Ending the culture of police violence in Minneapolis: Hodges and the long view towards change

Remember this? This was the image that launched “Pointergate”, a Minneapolis Police Federation effort, aided and abetted by KSTP-TV, to attack the reputation of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. The patently ridiculous assertion that the Mayor was throwing down gang signs immediately became national news and was soon debunked, criticized, and ridiculed.

The infamous “Pointergate image of Mayor Betsy Hodges with NOC volunteer Navell Gordon. The Minneapolis Police Federattion asserted Hodges and Gordon were making gang signs.

That Hodges was simply out door knocking with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) to get out the vote in north Minneapolis was beyond the point; the Police Federation saw the chance to make political hay and tarnish the reputation of both NOC and a woman they reviled for her independence and refusal to kowtow to the union, a powerful player in the city/police dynamic. Reflecting on this now, it seems like a foreshadowing of the bully tactics currently receiving national scrutiny due to the actions of the current Trump administration.

I revisit this chapter in Minneapolis mayoral history to illustrate a point: that Mayor Hodges has stood with the community and against police violence and intimidation since she became our mayor. This solidarity comes at a price — witness Pointergate — but it’s one she’s been more than willing to pay, such as when she recently stepped in to block the appointment of former police union president John Delmonico to be Fourth Precinct inspector. Police Federation leadership has repeatedly voiced their distrust for Black Lives Matter, NOC, and other community-based organizations. The Delmonico appointment — to be inspector of the precinct that was occupied subsequent to the Jamar Clark killing — was tone deaf to legitimate community concerns and a grave misstep on the part of Chief Harteau. Hodges was right to intervene, and this episode should not be overlooked as we survey the landscape that led to Harteau’s eventual stepping down as chief.

Fast forward to Minneapolis today, a community reeling from the recent shooting death of Justine Damond, also at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Being the mayor of a city steeped in rage and deep in mourning is a position no one would envy, yet Hodges has consistently maintained the dignity of her office even in these most difficult of circumstances.

I believe Mayor Hodges is doing an admirable job under extreme duress. She has taken the lessons of the Clark shooting and the Fourth Precinct occupation to heart, and is doing her best to clearly communicate new developments as they happen while simultaneously continuing to manage a major metropolitan city. As we all know, business as usual does not stop when tragedy strikes.

It’s easy for those on the outside to armchair quarterback rather than think critically about the challenges of negotiating the relationships and struggles between the community, the city council, the police, the police union and other stake holders. It is especially tempting to do so in the middle of a mayoral race; however politicizing this tragedy only serves to tear a grieving community further apart.

Often in times of trouble people need someone to blame, and Hodges is currently carrying the brunt of this primal need. However, despite this pressure, she remains thoughtful and self-possessed. True leaders need to maintain a even keel, which Hodges has done.

Recently Minneapolis poet, oral historian, and City Council candidate Andrea Jenkins posted on Facebook about Hodges’ work on behalf of our Transgender community. Jenkins wrote: “…one thing that I always say whenever I get the opportunity to have a microphone and an audience, is that when we center the most marginalized people in our community and make life better for them, we make life better for everyone. Mayor Betsy Hodges is working to center some of the most marginalized people in our community.”

Hodges works with a quiet passion on behalf of the most vulnerable among us and this includes the African American men and boys most likely to be profiled or become victims of police violence. She is willing to do what’s right even if there’s a political price. Since the shooting of Ms. Damond many have taken to social media to demand Hodges do things that are clearly outside her purview and power, such as fire Officer Noor or release information held by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension — even though with the case in the hands of the BCA there are very few actions that are actually within the mayor’s scope.

I never doubt for a moment that Hodges is as crushed by deaths of Damond and Clark as the rest of us. I never doubt that she will do everything within her power to listen to our community and work hard to support the long-overdue legislative changes that will result in more reasonable and just standards for prosecuting police officers who kill unarmed citizens in the line of duty.

Shepherding long-term policy changes, especially in the age of President Trump and the increased militarization of local law enforcement, will require patience, fortitude, and a steady hand. I believe Mayor Hodges has both the commitment and backbone to lead us through this crisis and be a force for lasting change.