Following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody, the long withstanding pain and heartache of our communities as well as the brokenness of our criminal justice system has come to light.
As millions of Americans watched the viral video of clear police brutality they were shocked and horrified. How could such a gross misuse of deadly force be justified? Why was no one being arrested? The outpouring of grief and anguish from the community was unlike anything Minnesota has ever seen.
Even in the aftermath of the violent protests that have erupted in St. Paul and Minneapolis over the last few days, law enforcement students are standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and long for change and reform to happen.
Lillian Minock, a Hispanic woman entering her junior year in the law enforcement program at Minnesota State University, Mankato said, “When people ask you what your major is, I rack my brain and question whether it’s the right time, place and person. When I was a freshman I was loud and proud about it, then I started to learn people’s reactions. I’d instantly lose respect, get called a pig or get told the classic ‘F–k 12.’I picked this major to help people, to be the change people want.”
With many protestors calling to “abolish the police” and hashtags like #policethepolice and the future of policing as we know it is uncertain. One thing is for certain, and that is the police force will need major reform in the coming years. For prospective law enforcement professionals, they want to be the change they wish to see. They are ambitious and motivated and hope to begin to heal the horrors of past injustices and strive for equity within our communities.
“Being so young and in a high risk field, you depend on your superiors,” said Minock. “If your supervisor is doing something wrong, how likely are you as a young inexperienced worker to question their authority, especially with the looming threat of losing your job? Derek Chauvin had been on the force for 19 years. How many new impressionable officers do you think he had an impact on?”
Festus Boateng, a recent Law Enforcement graduate of MNSU is currently enrolled in SKILLS offered through Hibbing Community College, this is the hands-on training and final step in the Law Enforcement program to become a licensed peace officer. Boateng echoing Minock’s concerns, said, “I’ve heard many of my peers say they feel as if recent events have put a target on their back, but I disagree because law enforcement professionals are not the ones being oppressed. Cops within the force trust each other and have an unspoken code-they will let each other get away with bad behavior which gets passed down, and that’s how corruption flourishes within the department.”
“We keep repeating the past because we fail to correct these things, and departments just go on teaching old tricks to new people,” said Dearest Welwolie, a junior law enforcement program as well as a Mankato Community Service Officer and an Army ROTC SMP Cadet with the Minnesota National Guard.
A recent graduate of MNSU who majored in corrections with a minor in law enforcement said, “Overall, we have a very good law enforcement program at MNSU with very open minded professors. However, I personally disagreed with some of the things I was taught in a few of my law enforcement classes. In some classes we were taught that criminals are “unredeemable” and an attitude of aggression seemed to be highly promoted. I think that the “warrior mindset,” was also harmful. It honestly felt like they were training us for battle, and civilians were the enemy.” The alumnus has asked to remain anonymous.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey banned the use of warrior mindset training in April 2019 and geared the training more towards a “guardian” style policing, with violence being a last resort. However this angered the Minneapolis police union president Lt. Bob Kroll, who called the ban “illegal” and continued to offer the training through the police union, even furthering the rift between officers striving for reform, and those set in their ways on the Minneapolis police force.
Minock expressed how there is a lot of pressure on students to hurry up and finish their degree, even if they don’t feel ready to tackle the streets. “Unlike a lot of my fellow students I will not be giving into societal pressure, graduating and looking for a job right away. I will not expect to “learn on the fly” or “learn from your mistakes.” When my mistake, or “teachable moment” could easily cost someone’s life. I want to expand my knowledge beyond my bachelor’s degree to ensure I have the skills and mindset to deal with potential problems I may face in my field.”
Some other suggestions from alumni and students to help improve the law enforcement program were more intensive implicit bias training, power management and how to deal with stress and decision making.
“As an African-American woman, I feel the anger and frustration of the protestors,” said Welwolie. “I chose law enforcement as a major to create change. I want to change the community and law enforcement profession as a whole. If I sit down in fear, there is not going to be a change until I stand up and do something.”
“As a black man, and an immigrant from Ghana, I have personally experienced racial profiling by law enforcement,” said Boateng. “Part of the reason why I chose law enforcement is because I feel I can do better than current officers, and having more diversity and difference of backgrounds is important to the field. I am also a part time security officer, and I definitely get more cooperation from citizens because they feel more comfortable cooperating with another minority. I’m hopeful that with the arrest of Derek Chauvin, we will be moving in the right direction.”
“Despite everything happening in our country right now, I would still encourage people to pursue a career in law enforcement because we need people to make a change. We need individuals willing to stand up for what is wrong and what is right. We need representation from different groups of people,” said Welwolie.
The students interviewed want to make clear that the purpose of this article is not to try and flip the situation and make it seem like law enforcement students are the oppressed, because that is certainly not the case. They merely want the community, the Black Lives Matter movement, and everyone who has been affected by this terrible tragedy to know that they hear you, they understand, and are fighting hard to fix it. Our students are the future of policing, who can, must, and will do better.
Header photo courtesy of Dearest Welwolie.