Minneapolis Police Chief Resigns Over the Cop Shooting of Unarmed Woman. Will the Mayor Be Next?

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau has resigned amid growing protests over the police killing of unarmed Australian woman Justine Ruszczyk. Many residents are now calling for the resignation of the mayor, Betsy Hodges, saying the killing of Ruszczyk, which came after she called 911 twice to report a possible sexual assault near her home, shows an institutional problem with the city’s police. We speak to Samantha Pree-Stinson, an organizer with the Twin Cities movement to end police killing and police brutality and a Green Party candidate for City Council in Minneapolis.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today in Minneapolis, where fallout continues following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Australian woman. Transcripts reveal 40-year-old resident Justine Ruszczyk called 911 twice to report a possible sexual assault outside her home a week ago, before she was shot dead by an officer responding to the emergency calls. The city’s beleaguered police chief, Janee Harteau, resigned Friday at the request of the mayor amid growing calls by activists. This is Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.

MAYOR BETSY HODGES: As far as we have come, Chief Harteau is not in a position to lead us further. And from the many conversations I’ve had with people around our city, especially this week, I know that some in Minneapolis have lost confidence in police leadership. For us to continue to transform policing and community trust in policing, both the chief and I concluded we need new leadership at MPD. In conversation with the chief today, she and I agreed that she would step aside to make way for new leadership. And I asked Chief Harteau for her resignation. She tendered it, and I have accepted it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, officer Mohamed Noor was startled by a loud sound shortly before Ruszczyk approached his police cruiser. Noor, who was seated in the passenger seat, shot her through the open driver’s-side window of the vehicle. Noor has apologized to the family of Justine Ruszczyk, who often went by her fiancé’s last name, Damond. Noor has declined to speak with investigators and has hired an attorney.

AMY GOODMAN: The killing came just weeks after a suburban Twin Cities police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted on manslaughter charges of shooting African-American motorist Philando Castile in 2016. During the mayor’s announcement, anti-police violence activists stormed the news conference, demanding Hodges also step down. They said her leadership as mayor of Minneapolis was ineffective and that the Minneapolis Police Department had terrorized them enough.

PROTESTER 1: We’re asking for your prompt resignation. We don’t want you as our mayor of Minneapolis anymore. We’re asking that you take your staff with you. We don’t want you to appoint anybody anymore. Your leadership has been very ineffective. And if you don’t remove yourself, we’re going to put somebody in place to remove you. We do not want you as the mayor of Minneapolis ever again. We would like for you to move out of our city. Your police department has terrorized us enough!

PROTESTER 2: The former chief wasn’t doing her job, but we understand it’s beyond the chief, that the problem is institutional, right? If it was not institutional, then those cameras would have been — those body cameras would have been on the police the other day.

AMY GOODMAN: Officer Noor and his partner have been placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated. Noor is the first Somali-American officer in his precinct.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Samantha Pree-Stinson is an organizer with the Twin Cities movement to end police killing and police brutality. She’s a Green Party candidate for City Council in Minneapolis. And Phil Stinson — no relation — is a criminologist and associate professor at Criminal Justice Program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Samantha Pree-Stinson, can you start off by just explaining when this happened and what you understand took place? It is a very surprising story, as this woman thinks she’s hearing a rape outside. She calls the police, waits another couple of minutes — they don’t come — calls again. When they come, it’s like what? One and 1:30 in the morning. She comes out in her pajamas to speak to the police, comes to the driver’s side of the police cruiser. And she is immediately shot in the abdomen by Mohamed Noor, the police officer in the passenger seat, shooting across and in front of his police partner. This is apparently what has been said, because they had video cam on them, each officer, but they didn’t turn it on. Can you take it from there, and what has been the response and why we don’t know more?

SAMANTHA PREESTINSON: Well, for one thing, we don’t know more, because there’s no visual evidence. And as you stated, the officer has chosen not to speak, and to execute his constitutional right not to. The BCA, who’s investigating it, cannot force him to speak. And the officer who was in the driver’s side, you know, spoke very little about what he knew.

But what we have — within just the last couple of days, what we have come to know is that, actually, some residents have come forward that did see something. What we saw — what they saw, we still don’t know. And in addition to that, the report of the gentleman on the bicycle, who was reported to have been in the alley at the time of the incident, also has come forward. And we’ve also learned that a citizen did record some video. But those details, other — outside of that, other details have not developed yet at this point.

And I do find it very interesting, the speed of the information that has come out, which we’ve never seen anything like this before in Minneapolis with previous cases, to include Philando Castile. And now, all of the sudden, now that there is video that has surfaced and witnesses that have stepped forward, we’ve stopped hearing anything. So it’s very interesting and telling, and it has residents very heightened. And a historic movement has started here, boots on the ground in Minneapolis, as a result, starting from the verdict of Philando Castile, moving forward to what we’ve seen with Justine Damond.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Phil Stinson, what about this issue — oh, I’m sorry, well, Samantha, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the protests that have developed, there were some who were claiming initially that the Black Lives Matter movement would not get involved in this particular case, since it was the death of a white woman at the hands of a police officer, but that’s been proven to be false. Could you talk about that, as well?

SAMANTHA PREESTINSON: Yes, that’s correct. So, Black Lives Matter’s Twin Cities has been involved. And the reason why is this. The reason why the Black Lives Matter organization started, to begin with, was because we know that black lives are not treated as — we know that they matter, but they’re not treated as if they are. And we have factual evidence to prove where that’s been happening, time and time again, where black lives have been treated as secondary. But that’s just the reason for why the group formed. Their overall — their overall reason for existing, as far as the work that they do, pertains to police and justice, as far as killings and brutality, overall, regardless of the identity of the victims. So, it made perfect sense for us, who have worked with the group and are familiar here locally with the — and familiar with the work that they did, that they would get involved and that they did show up, so that that wasn’t surprising to me.

But the other thing is that we have had an issue with reporting locally, which does feed in nationally, as well, because with this movement, there are rallies that happened before the actual marches occur. And at these rallies, we have local speakers — some are faith-based, some are with organizations, some are candidates — that come together to bring the community together, so that everybody can have a chance to speak and share their voice and bring us together as a community and heal, before we start these protests or these marches. So, that’s another piece that is usually never covered.

And then, the case of the recent one that occurred over this last Friday, when we got to City Hall, marching from the park to City Hall, we found that the doors were locked. And that was just unacceptable, that a — City Hall is a public building that our public dollars, our tax dollars, pay for, to include the mayor’s salary, to include that microphone that she made her statement on. So, for her to lock the public out of a public conference was unacceptable. It was completely unacceptable. But we were able to strategically put our minds together, and we were able to get into City Hall. And then you saw what happened as a result, where the demands were placed upon the mayor that not only was the symbolic resignation of the chief not enough, but we expect for her to go, as well, come November 7th, when we have our election.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the statement by Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar. She’s the country’s first Somali-American Muslim legislator. Again, Mohamed Noor is the first Somali-American police officer, and he is the man that shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk. The state representative, Omar, writes, “The idealist in me continues to be surprised, but I know this incident is another result of excessive force and violence-based training for supposed peace officers. … Changing the body camera policy won’t solve the inherent problem. The current officer training program indoctrinates individuals of all races into a system that teaches them to act first, think later, and justify with fear. It’s time we explore solutions beyond improved training and cameras to capture evidence. We need to look at a complete shift in the culture of the police department, away from the use of lethal force and deadly weapons.” That, again, is the commentary of the Minnesota state representative, Ilhan Omar, the country’s first Somali-American elected state official. And I wanted to go back to our guest, Samantha Pree-Stinson, to ask your response to what she said.

SAMANTHA PREESTINSON: Well, absolutely. What people need to remember is, they need to go back in history and realize that it is law enforcement. They were never meant to be peacekeepers. They were meant — if you go all the way back to the beginning of when law enforcement started, their purpose was to keep the slaves on the plantation. They were meant to control and keep people in line, rank and file, just as we see today with our Minneapolis police force. That hasn’t changed. This is a militarized culture. I, myself, am a veteran. It’s very similar to what happens in basic training. You are no longer an individual. You are part of a collective in a group. And you act the same, you think the same, you think as a unit. And if anybody, you know, does their own thing, there are reprimands, there are repercussions for that. Our police department is similar in that mindset, in that that is the culture of policing. So, simply changing the culture of policing, that is not even going to be good enough, because the existence and the reason for why we have law enforcement, again, is to keep people in line and to control people and to enforce the law.

But the problem with that is that there is zero accountability. And even within the law, the way that it is written, the beginning of the law sounds just fine to make you believe that there is some accountability there. However, they have included the word “fear.” And fear is something that a body cam cannot capture. That is subjective. That is something that is personal that you feel. So it’s very hard to prove, regardless of what you see on a camera, that an officer didn’t feel fear.

So we have to start with changing the law. We have to change the entire way that we look at what our community needs. Do we need law enforcement in the way that it’s been driven into our heads to believe that we need it? And the answer is no. So, all answers need to be on the table. We need to have all voices at the table in this. This isn’t about being left or right. This is about moving forward. So we need to have all solutions at the table. They should all be valid. They should all be relevant and be looked into further, as far as how they can be applied to our communities to best serve our residents and keep us safe and keep our communities healthy and thriving.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Samantha Pree-Stinson, I wanted to ask you about Mayor Hodges. She was elected four years ago at the head of a liberal-progressive coalition. There were a lot of hopes for her mayoralty. But then she came under increasing attack from the police union, as well. And then, after the Philando Castile tragedy, she asked for a Justice Department investigation. What’s gone wrong with Betsy Hodges? And as you mentioned, she’s up for re-election in November.

SAMANTHA PREESTINSON: Mm-hmm. Well, there’s been a lot of scrutiny of Betsy and people thinking that — or Mayor Hodges, that this is an issue of being a woman. But the fact of the matter is, is that leadership doesn’t have a gender. You’re either — you’re either a good leader or a bad leader, or you’re a leader who is moving forward or a leader who is inept. And we’ve seen multiple examples of ineptitude, not only with Mayor Hodges, but within City Council as a whole.

There’s a lack of accountability there, the fact that they don’t listen to the community. The issue that happened at the Fourth Precinct was a result of communities coming together, different organizations, residents coming together to have their voices amplified, to bring up things that they know, as being residents, as being people of color, being people who are oppressed. And that lack of just — just listening, that’s all that needed to be done, was to listen and bring those voices to the table. But instead, it was escalated, really, for no reason. A DOJ investigation resulted. The DOJ report is back and has been back for seven months. We have seen little to no movement since that DOJ report came out to address what they found was going well and what wasn’t going so well. And what was discovered is that one of the main issues is that we have a communication breakdown.

And what people need to realize about Minneapolis is that we have three separate units of police that answer to different authorities. We have our Metro Transit police, who answers to the Met Council. The Met Council is appointed by Governor Dayton. We have our Minneapolis Police Department, who essentially answers to city leadership, the mayor and the council. And then you have the parks police, which is a separate entity that operates under the parks board, to a certain extent, which is a separate entity that — of elected officials that do not answer to city leadership. So you have three separate — and that doesn’t even count the sheriff, the Hennepin County. So you have three separate authorities that are not communicating. There is no intergovernmental communication.

We have not seen any prioritization as far as what was seen in the DOJ report and listening to our communities, those of color and just as, in general, our residents in our community. And as a result, we see exactly what has happened. There’s been more than enough opportunities for us to step up to the plate and acknowledge the fact that Minneapolis is the third worst metro in this nation for people of color. And nobody wants to own that metric, prioritize it into the work that we need to do to this city. And speaking about progressiveness, the favorite quote for people that claim to be progressive is to quote the late, great Paul Wellstone in talking about, you know, “people do better when we all do better.” Well, if that’s the case, then we should definitely be prioritizing this diversity metric of being the third worst metro, because if that is true, when we recognize that this is a true fact, that we’re the third worst metro, and we prioritize it to change these needs for our city and actually invest in every corner of our city and not just the affluent ones, we will all be doing inherently better.

So we have to stop with the symbolic changes. And we have to start not trimming the leaves off the plant, but we have to get to the root of it. We have to rip it out. We have to put in new seeds, and we have to cultivate it. And that starts with listening and with our communities and about setting real priorities about the race issues that we have in this city and the double standards, such as we see with Noor.

AMY GOODMAN: Samantha Pree-Stinson, we want to thank you for being with us, organizer with the Twin Cities movement to end police killing and police brutality, Green Party candidate for the City Council in Minneapolis.