*“…he died from pressure on his neck while officers attempted to restrain him”
The Case Of Officer Lucas Peterson
In 2002 Communities United Against Police Brutality protested outside Chief Prosecutor Amy Klobuchar’s office after Christopher Burns was killed in what the Hennepin County Medical Examiners ruled as a homicide due to “pressure on his neck while officers attempted to restrain him.”
The man who was killed was Christopher Burns, and the officer who killed him – Lucas Peterson – would go on to be, in the words of one NAACP official who had once called for his prosecution by Klobuchar, “a black eye on the force, and a black eye on the city”
However, despite pleas from the community to bring charges and not use the grand jury as a front for not prosecuting Officer Lucas Peterson, that’s exactly what Klobuchar did. She refused to bring charges, refused to meet with many community groups, and used the grand jury as cover.
In the case of Peterson, who killed Christopher Burns in front of his fiancée and her three young children, the list of excessive force complaints was long, including the $300,000 paid by the city to Burns’ fiancée. But in 2002, Peterson had been an officer less than 2 years. By 2013, when the city exploded after another death involving Peterson, that figure would already surpass $700,000, with more to come.
By the time Peterson came under scrutiny again in 2013 for the shooting of a man named Terrence Franklin, he had been named in more excessive force complaints than any other officer in the same timeframe. He would also be one of the officers named in a gang task force that had to be shut down by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety due to gross violations of citizens’ Constitutional Rights. The actions by that task force led to the city paying out another $3 million to “victims of Strike Force misconduct.” All that would happen in the decade-plus after Klobuchar declined to prosecute Peterson for killing Burns.
Michelle Gross; Minneapolis activist who launched Communities United Against Police Brutality in 2000, said incidents with police caused a total of 40 civilian deaths during Klobuchar’s tenure. The Washington Post counted more than 25 such cases in a review of news coverage from the time; the majority of those killed were people of color or mentally ill. “She did not prosecute a single one of them, said Gross. Not one.”
“The broken windows theory is correct”
Klobuchar embraced the broken windows theory in her candidate statement, writing that it was “correct,” and she followed through on prosecuting small crimes, like vandalism, filing seventy-five percent of all property crimes as felonies. Under Klobuchar, local prosecutors were assigned to police precincts to crack down on smaller offenses such as check forgery. Klobuchar pushed for longer-than-recommended sentences for juveniles, and argued for – and often won – stiffer sentences from judges for petty crime than judges wanted to give, fulfilling her campaign promise of calling out judges for “letting offenders off the hook too easily.”
In her first year alone, non-violent drug crimes resulting in prison terms doubled, with a full two-thirds ending in imprisonment. And while Minnesota’s record of extraordinarily vast racial disparities in imprisonment certainly didn’t begin with Amy Klobuchar’s tenure, during the eight years she served as chief prosecutor her insistence on longer sentences for less serious crimes actually drove up the number of prison inmates in the state by one-fifth, despite the fact that crime rates in Minneapolis had been dropping at least three years before she took office. (As they were also dropping across the nation at large.) African Americans were incarcerated at “vastly higher” rates than whites.
Klobuchar has, on countless occasions, responded to this criticism by stating that the prison incarceration rate for African-Americans from Hennepin County actually fell by 12 percent in that same period, which is technically true, but as has been pointed out to her more than once in real time, that response is highly misleading. The number only fell because black people living in the county rose faster than the rapidly increasing number serving time in prison. And the incarceration gap was enormous: at the end of Klobuchar’s eight year term blacks from Hennepin County were locked up in prison at more than 18 times the rate of whites.
“We were already a community in distress when she became Hennepin County attorney,” Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP told the Washington Post in March. “Rather than taking steps to help mitigate some of those concerns and issues, during her tenure in office, her policies exacerbated the situation.”