Senate GOP advances limited police accountability measures over fierce criticism by senators of color

Sen. Bobby Joe Championer, DFL-Minneapolis, criticized his Republican colleagues for bypassing him and other senators of color in crafting their police accountability measures.

Senate Republicans advanced a handful of police training and accountability measures late Tuesday night, capping off hours of contentious floor debate on bills decried by the chamber’s only legislators of color who said their GOP colleagues bypassed them entirely. 

One by one, the five DFL legislators sparred with their Republican counterparts. They demanded to know why the GOP majority crafted bills without seeking input from representatives of communities affected by the rioting and arson that damaged hundreds of  businesses in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The bills advanced by Republicans would add money for diversity training; expand background checks beyond just officers to all police employees; ban chokeholds and neck restraints in most instances and add a requirement to intervene and report in cases of excessive force. 

Their proposals also include new data reporting requirements: any use of force that leads to death or injury must be reported to the state. Another measure sponsored by former Douglas County sheriff and state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, would guarantee confidentiality for police officers and other first responders who seek peer counseling after a so-called critical incident. 

During one particularly striking exchange, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, asked Senate Majority Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, with whom he had consulted after he was quoted in a newspaper editorial touting the addition of police reform legislation championed by the bicameral People of Color and Indigenous Caucus.

Gazelka responded by first criticizing Democrats: “I go back to five years ago when Democrats had the House, the Senate and the governor,” he said. “None of these things were done. Nothing was done.”

He also suggested there was no need for him to consult with members of the POCI Caucus, saying he had visited the Twin Cities. “I did go to inner city Minneapolis and St. Paul… five or six times, because I wanted to talk to the people, everyday people, all colors, to get their perspectives and when I think about people of color, Indigenous, I’m thinking about the people down there.”

He added: “We went to talk to a dozen or so people from the Black community to ask them directly, and I was surprised that they said they hadn’t really talked much to their own senators.”

Torres responded with an analogy: “That is as if I said, if something happens in rural Minnesota I will selectively go to some places in rural Minnesota and ask people. I don’t need to consult with the rural members that are here, because why would I?”

State Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, and state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, the Senate’s two Black legislators, pleaded with the all-white Republican caucus to listen to the voices of marginalized groups that have experienced police brutality. 

“I’m tired — sick and tired — of asking people each every day that, if you put a law enforcement community that’s supposed to protect me that they don’t put a boot on my neck, that they don’t choke me, that they don’t humiliate me, that they don’t stop me for no reason,” Hayden said.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee and chief author of several bills, took umbrage the criticism that they needed to consult with their DFL counterparts, saying they didn’t need “permission” from members of color to advance the legislation 

Champion pushed back on the characterization. 

“I find it offensive for a member that I have such respect for to suggest that there are members who want to give him permission,” he said. “How about being thoughtful and considerate of your colleagues? That’s not asking for permission. It’s asking for dialogue.”

Limmer later said the debate was out of line. 

“Minnesota is hurting and quite honestly, I think the Minnesota Senate is hurting,” he said. “The way we have treated each other today, I have never seen before in the years I’ve been here.”