Police officers, activists, academics and students converged early Tuesday morning at the University of Minnesota to discuss community relations with law enforcement.
At the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Cowles Auditorium, around 100 people attended the three-hour discussion of how police should interact with the public, especially people of color.
Several speakers from various police departments and the University presented on issues like active police bystander responsibility training, racial disparities in arrests in Minnesota and the lack of minority representation in the Minneapolis Police Department.
“As we seek to understand why … confidence in police is lowest in black communities, we have to begin by acknowledging the history and lived experience of blacks in America,” said Kevin Gerdes, director of the Masters of Public Affairs degree program at the Humphrey School, during the event.
Minneapolis NAACP President Jason Sole and Inver Grove Heights Police Department Chief Paul Schnell discussed their histories with police.
“We had nobody to go to for refuge. Cops didn’t like us, we had no relationship with them, we couldn’t dial 911. It was nonexistent,” Sole said during the presentation, recalling his past experiences with law enforcement.
Near the end of the event, a panel and Q&A let attendees ask questions anonymously. The four-member panel included lawyer and former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds.
“I would argue that we need to overhaul our system of policing. It is not enough to have implicit bias training,” Levy-Pounds said.
Officers from at least eight police departments were in attendance, including the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and New Orleans Police Departments.
“It’s difficult always to … hear things that aren’t always pretty and rosy, but nonetheless, it’s something that we have to begin,” said UMPD Sgt. Jim Nystrom, “I think [the event] starts a conversation.”
Students were invited to attend in addition to police and activists.
“I liked the panel a lot, I thought they did a good job of addressing issues and not sugarcoating things for the most part,” said Alicia Valenti, a student studying for a master's degree at the Humphrey School, in an interview.
After the discussion, attendees were given a complimentary lunch and intentionally placed at tables with people from different backgrounds to encourage discussion.
Notable attendees included MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo, UMPD Chief Matt Clark and Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg.
The Humphrey School hopes to host more of these discussions in the future if they receive positive feedback, said Stephanie Jacobs at the event, director of the Humphrey School’s Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center.