The next Hennepin County Attorney will control the criminal justice system for 1.2 million people

This piece is part of Twin Cities Daily Planet’s series covering the 2018 elections season. Every year we’re moving towards a possibility of a more diverse legislature. And with it, we hope comes increased opportunities for communities historically shut out of political processes and power to imagine and enact policies to create a Minnesota that benefits all its constituents. “The prosecutor is single-handedly the most powerful person in the courtroom,” said Elizer Darris, ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice organizer. Darris is spearheading doorknocking about the role of prosecutors, elected officials known in some states as district attorneys and here in Minnesota as county attorneys. Continue Reading

Community Voices: Beyond Repair – While Republicans and Democrats unite to increase police power, others point to new way forward

Virtually unnoticed in the cacophony of the Trumpian news cycle, a bill to place more power in the hands of police slithered through the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support – including from such progressive Democratic luminaries as Luis Gutiérrez, Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison. The “Serve and Protect Act” (H.R.5698) comes packaged as a necessary measure to protect our brave officers “who put on the badge every day to keep us safe” from the dangers of an imaginary “War on Police.” Specifically, it would impose prison terms of up to ten years for harming or attempting to harm officers of any local, state or federal agencies of what is euphemistically called “law enforcement.” If convicted of carrying out or attempting a kidnapping or killing of an officer, the accused could be imprisoned for life. The Senate version even designates police as an oppressed “protected class” under hate crime laws. The legislation is designed to increase police power in communities of color, strengthen the fortress of police impunity and reinforce the plea-bargain-to-prison conveyor belt. Its targets are anyone the police decide they want to see locked up. These are the same police, after all, who routinely insist that children playing with toys, young men shopping at Walmart, residents reaching for their ID, teenagers trying to drive away, neighbors holding cell phones and motorists calmly disclosing their legal firearm to police are aggressors poised to kill them. Continue Reading

Senator Klobuchar: Is torture a legal issue?

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a former County Attorney, a current member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a possible future Supreme Court nominee, is adept at avoiding legal categories when it suits her purpose. Last month the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the Executive Summary of its report on U.S.-committed torture in the post-9/11 era. A friend of mine wrote several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggesting that now, if ever, it was time to push for justice and accountability. Senator Klobuchar responded with a carefully crafted form letter that ignored all legal concepts. Here was my subsequent reply to Sen. Klobuchar: Dear Senator Klobuchar, Reverend Sonja Johnson shared with me a copy of your response to her recent letter to you about holding those responsible for torture accountable. It scared me. It scared me because you may well be on future Supreme Court nominee “short lists,” and while Rev. Johnson’s letter focused on law and justice, your response used totally different categories and terminology. I appreciate that this was a form letter, not written to respond directly to Rev. Johnson, but your response dealt with none of the issues she raised. You wrote of “the troubling interrogation techniques,” that “torture is unacceptable,” and that “the values that define our nation…[were] intentionally disregarded” (emphasis added). The words “crime,” “law,” “justice,” and “accountability” were absent. The interrogation techniques were not “troubling”; they were criminal. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | In the aftermath of Zimmerman’s acquittal, racial justice remains elusive

Let’s face it, America has not done a very good job of reconciling its ugly and painful history of racism and oppression against African Americans and other people of color. The predominant attitude seems to be that what happened in the past stays in the past and that history has little to no bearing upon current happenings within our society. Sadly, as illustrated in the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin and in the aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, this could not be further from the truth. In this case, race played a significant role in the fact that Trayvon Martin, a young African American male, was profiled and stereotyped by Zimmerman as a criminal who was “up to no good,” as he walked in the rain through a gated community in Sanford, Florida.The lingering perception of the Black man as criminal and suspicious has plagued young African American men since the days of slavery and beyond. In fact, throughout the South following the abolition of slavery, laws were created that made standard behavior by Black men a crime and led to high rates of incarceration for that segment of the population. Continue Reading