities and these business owners are the reason that a corridor becomes successful to begin with.
But then what happens? That corridor becomes successful. More people want to go there. The value of the property creeps up. The rent gets jacked through the roof. And the same people that made these corridors wonderful to begin with get the boot because they can't pay the rent.
That's what we want to change right now. And so we've started this commercial property development fund that provides gap financing for Black and Brown business owners in these corridors.
It gives them the opportunity to purchase the land, to own the property, so that when those values get boosted up, and by the way, they will, they benefit.
I mean, we want people to be successful, but the difference is who is successful. The difference is: Where is the money flowing? And if they own the property, and then the value gets boosted up, guess who benefits, them, especially if they're the owners.