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What reforms are needed after DOJ's scathing report on Minneapolis' police department?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been talking about the toll of gun violence all over the country. But adding to the toll in Black communities is police violence. Black Americans are three times more likely to be the victim of fatal police shootings than white Americans - that according to several studies by public health experts. And now there's a scathing new report by the Department of Justice that found numerous examples of racism and excessive force against Black and Native Americans by the Minneapolis Police Department.

The report, which was, of course, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, highlights an issue that goes beyond the Minneapolis department - broken trust between police and people of color. What would change that? Rashad Robinson has been thinking about that for some time. He is president of the social justice organization Color of Change, and is with us now. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So you read the DOJ report about Minneapolis. Just as briefly as you can, initial reactions - anything stand out to you?

ROBINSON: Well, I mean, it was just a litany of incident after incident, failure, systemic failure after systemic failure. And it just in so many ways painted a larger culture of Minneapolis Police Department, but also police departments that we see around the country. I think the Minneapolis report from the federal government is a very clear checkup. But like any doctor's checkup, what happens next will determine how healthy any of this becomes.

MARTIN: What would that look like? What would sort of meaningful reforms look like? I'm asking you as a person who's obviously been reading reports like this for some time now.

ROBINSON: You know, even the most effective consent decree isn't effective enough at tackling all the incentives that make law enforcement lawless and sometimes out of control and make that out of control behavior the norm, as we saw in the Minneapolis report. So we need more tools of concrete oversight and accountability - not just community input, but real oversight from community. We need a new set of incentives, really, in terms of how police departments operate, how police are rewarded. And then we also have to deal with the conditions that actually can make a decree like this work when they come out of a report like this. They oftentimes fail because the right conditions are not present. So police departments, police unions, politicians - they all have a way of undermining them. And if we actually don't deal with that type of status quo, what we saw on paper will be just that - a piece of paper.

MARTIN: A lot has been said about the fact that, you know, we're in a moment where, as we just heard, there is a lot of violence in this society right now. We can - you know, we don't have time to sort of dig into all the possible reasons why that is. On the one hand, you do have people who are living in fear of street crime, and they want to feel safe. On the other hand, people don't want to be victimized by the people who are charged with keeping them safe. Have you - you know, are there places where people are getting that balance right?

ROBINSON: I think there are places that are working towards that. And, you know, we worked with the Brookings Institute (ph) and Vera to release our vision for public safety. It's on our website at colorofchange.org. And it is a report that really outlines investments - what we should be funding out in the world, like mental health, like violence prevention programs. There's a whole set of programs that have been developed that are working in communities that we're seeing being introduced.

We also know that the safest communities in our country are not animated by the number of police officers they have. They are animated by the type of economic development that they have. They're animated by other supports. And so if we do want to really invest in public safety and make our communities more safe, then we actually have to ensure that our budgets become those moral documents, that we're not just investing in policing, but we are investing in safety.

MARTIN: That's Rashad Robinson. He's president of the social justice organization Color of Change. Obviously, Rashad, this is an ongoing conversation, so thanks so much for having it once again with us.

ROBINSON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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