Statement on Criminal Justice Reform from Senator Matt Little
I don’t support defunding, disbanding, or banning the police. But I do support the need for substantial reform and real change. Since the day George Floyd was murdered, I made a commitment to talk less and listen more. I went to the Memorial Site and listened. I went to community conversations and heard heart-wrenching stories from Black and Brown people about the horrific treatment they’ve often suffered, and how, all too often, they have lost loved ones to the casual brutality of people who were supposed to protect them.
I’ve also listened to law enforcement, some of whom I knew personally from my time as Mayor. Every officer I’ve spoken with was appalled at what happened to Mr. Floyd. They all know we must make major changes to address the perfectly reasonable fear and outrage boiling in communities of color.
That’s why I support law enforcement AND believe that Black Lives Matter. In fact, I support law enforcement BECAUSE I believe Black Lives Matter. Long legacies of discrimination and oppression have trapped many people of color in communities with high levels of violence. If we withdraw law enforcement with no adequate alternative, we are only re-entrenching the violence and oppression communities of color have suffered. So, we must find alternatives to these dangerous criminal justice practices and put them in place as soon as humanly possible.
To accomplish that, we must stop thinking that safety and crime are only about police. Where I live in Lakeville most people rarely think about the police. The safety of our community doesn’t depend on having police on every corner, shot detectors or security cameras recording our every move. The fact that some neighborhoods need such measures is a mark of our state’s failure. Our goal should be to build communities where the police are rarely needed, and never feared. To accomplish that, we must think hard about the role that enormous inequalities of wealth, racial discrimination, and lack of educational opportunities play in creating communities where large numbers of people grow up without hope.
In the short term, while we work to address these enormous inequities, we must also reform how our State defines and enforces crime, and how it confronts the many emergencies all people experience. That means when you call 911 you should have more options than ambulance, police or firefighters. Options should be tailored to the emergency: mental health experts, chemical dependencies intervention specialists, and social workers to resolve family conflicts, etc.
To begin this work, I support the following proposals, but recognize that they are only the start of a long overdue process of reforming criminal justice and racial inequities in our state:
- Banning the use of choke-holds.
- Supplemental funding for mental health professionals in police departments. These counselors and psychologists can respond along with an officer on mental health calls.
- Tiered calls, where we don’t necessarily send an officer to every situation. (Think fireworks, graffiti, etc.)
- Getting rid of warrior-style training. This is separate from self-defense and fighting techniques in my opinion. This trains a different mindset, and research suggests going through this training increases the chances that force is used in a given situation.
- Wellness funding for our officers. Officers go through a lot, and see things many of us couldn’t handle. And that takes its toll over time. Making sure our officers are healthy, mentally and physically is an important part of this.
- Training for mental health calls, handling people with autism, and de-escalation.
- A duty to intercede if an officer sees another officer using excessive force.