County Attorney Freeman responds to panel topic “Could Ferguson happen here?”

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told an audience of several hundred people that while it was possible that a police shooting here could spark major protests and violence, it was less likely than in Ferguson because of differences between Minneapolis and the Missouri city.

Former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton served the moderator for a panel discussion on the questions, “Could Ferguson Happen here? Is it already happening here?”

Freeman said that unlike Ferguson, Minneapolis does not use citations as a way to generate significant funds for the city. He also thinks police training here is getting better and will continue to do so because Minneapolis is one of six U.S. cities selected for a federal project to improve relationships between communities of color and the criminal justice system.

The Hennepin County’s Attorney Office has a strong juvenile diversion programs in place to keep young people out of the criminal justice system, including be@school, which works to reduce truancy and support student education.

Freeman also stated that Minnesota currently has too many people in prison for low-level drug offenses. Three times in the past five years, Freeman said he has gone to the legislature to try to reduce sentences for these crimes. He has also tried to change laws regarding voting rights for people on probation and would like to see voting rights restored when people have completed their prison sentences, rather than waiting until they are also off probation.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, a law professor at University of St. Thomas and president of the Minneapolis NAACP, was also on the panel. She believes Ferguson could absolutely happen here because there are a lack of equal employment opportunities for people of color, over-policing in communities of color, and too many people of color in jail compared to their population in the state.

Another panel member, Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County’s chief public defender, agreed with Levy-Pounds, saying the criminal justice system continues to marginalize people of color through unfair bail requirements.

Held July 23 at the University of Minnesota Law School, the conference was hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minneapolis.

To view The Uptake’s video recording of the panel visit: http://theuptake.org/2015/07/23/race-and-policing-a-conference-on-ferguson-and-beyond/ and scroll down.