Walz wants end to low-level traffic stops, says state board should regulate tear gas

By: - May 7, 2021 9:01 am

Gov. Tim Walz in the Minnesota State Capitol Monday, May 3, 2021. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Gov. Tim Walz promised more police reform after Daunte Wright was killed, but he’ll have to beg and barter to get it through a divided Legislature.

In an interview on the debut episode of Reformer Radio, Walz said he wants to “show movement” by passing policies that would yield immediate results like an end to low-level traffic stops. Daunte Wright and Philando Castile were both killed by police after being pulled over for small infractions — expired tabs and a broken taillight.

“I think the police would agree on this. No one should lose their life for a traffic stop,” Walz said.

Walz’s promise for reform comes as lawmakers sprint to the end of the legislative session in just 10 days, needing to pass a two-year budget expected to hit roughly $52 billion. Without an agreement by June 30, swaths of the state government will shut down. Walz has not said if he’s willing to hold up the budget to pass new police laws.

“I’m not negotiating until we get to the table,” Walz said. “What I’m not willing to give up is those investments in the health of Minnesotans and the recovery from COVID.”

Walz is entering a crucial period of his tenure. On Thursday, he announced a plan to end pandemic-related restrictions on large gatherings and a route to ending the statewide mask mandate if more Minnesotans get vaccinated. He’s also expected to announce a reelection bid in the coming months.

Nearly a year after George Floyd was killed by police, forcing a national reckoning on racial inequities, Walz confronts disparities that have only grown wider during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wished it wouldn’t have happened here but wishing things away does not fix the problem,” Walz said.

While he faces resistance from Senate Republicans in raising taxes on the highest income Minnesotans, a state budget surplus and generous federal stimulus dollars have buoyed his hopes for making progress toward closing Minnesota’s gaping wealth, health and education disparities.

“That money is transformational,” Walz said, pointing to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congressional Democrats earlier this year.

Asked to reflect on the police response to demonstrations in Brooklyn Center following Wright’s killing, Walz said he wants law enforcement and protesters to reach a “detente.” Protesters and police clashed for several days with water bottles and fire works being answered with rubber bullets and tear gas, which injured journalists and bystanders as well as demonstrators.

“We can’t live like this,” Walz said. “We can’t live like putting up barriers every time that we have a situation. We can’t live like calling the National Guard every time we have a trial.”

But Walz did not have specifics to share on what he plans to do the next time police in Minnesota kill someone. Local law enforcement are responsible for their own response to protests, he said, while calling for the state’s Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training to come up with a model policy on handling large demonstrations, including how and when tear gas and rubber bullets should be used.

While Walz called law enforcement’s treatment of the press a failure after journalists were shot with less lethal munitions and arrested, he said he’s waiting for an after-action report to say if police made mistakes in their treatment of demonstrators.

“We would be having this conversation if the Brooklyn Center Police Department burned down that we didn’t have enough folks out there,” Walz said. “But we learned from that … Now the question is did you learn enough or there was an overreaction? Potentially.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, Walz has the opportunity to return to his original agenda and a more normal governorship. Although as the last year has shown, the best laid plans can just as quickly become enveloped in crisis again.

“Don’t ever say it can’t get worse,” Walz said.

Listen to the entire interview on Reformer Radio. Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud and other apps. Read a transcript of the interview here.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.