Jaleel Stallings, the costs of cops leaving and police alternatives: 2021 in review
A screenshot from body camera video shot the night Jaleel Stallings returned fire after being hit with a rubber bullet by a Minneapolis Police Department SWAT team.
This year I joined the Reformer full-time, and covered a wide range of stories from the high-profile criminal trials of former police officers Derek Chauvin and Kimberly Potter to COVID in the least-vaccinated county in Minnesota. Much of my attention this year has been focused on the continued fall-out from the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent riots in Minneapolis.
Here are three stories worth revisiting from 2021:
The man who shot at the MPD and was acquitted
It started with an email.
It came from an attorney who had just finished getting his client acquitted of eight charges in connection with him firing his gun at Minneapolis police. Eric Rice wondered if we’d be interested in writing about the case, since aside from the initial barrage of stories about Jaleel Stallings getting arrested, nobody had bothered to follow up on the case. Or cover the trial.
We weren’t the only media outlets he emailed, but we were the only ones who followed up.
And it turned out to be an incredibly interesting story. Initial news reports made it look like Stallings randomly fired his gun at police in the frenzy of protests that followed George Floyd’s police killing.
But there was much more to the story than that, which is why a jury acquitted Stallings of all charges. Read all about it.
Counting the cost as cops leave
When Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck and pressed his head into the pavement in May 2020, killing him, he not only took a life, he set off a chain of events that has proven very costly for the city of Minneapolis.
Not only did protests turn violent, with more than 1,000 buildings burning across the metro area, and a flurry of lawsuits were filed against police for their actions as they struggled to contain protests and riots. We found documents showing 2020 general liability claims could ultimately cost the city more than $111 million.
And in the face of worldwide condemnation of police brutality, Minneapolis police began leaving in droves, with many retiring early by claiming they were disabled by post-traumatic stress.
The number of Minnesota police officers and firefighters applying for disability retirement tripled after Floyd’s murder, with about 80% of applicants saying they could not longer do their jobs due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many also applied for workers’ compensation: The city averaged 169 police workers’ comp claims from 2014 to 2019; that number spiked to 370 in 2020.
We drilled down into the issue, and learned all those workers’ comp claims and lawsuits were having a real impact on the city’s finances. Minneapolis is self-insured, so legal settlements are paid out of city funds.
The workers’ comp claims and police brutality lawsuits were so costly that it affected the 2022 city budget, with the mayor shifting millions of dollars to shore up the city’s self-insurance fund and increasing property taxes to address a $34 million budget shortfall.
The city averaged about $10 million in projected workers’ comp payouts annually since 2015 until 2020, when that figure jumped to $29 million, largely driven by police employee claims.
Cities turn to community groups for help
This became clear in May when the city moved to reopen George Floyd Square — a four-block autonomous zone around the spot where Floyd died — with the help of The Agape Movement, a group of mostly ex-gang members that sprang up after Floyd’s killing.
With a contract worth up to $359,000, Agape helped slowly reopen the intersection, irritating activists who kept the area closed for more than a year.
The city also used what political scientists call “soft power,” enlisting the aid of grassroots organizations to disseminate information and diffuse what some feared would be a combustible event in the life of the city. For example, the city formed partnerships with media that reach under-represented communities that don’t rely on mainstream media for news.
The city’s plan to hire social media influencers to dispel misinformation and share “city-generated and approved messages” — at $2,000 per influencer — during the trial proved a bridge too far for the community, and the city backed off that piece of the plan.
The northern suburb of Brooklyn Center also turned to the community for help after Officer Kimberly Potter shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop and more than 1,000 protesters converged on a police station.
The city hired six community groups to work help peace protests peaceful, at a cost of $140,000.
“There are tactics that the police use that are brutal and we gotta get away from it,” said Jamil Jackson, commander of the Freedom Fighters, a group of about two dozen predominantly Black men who joined forces after the NAACP put a call out for help guarding small businesses as riots and looting spread across the Twin Cities.
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