In the wake of the Minneapolis City Council's call to disband the Minneapolis Police Department, I expected the takes we’d see circulating on the Star Tribune opinion page to get pretty bad.
But I never thought they’d get Norm Coleman bad.
Since Coleman has been out of office for more than a decade, here’s a recap for younger readers who might not be wholly familiar with the former Minnesota politician’s career. He was mayor of St. Paul from 1994-2002, during which time he revealed himself to be not the Democrat he first ran as but the Republican we’d suspected he was all along. (He did bring the NHL back to Minnesota, we'll give him that.) After a failed gubernatorial campaign, he became a one-term U.S. Senator when his opponent, Paul Wellstone, died a week before the election. Now he's a lobbyist for the Saudi government.
Oddly, his current position is not mentioned at the footer of his June 16 opinion piece for the Strib.
OK, so Coleman’s an opportunist, a party hack, and a shill for authoritarians. Still, he was a two-term mayor of St. Paul. So maybe there's something concrete about his interactions with the St. Paul Police Department that he could bring to our current discussion, a perspective that will help us to—lol jk.
Beginning with the headline (“Defund and disband Minneapolis City Hall leadership”) Coleman’s position is bluntly partisan and rhetorically simple: The DFL has had total control of Minneapolis city government, so if (not saying that's the case, but "if") brutality and racist policing exists, the Democrats are to blame.
Well, yes, current and former council members and mayors have been unable or unwilling to rein in the police culture that made the murder of George Floyd possible. Nobody's denying that—including the elected officials themselves. But it matters who’s doing the blaming, and for what purpose.
Which brings us back to Norm Coleman, who assumes that we live in a world very familiar to regular readers of the police-friendly Star Tribune cop/ed page, where “good cops” have their reputations spoiled by one or two renegades and the police cannot fail, they can only be failed by spineless politicians. That this fantasy is inconveniently disproven the Star Tribune’s own reporting goes unaddressed.
Coleman offers no analysis or even acknowledgment of the history of the relationship between council, the police department, the mayor, and the police union. There’s no discussion of why attempts at reform have failed, why this police department has proven itself impervious to discipline. He’s just making point A so he can leap to point B: You couldn’t trust these bums to protect you against bad cops, so why should you trust their wild ideas about abolishing the police?
In short, this is the work of a political operative: glib, crass, and structured to reinforce readers’ unexamined beliefs rather than provide a useful entry point to solving our problems. If I wanted to be exceptionally kind, I would call Coleman’s opinion piece merely unnecessary. If I wanted to be honest, I’d use the term that any empty story existing solely to stir up internet outrage deserves: clickbait.
(After all, I work at City Pages, and I know clickbait when I see it. Ours has way better jokes than this though. "Blaming the police union is, no pun intended, a cop-out"? Defund and disband the fuck out of that sentence.)
In recent days, the Strib has shared many perspectives on Minneapolis policing, some not as entirely useless or in bad faith as Coleman’s, from writers with one thing in common—they don’t live in Minneapolis. Writing from up north, GOP U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber offers up some of the usual panaceas for abusive policing (better training, more accountability, community policing) before closing with “Lasting reform truly begins at the kitchen table with our loved ones.” (Ah yes, let us first reform the police in our hearts.) Peter Butte of Forest Lake had some reasonable suggestions about how to limit police contact in emergency situations, while New Brighton reader John A. Mattsen merely scatted his anxieties across the page in a “just askin’ questions” style.
Actually, these writers had something else in common besides not living in the city they have so many opinions about: They’re all former police officers. So maybe what’s needed is for the Star Tribune opinion page to make room not just for the perspective of more Minneapolis residents, but more policed Minneapolis residents? Maybe even Black ones?
(Most bizarrely of all, the Strib reprinted an editorial from the Chicago Tribune about the need for Chicago to have a police department. Don’t we have enough of our own problems to deal with?)
Minneapolis is abuzz with ideas about how to reimagine public safety these days, from groups that have been studying these issues and developing a response for years, groups emerging from the communities that have suffered from racism and abusive policing. When organizations like Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective can gather a majority of the Minneapolis City Council to pledge to make changes, these are no longer fringe ideas—these proposals are at the center of our political discourse right now.
Maybe one day the Strib editorial board will choose to expose its readers to them.