It's a warm, fall afternoon in Minneapolis. The time of year where the earth turns into shades of red, orange and yellow. For Kimberly Handy-Jones, it’s a reminder of how quickly the days have passed since the death of her son. "When he died, a lot of me went with him," says Handy-Jones. Cordale Quinn Handy was Kim’s middle child. Originally from Lake County Illinois, he moved to St. Paul last year to start a new. But it was one fateful morning last March when Police responded to a domestic violence call. After facing off with Handy in the street, shots were fired, striking and killing Handy at the scene.
He was executed by police.
"29 years is a longtime to have a kid and to have someone snip them away from you, very unimaginable," says Handy-Jones.
The Twin Cities has experienced contentious police shootings before, such as death of Jamar Clark in 2015 and the police shooting of Philando Castille, whose aftermath was live-streamed on Facebook. "Everytime the lights turn on behind my car, I fear the police. I would rather call my pastor, than to call the police honestly. I won't call the police for nothing," says activist John Thompson, who was also a friend and coworker of Castille.
Most recently, an unarmed white woman from Australia, Justine Damond, was shot and killed by a black city police officer, Mohamed Noor after making a 911 call to report a possible sexual assault near her home in South Minneapolis. Justine’s death sent shock waves throughout the country and even the world. "I feel like she united the community and I feel like she separated the community," says Thompson.
There's a lot of people that realize that Justine's death is something that is a game changer. It took Justine's death, it took the death of this white woman for something to happen.
Following her death, Minneapolis Police Chief Janae Harteau resigned. Now many are calling on Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges to also depart- including Thompson. "I don't want it to happen to nobody else. I'm sick of racism, I'm sick of racists."
District Judge Kevin Burke has served on the Hennepin county bench for over 30 years. He says policing is not the only problem in Minneapolis, but rather it’s a broader Criminal justice system issue the city faces. “The idea of saying, you know it’s just the problem the Minneapolis Police or it’s just the problem of the Minneapolis Police Union ignores the broader problem, that the criminal justice system does not have the trust and confidence of far too many people of color in the communities.”
Police reform at the center of the race for Minneapolis Mayor
Last July, Justine Damond, an Australian native was fatally shot and killed by a city police officer near her home, in a quiet South Minneapolis neighborhood. It was a rude awakening for the community and the entire nation. Following the resignation of Minneapolis Police Chief Janae Harteau, officer Medaria Arradondo, an African American and native of South Minneapolis, was appointed to head the department. "He's not the panacea of the answers. But he is a light and a great piece to how we can transform the culture of policing," says Brian Herron, Pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis, who says he tries to bring positive messages in the mist of tense situations. "It's easy to be angry and it's easy to start hating, but how do we channel our anger into something positive that creates something positive rather than destructive?"
The police aren't going anywhere. The community isn't going anywhere. So how do we begin to work and demand the transformation that is needed and have accountability on both sides?
Civil rights lawyer Nekima Levy-Pounds, who attend's Pastor Herron's church, believes one of the key's to reform is a paradigm shift in police culture. "It's going to be vitally important for us to work on rebuilding trust between the police and the community, but that means that the police department is willing to acknowledge the mistakes that it's made and make dramatic changes in order to reestablish trust within the community." Levy-Pounds has been a voice of reason among the impacted community. She’s now running for Mayor of Minneapolis, where police reform has taken center stage. "It's one thing to implement a body camera policy for example. It's one thing to bring in new leadership, but without cultural change those other changes, may be shallow at the end of the day. So in order to initiate a culture change that mean looking at the training of the police department. It means looking at our policies for accepting police officers from other jurisdictions who have engaged in the use of excessive force."
State Rep. Ray Dehn is also facing off for the position of Minneapolis Mayor. "Ultimately we need cops out in the community, not policing, but just interacting with people," explains Dehn. He too believes reform is eminent, calling for police to be disarmed. "There are situations where officers don't have to have a gun. I'm not saying that officers don't have to have access to their guns, but I think to always carry a gun in all situations, I think creates an opportunity for the reaction of an officer when a situation starts to go what might have been unanticipated to reach for their gun."
City Council member Jacob Frey, who is also running for the chance to be Minneapolis Mayor, has called for changing the departments procedures to require officers to use all reasonable alternatives before resorting to deadly force. “If somebody runs up to an officer, asking for help, a reasonable alternative to deadly force is not to punch them in the face, right? However, punching somebody maybe a reasonable alternative to deadly force under a life threatening situation. So it really depends on the scenario. We want deadly force, we want somebody getting shot with a bullet and killed to be the very last resort and right now it doesn’t seem like it’s the case at all."
There are nine candidates running for Mayor of Minneapolis. Many of the candidates believe one of the largest gaps between the MPD and the community is that over 92 percent of MPD officers do not live in Minneapolis. “We have folks coming from outstate Minnesota. Even as far as Wisconsin and surrounding suburban areas patrolling the street of Minneapolis, without a real nexus to the community," says Levy-Pounds.
Hope and Change
Inside Zion Baptist Church in North Minneapolis, Kim Handy-Jones sits besides me. She says her faith in God has been her saving grace. "God gives me strength to keep going," says Handy Jones. But not a day goes by without thinking of her late son. "Cordell was a loving person. Just really charismatic, loved life, loved people, very free-hearted and affectionately known for his smile and his laugh and those deep dimples."
Since the death of her son, Handy-Jones has been making her way back and forth to the Twin Cities, meeting with advocates of police reform. "I go from state to state with the National Stolen Lives and we talk about our tragedies, because our tradegies is what makes us family and my focus is to wake people up and to keep them woke, because so many people are not aware and to be aware is to be alive."
Race is a problem. You can't look down on a person because their black or because their brown. The only time you should look down on a person is if you're helping them up. And until that erases itself, it will always be a problem. And I think that policemen that know that we have dirty, crocked cops on the force, when they sit back and they are silenced, and they say silence is violence, and it is. Because if their is blood on the crocked cop hand, then theirs blood on yours too. As far as I'm concerned, you're just as guilty, you're more guilty. We need to get reformed. We need to rewrite the laws.
With the new Minneapolis Police Chief, Medaria Arrandondo, many in the community are hopeful his appointment is a postive step towards concreate, systematic police reform. "Arrandondo has been a line officer, has has worked his way up. He has experienced the discrimination within the department. He fought it, but he didnt leave. He stuck it out, he stayed. And he has the respect of the officers and the respect of the community. He understands the changes that need to be made culturally within the department itself for it to begin to build trust again," says Pastor Herron.
Candidates running to be the next Mayor of Minneapolis believe one way to rebuild trust, is through community policing. "I want you to know that your officer on Monday's, Tuesday's and Friday's from 4 pm to 10 pm is Jenny. And you know Jenny and you know her by name and you know that on those days and those times she's going to be there and you've developed a relationship with her and you're not alone. It's also people on the street. It's the businesses. It's a full on community policing model that right now we aren't very close to," says Frey.
Levy-Pounds believes the city is lacking a strong community policing model. "There are excellent models around the country that are designed to build healthy, positive relationships between the community and the police. That's not what we have in Minneapolis and that needs to change." Dehn says, "We do have officers that work with kids, but we need to expand that in a much larger way so that cops don't always feel like their in danger and their actually getting to know the people. I think that will actually make their jobs better and easier."
As the city of Minneapolis begins to pick up the pieces following the police shooting of Justine Damond, many questions still remain.
How do we heal? "One way that we begin to heal is to make sure that we're working hard to breakdown the barriers amongst people from differently racial and ethnic backgrounds, different religious backgrounds, different socio-economic backgrounds, people who are straight versus people who identify as LGBTQYA. Every single person matters. Every person's life matters and we need to especially pay attention to how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us. If we can begin to do that and put our ear to the ground and listen to the needs of the people who don't have political power, who don't have a voice and we take their conerns seriously, then we will make sure we are protecting everyone," says Levy-Pounds.
Like many in the community, John's life was forever changed after a police officer shot and killed his friend, Philando Castille.
When I asked John Thompson, a friend of Philando Castille, what it will take to keep our residents safe, his answer was simple. "Each other. It take each other to keep us safe." Thompson said.