Brooklyn Center residents will vote on several ballot initiatives during Tuesday’s election. One of these initiatives stems from Daunte Wright’s fatal shooting last year and the city’s response.
Voters will be asked to approve the amendment to the charter to remove the mayor’s authority to command the police during emergency situations. Instead, the city manager, mayor, fire chief, and police chief would have to make decisions on those cases. They can then seek aid from federal, state, and local agencies.
This question is being asked one year after ex-Brooklyn Center Kim Potter shot Wright and killed her during a traffic stop. It was during Derek Chauvin’s murder trial. Civil unrest followed by days of protests in front the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
Protests continued for approximately a week after Wright’s death, with protestors occasionally clashing with police and National Guard troops. Law enforcement was criticized for using tear gas and other less-lethal weapons to suppress protestors.
Curt Boganey, the City Manager, was fired by the council. Tim Gannon, the police chief, resigned in the days following Wright’s passing.
Gannon claims that he was forced to resign within days of Wright’s death. He is now suing Brooklyn Center for denied earnings, emotional distress and other violations of state open meeting laws. Gannon claims that the council violated state open meeting laws by discussing his future and making a decision to dismiss him behind closed doors. Gannon claims that the city defamed and terminated him on the basis of his race, in violation of his employment contract.
After the chaotic situation in Brooklyn Center, city officials, Mayor Mike Elliott took control of the police department by using the emergency powers set forth in the city charter. Elliott, who is running for reelection, and other city officials were criticized for their responses. These complaints included a lack of communication between the city and law enforcement, widespread use of tear gas, less-lethal rounds against protesters and a lack of protection for businesses that were vandalized or raided.
After witnessing the reaction to Wright’s shooting, the Brooklyn Center Charter Commission set out to change the way the city responds in emergency situations.
“It was caused by the problems with civil unrest last years and how it was handled and it was seen by the commission to be not handled very well,” Arvid “Bud”, chairman of the charter commission in an interview. The primary reason was that the police department was run by an untrained individual, in this instance the mayor.
According to minutes taken at meetings of the commission, discussions regarding the amendment to the charter started in 2021. The commission formed a subcommittee in February to decide the language for the ballot initiative.
Voters will see this language on their ballots: “Should Brooklyn Center City Charter amend to remove the authority for the Mayor of taking command of the police in times public danger or emergencies; and instead authorize Mayor to coordinate with City Manager, Fire Chief and other City leaders during times public danger or crisis, which could include asking assistance from local, federal, and state agencies.”
At a March 31 meeting Commissioner Steve Landis stated that the proposal was not directed at Elliot, but rather due to “specific mishandling a whole situation”. The commissioners voted 12-2 in favor of sending the initiative language to council for approval. In May, the council rejected the proposal of the commission. It was then submitted to voters.
Stan Leino, Charter Commissioner, wrote last week in the Sun Post that the city appeared to lack a “standardized system of command and control” when responding to protests outside the police precinct. He also expressed concern about what would happen in case of an emergency such as further civil unrest, or a natural catastrophe.
Leino and the other commissioners believe that a collaborative approach to leading the police force of the city in an emergency situation will result in better outcomes. However, not all are on board.
Alfreda Daniels Juasemai is a Brooklyn Center labor organizer who was a former candidate for the city council. She questioned the transparency of Charter Commission’s inclusion of the ballot question. She claimed she didn’t know that the process for changing the charter was underway until after the initiative had been on the ballot.
She said, “I am an organizer in this neighborhood… I spend my days going through the happenings in this city. That’s part my daily work.” “I did not know this was happening. It wasn’t transparent to me, so no.
Daniels Juasemai stated that she wasn’t entirely in agreement with Elliott’s decisions during the civil unrest plaguing the city. She said that taking the authority from the mayor is a shortsighted decision that will hinder the city’s ability to respond quickly in an emergency situation.
After tear gas and rubber rounds had been found in the apartments of residents across the street, the Brooklyn Center Police Department was quick to ban them from using crowd control tactics such as tear gas or less-lethal rubber round.
“Did we have the luxury of waiting for a meeting before we could vote to stop this?” She said, “Do we know how many properties or lives would have been lost before that?” “I believe we should take a step back and consider how this could affect our community,” she said.