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2 years after George Floyd's murder, many Black Minneapolitans do not feel any safer


How has life in Minneapolis changed since a police officer killed George Floyd? - happened two years ago today. The murder provoked violent protests and demands for radical police reform. In fact, some voices didn't call for reform but for defunding the police. Two years ago, Jeffrey Hayden was a state senator who represented the area where George Floyd was killed. Weeks after the murder, a primary challenger drove him out of office for failing to endorse enough change. We called Hayden back to see what the past two years have brought.

Do people in your area feel safer than they did two years ago?

JEFFREY HAYDEN: No, they don't. There's been a dramatic decrease in the amount of sworn officers in Minneapolis, which has been partially what people think is leading to have an increase in crime. I know that that's happening around the country. And at the same time, there's a paradox that as we have less police and we depend on them to protect us, we also - a lot of people still don't trust the Minneapolis Police Department and think that there's been enough reform in the police department for the officers that are still here.

INSKEEP: Wow. Well, there's two forms of danger, then, that we can talk about here. One is the danger from ordinary crime. And you say that's going up. And the other is people who may feel danger from the police themselves. Do people have any more confidence or security about the police than they did?

HAYDEN: I don't think so. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights came out with a report. They did a 10-year look back and showed that there was deep and systemic racism inside the Minneapolis Police Department that needed to be addressed. And at the same time, the amount of police officers that have decided to resign since the murder of George Floyd is also giving people a feeling that if they do call and get the right police officers, that they often don't show up, or it takes them a while to get there because they just don't have the numbers.

INSKEEP: You talked about systemic racism, and that can mean so many things in the case of policing. That could be old laws that seem tilted against one group of people - the drug laws being one example. That could be a lot of individuals with racist beliefs. Or it could be a lot of reasonably well-meaning people who are in an organization that just sort of tilts its organizational culture in a particular way. What is still going wrong in the Minneapolis Police Department in your estimate?

HAYDEN: I think it's all three of them. I think that there are laws that could be changed that kind of unreasonably point - you know, the war on drugs - that unreasonably went after people of color, especially Black people, especially Black men. I think that there is an issue of who we recruit in the city. There was a a figure a couple of years ago when I was still in the legislature that I quoted, that 93% of the Minneapolis police officers didn't live in Minneapolis. So there isn't the connection to the community.

And then, you know, I also think that there's a culture that trains officers in a way that makes it - that's discriminatory. And in the case that I think we all saw - in the Derek Chauvin trial, he was a training officer, and he was the one that said, this is how you should handle this type of situation, which, clearly, we all saw created a movement of this is what happens to Black men in particular that interact with the police.

INSKEEP: What did you think about over the last couple of years as calls to defund the police largely failed and ran into a lot of resistance from people who said, hey, wait a minute. You know, I don't want bad police, but I want police.

HAYDEN: You know, I was one of those people that thought that the sloganeering was a line, and it sent the wrong message to people. There was a disconnect between the people who were calling to defund the police and the communities that were actually being affected by police misconduct. If you look at the last election cycle, Question 2, which was really the question that spoke to defunding the police in Minneapolis, failed, and it failed in large numbers in Black neighborhoods.

INSKEEP: Was that a factor in your own primary defeat in August of 2020, not very long after George Floyd was murdered?

HAYDEN: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think that the idea that people were looking for this, you know, radical change, this change that they want it now, that, largely, I got painted and viewed as someone that was kind of part of the problem, even though my record didn't suggest that. And certainly, the resources I brought to the district didn't suggest that. I wanted to make sure that we had police officers that were professional and that showed up to protect me and that was much more of a guardian than someone that was going to harm me. But I think that that slogan - there was a disconnect between those progressive folks that wanted that to happen and those folks living in those communities that really needed the protection.

INSKEEP: I want to ask a question because people hear you, but they can't see you. How do you identify?

HAYDEN: So I identify as a Black man.

INSKEEP: And the reason I ask that question is I am curious today, in 2022, if you passed by a police officer in Minneapolis on the streets, what goes through your mind?

HAYDEN: You know, what always went through my mind, what went through my mind after my mother taught me how to cross the street on my own, that she warned me about, if the police stop, you do whatever they say 'cause I want you to make it home. I'm 56 years old. Or I will be in September. So that's probably about 50 years ago she gave me that lesson. It's the lesson I taught my son. And it's what I still think about. I don't want to give the impression that I think that every single Minneapolis police officer is bad. But it is ingrained in me to get a little more anxious. You hold on to the steering wheel a little tighter, even though everything - if I were to be stopped by the police, everything would be OK. But we have seen so much of this misconduct.

INSKEEP: I wonder if you think in these last couple of years, people, whatever their race, have advanced in their thinking a little bit, if we've all been forced - some of us who maybe hadn't before - been forced to think about these issues a little more deeply, and maybe some of us have arrived at a more nuanced and careful place about it all.

HAYDEN: You know, Minnesota's got 10,000 lakes. And we like to say that there's a million well-intended people who really are good folks and want to live in a society that's free of this kind of overt bias and racism. But we haven't gotten there yet. I mean, this is a fairly wealthy community. But we also lead the nation in almost every indicator in terms of gaps. So we have the biggest education gap, one of the biggest homeownership gaps, one of the biggest ones gaps, one of the largest poverty indicators.

We have all of these great institutions in this great region. But people of color, and especially Black people, don't do so well here. So I think we have to get from the idea of enlightenment and guilt and shame and wanting to do something to actually doing something. And I think that that has been slow.

INSKEEP: Jeffrey Hayden is a former Minnesota state senator who represented the district where George Floyd was murdered. He's now working for a law firm in Minneapolis. Thanks so much.

HAYDEN: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TERENCE BLANCHARD'S "MIDNIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.