Letter: Legislators pledge to correct racial disparities
Members of the St. Paul Delegation of the Minnesota Legislature jointly released the following statement on July 11:
We, the members of the St. Paul legislative delegation, representing the neighborhoods of Minnesota’s capital city, stand unified in grief over recent events impacting our communities and in our determination to address the forces that have driven them.
We wish to convey our condolences to the family of Philando Castile for his tragic death following a traffic stop by local law enforcement officers in a nearby municipality. St. Paul is a small community and some of us had ties to Philando as he grew up in our city, attending our public schools and as a public servant working in our schools. We can only imagine the grief the family is going through at this time, as well as that of the many teachers and students whose lives he touched. We want them all to know that we stand with them in their search for answers to what led to their beloved son’s and colleague’s death.
We also wish to convey our concern for the women and men who serve our city courageously every day in providing public safety for the people of St. Paul. The violence they faced Saturday night [July 9, during a peaceful-protest-turned riot] is a stark reminder of how far we have yet to come in healing racial divisions. This violence against our police, who conducted themselves with professionalism and honor against individuals who sought to harm them, threatens the progress we seek to correct racial disparities. They, like the brave officers in Dallas on Thursday night [July 8], defended our city, and defended the rights of lawful protesters to peacefully assemble. We join Gov. Dayton in his condemnation of the violence against them, and we echo his accolades over their commitment to our safety.
We also recognize the stark reality that these protests erupted because many of our constituents do not feel safe. The shooting of Philando, in light of the deaths of so many other citizens of color under similar circumstances, further erodes the faith of the public in the criminal justice system—a system annually debated by all of us at the Minnesota Capitol while using words like “equality,” “fairness,” “safety” and “redemption.” The sincerity of those words are questioned by our constituents of color for whom the death of Philando is a fearful reminder that, for them, justice is different. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” acknowledges that for too long, and far too often, black lives especially have been valued as less than those of white citizens. Such widespread doubt about the integrity of the justice system is a threat to the rule of law in a state predicated on the principle that justice views all people the same.
Data shows that the criminal justice system has a disproportionate impact on our constituents of color—not just in the use of force by law enforcement, but in more stops, more arrests, more convictions and longer sentences. And these disparities are just part of a series of inequities. In terms of health, education, employment, income, housing and much more, Minnesotans of color suffer far worse outcomes than white Minnesotans. Statistically, the fate of a child in Minnesota is determined far too much by the color of her or his skin. This is deplorable.
For too long we have ignored the open wound of racial injustice, outsourcing it to be solved by the criminal justice system and putting our law enforcement officials in the position of managing its toxic effects. As legislators representing communities impacted by the tragic events of this past week, we resolve to correct racial disparities in our state by pledging to do the following:
- To actively cultivate public participation in the legislative process among underrepresented communities—especially communities of color and Native Americans—without whose input we may not achieve just laws.
- Not to levy blame upon police or protesters for past acts, but to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and growth.
- To allow the justice system to determine appropriate remedies in a deliberative, accurate process.
- Where justice system results are broadly questioned, to examine and pursue changes in the law consistent with our national values of fairness, tolerance, and freedom.
- To advocate for transparency in decision-making, including full and rapid disclosure of government information collected within communities of color.
When the Minnesota Legislature convenes in January 2017, we hereby resolve, both individually and collectively, to take active measures to realize these pledges.
All of us, policymakers and the public at large, will be judged by history for how we respond to the tragic events in July. We believe in the goodness and power that comes from all of us coming and working together across racial communities. We are committed to advancing and defending the dignity of all residents of the city we love and proudly represent. It is up to all of us to learn from our mistakes, and to respond in a positive way. We will do our part, and hope for the same from all of Minnesota.
Sen. John Marty, Rep. Alice Hausman, Rep. John Lesch, Rep. Erin Murphy, Rep. Rena Moran, Sen. Richard Cohen, Sen. Sandy Pappas, Sen. Foung Hawj, Rep. Carlos Mariani, Rep. Tim Mahoney and Rep. Dave Pinto, Minnesota state Legislature