Local activists share what they want in next police chief
DULUTH, MN. (KBJR) - The process of hiring Duluth’s next police chief is underway, and many in the community have concerns about who will take on that role.
In a letter to the city, some local activists made sure their voices are heard.
Henry Banks, Portia Johnson and Claudie Washington have been activists in Duluth for decades.
“Collectively, we’ve been here doing this work for over 100 years,” said Banks.
They’ve poured so much energy into making Duluth a place that embraces all people, advocating for communities of color through many periods of Duluth’s history.
“The city of Duluth has always been a racist community,” said Washington. “And it still is.”
They said that includes police.
“See, I had a Jeep,” said Johnson. “The only Black in this town who had a brand new Jeep, and [the police] harassed me for 30 days.”
Johnson said she was pulled over simply for being a Black woman driving a brand new car.
“Part of the problem has been many police officers are hired from out state Minnesota and coming from communities where there’s no African American or people of color,” said Washington. “And therefore, they don’t know how to react. The only image they have of people like us is stereotyping.”
They said officers being more involved with diverse neighborhoods, like Central Hillside, can help combat this, especially with community policing practices.
They explained that officers used to host fun events in community centers across the city to build trust on both sides.
“We would like to have that back again because there is nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, that has been done to enhance the Central Hillside,” said Johnson.
They said they’re also hoping to see a police chief who will actively bring more representation of BIPOC officers to the force.
“One of the primary focus should be to encourage young people, no matter what ethnicity or color they’re from, to become police officers,” said Washington.
They’re looking for someone who understands the rights of those they are serving.
“They must have constitutional law background,” said Banks. “From my standpoint, they must have knowledge of the equal rights and human rights, and all of that and how it impacts communities and people of color.”
They want someone who can recognize the decades of work they have put into creating a welcoming community here and build on it.
Mayor Emily Larson said she is thankful for the letter sent by the African Heritage Elders and that she intends to use it as they move forward in the hiring process.
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