MINNEAPOLIS — Political leaders in Minnesota promised sweeping reforms after George Floyd’s killing turned their state into a focal point for nationwide fury and grief over police killings and racism.

But those efforts collapsed early on Saturday as leaders in the Minnesota Legislature — the only one in the country where Democrats control one chamber and Republicans the other — failed to compromise on a package of law-enforcement reform measures before a special session ended.

Ultimately, legislators could not reach a deal that reconciled the Democrats’ calls for far-reaching changes to police oversight with Republican leaders who supported a shorter list of “common-sense police reforms” that included banning chokeholds in most situations and requiring officers to stop their colleagues from using unreasonable force.

Democrats said the plan passed by the Republican-led Senate consisted of tepid half-steps that were already in place in most law-enforcement agencies and did not rise to the moment’s calls for dramatic action. Republicans balked at the proposals passed by the Democrat-controlled House to restore voting rights to tens of thousands of felons and put the state’s attorney general, Keith Ellison, a Democrat, in charge of prosecuting police killings.

Democrats had argued they should stay in session as long as they needed to reach a compromise. Republicans set a deadline of Friday night before returning to their districts, saying they would be willing to return for a one-day session if they were near an agreement.

As the clock ticked toward midnight — and then far past it — leaders of both parties blamed each other in competing news conferences. Paul Gazelka, the Republican leader of the Senate, described the state of negotiations as essentially hopeless.

“If they’re not interested in this,” Mr. Gazelka said, referring to the Democrats’ rejection of his latest proposal, “I don’t think personally that they’ll ever be interested in something that we can agree to.”

Moments later, Jeff Hayden, a Democratic state senator whose district includes the corner where Mr. Floyd was killed, said the Republican plan was unacceptable. “If they decide to leave here without getting anything done, it’s on their hands,” he said.

Some lawmakers said they hoped that Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, would call them back again next week or later in the summer to take up the issues, but activists worried that the window to change the laws was closing as the 2020 election approaches.

The breakdown finally came just after 6 a.m. on Saturday, when both chambers adjourned without a deal. That followed hours of huddled strategy sessions and standoffish meetings in the Capitol as small groups of protesters gathered outside.

While many hearings and negotiations have unfolded virtually because of the coronavirus, State Representative Carlos Mariani, a Democrat, said he sat down with Republicans on Friday afternoon to discuss a compromise.

Mr. Mariani said he told them that his fellow Democrats would not vote for any package that did not address structural reforms to policing. The Republicans across the table said they had not yet had time to read every piece of the policing bill that the Democrat-controlled House passed early on Friday morning, he said.

“Take an hour, take a week, take a month” to read it, Mr. Mariani said. “We’re waiting, and the pressure’s building.”

Republican leaders later said they had agreed to alter arbitration proceedings when officers are accused of misconduct, but Democrats said it was not enough.

All week, state legislators held emotional hearings on proposals to increase oversight of how the police use force and are disciplined; change the process for firing officers; and explore alternatives to policing, such as sending social workers to respond when people in mental distress need help.

Families of black men and women killed in confrontations with the police argued that the huge protests and unrest that rippled across Minnesota reflected the cumulative anger of communities that were fed up with police brutality and systemic racism. They cited the killing of Mr. Floyd and the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by the police in her apartment in Louisville, Ky., and Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was chased down by three white residents of a Georgia neighborhood and fatally shot.

“Our families are hurting, our communities are hurting,” Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, the victim of a 2016 police shooting in suburban St. Paul, said in an emotional day of testimony. “What you saw during these protests are emotions that have been building up over decades.”

The Legislature’s failure to pass a bill was a disheartening turn for activists who have pushed for far-reaching changes to policing, including cutting police budgets or dismantling police departments altogether to reduce the presence of armed officers in minority neighborhoods.

“Every time someone gets killed, there are promises, investigations, and nothing comes of it,” said Dave Bicking of Communities United Against Police Brutality, a Minnesota-based group that made a series of recommendations to the Legislature. “If this doesn’t bring something and make us get heard, I shudder to think what it might take.”

Governor Walz had called on lawmakers to stay at the Statehouse in St. Paul as long as it took to pass a police reform package. On Friday, he said he supported the House bills and urged Senate Republicans to “not let this moment pass.”

He also called on the Legislature to make Juneteenth, the day honoring the end of slavery, an official state holiday after speaking with Pharrell Williams, the Grammy-winning singer and producer.

The debate in the Legislature was unusually combative, and tensions worsened this week as members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus said some white lawmakers had not consulted with them or valued their input or that of the districts they represent. At one point, the Republican chair of the Senate’s public safety committee, Warren Limmer, who is white, said he did not know that the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus existed in the Senate.

State Representative Mohamud Noor, a Democrat, said the comments and actions from lawmakers this past week showed that some appeared to be learning, for the first time, about racial injustice in Minnesota.

“That speaks volumes — that we don’t see people, people from different walks of lives, within the state,” Mr. Noor said on Thursday. “The racial injustice. The discrimination. The lack of understanding from our perspective, our lived experiences. It’s shameful.”

Protest leaders said it was bitterly ironic that the Legislature’s failures came on Juneteenth. Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer and former president of the Minneapolis N.A.A.C.P. who has led many of the recent demonstrations, said she was disappointed but unsurprised by the impasse.

“Too many members of our Legislature are not taking this seriously,” she said as she hurried off to help distribute groceries and diapers in a largely black Minnesota neighborhood whose only grocery store had been closed since the unrest after Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25. “It sends a signal that black lives don’t matter. We feel like we’re under siege in our own state.”

At midnight, Democrats in the House shared a counteroffer, dropping several significant demands, including their proposals that the attorney general investigate police killings and that people convicted of felonies be allowed to vote. As they shared the plan with reporters, the lights in the Capitol building switched off. The lawmakers stayed, and the lights flickered back on, but as the sun rose in the morning and a deal still could not be reached, they went home.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reported from Minneapolis, and Jack Healy from Denver.

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here