Peace groups call for police reform

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The Duluth area Northland Chapter of Grandmothers for Peace and Twin Ports Veterans for Peace Chapter 80 call for the reform of the public safety practices in our communities.

Multiple examples of unjustified, excessive, even deadly, use of force incidents here, and across the nation, demonstrate the need for fundamental change to police behavior. We are especially concerned about the use of military weapons, tactics, and hardware.

In separate incidents, just weeks ago, police in Duluth and Superior deployed armored vehicles and heavily armed personnel (some wearing military camouflage and carrying assault weapons) in densely populated neighborhoods. In Duluth, this was in response to a “possible domestic” dispute, and in Superior, to a “neighbor dispute.” After police arrived, both situations escalated. “Special forces” and military equipment were brought in. The suspect was shot and killed by police in Duluth. The suspect in Superior was tear-gassed in her home and jumped from a second-story window. Neighbors were told to leave the area or shelter in their basements. They were in a war zone.

Seven months ago, a Duluth police officer fired six shots through a closed door, injuring an unarmed person on the other side. This irresponsible act violates all the rules of gun safety and proper use of deadly force. It also violated the rights of the accused. The St. Louis County Attorney and Duluth Police Chief have stated the officer’s actions violated police department polices and he has been charged with reckless discharge of a firearm. One might say this minor charge shows the system is working, but this could easily have been another unjustified killing by police.

Too often police have abused their authority by racially profiling, incarcerating, injuring, and killing people who are supposed to have a presumption of innocence. People of color have disproportionately been targets of this abuse. Immigrants, the mentally ill, the poor and the unhoused have been treated harshly. Political dissidents, peace advocates, labor union organizers, equal rights demonstrators and other social justice activists have been beaten, gassed, injured and even killed. Reforming police practices and ensuring police accountability is important to the safety, freedom, and civil liberties of all of us.

Fundamental reform must include reversing the trend to “militarize” policing. It is a well-established principle that the U.S. military has no role in civilian policing. Neither should civilian police be using military weapons, combat equipment, tactics, or training for civilian law enforcement. Sadly, that clear distinction has become blurred. Paramilitary training and an “us vs. them” mentality leads to violence and fear. Local police thinking and behaving like “warriors” is a threat to public safety, civil liberties, and democracy in our communities. Police should protect and serve, not dominate and terrorize.

Citizens across our country must no longer excuse or tolerate this behavior by our public servants. The excessive use of force against, and lack of respect for, minorities and civil liberties must stop.

Communities need to create crisis intervention programs and policing policies that do not involve use of force. As organizations committed to promoting peace, we call for serious examination of policing practices. This must include community involvement and result in real transformation in policing policy and behavior.