Minnesotans know what keeps us safe: Communities where people of every color and background have fair wages, great schools, health care access, and affordable housing. Communities that invest in their social safety net and mental health instead of relying on police to address our collective failure to ensure that all can live with dignity. Rochester’s Police Department has long taken steps to bring those social supports to the public safety realm. But to fully restore trust in policing across Minnesota, we need both well-resourced communities and policies to create true accountability, setting standards for licensing, just as we expect for professions such as medicine.
The world is watching to see if Minnesota will pass public safety legislation. A bipartisan Minnesota commission of stakeholders forwarded recommendations to reform policing last year that became the 2020 Police Accountability Act passed by the Minnesota House. However, the Senate refused to hear those bills. Three measures passed in closed door negotiations. The House passed the bills left on the table last session. But again, the Senate refuses hearings on public safety, instead passing a voter ID bill widely rejected by Minnesotans in 2012.
It’s now budget time in the legislative session. When mothers worry each time their Black or brown child leaves the driveway that they might never come home, let’s recognize what’s at stake. Are we willing to let the lives of Black and brown people be bargaining chips in end-of-session budget negotiations? This is where policing reforms in the legislative session are headed if we don’t raise our voices.
Well-resourced communities are safe communities. Communities where people earn fair wages and enjoy stable housing, excellent schools and amenities like public transit and parks. The Minnesota House passed public safety bills, but also bills to invest in early childhood education, childcare, housing security, and increased wages for caregivers. They ask that the super wealthy, those making more than $1 million per year, pay a small increase in taxes to make investments that would restore the wellbeing of all communities. And the House supported policies to make our Main Street small businesses competitive with large corporations, such as affordable health insurance and paid family leave.
Let’s invest to keep all of us safe. Top earners have enjoyed remarkable growth in wealth during this pandemic, while those scrambling to pay rent have been left further behind. We could bring security to everyone if our senators decided to increase taxes on the biggest corporations and the top 1% of earners, those few enjoying overabundance. Instead, Rochester’s senators raise the disproven specter that the super wealthy will flee Minnesota if faced with a small increase in taxes. They say one-time federal dollars are enough to restore our communities. But public schools were short-changed before the pandemic; 92% of districts now face layoffs without an increase in funding. Sen. Carla Nelson, Tax Committee chair, refuses to raise the revenue we need, not just for schools, but also healthcare, childcare, broadband, and housing – the priorities Minnesotans are demanding.
When we invest so people have the resources they need, our communities become the safe places where people want to live. We can create a state where everyone gets home safely at the end of the day, no matter our skin color or ZIP code. We can expand people’s voices in our democracy, rewrite the rules, and end crippling disparities in education, income, and housing. People’s lives should not become bargaining chips. Let’s pass policies that both re-envision public safety and invest to make Minnesota a place where everyone can live full and healthy lives, no exception.
Aleta Borrud is a retired physician and 28-year resident of Rochester who is currently working to ensure access to affordable healthcare for all Minnesotans.