Changemakers Alliance: Re-imagining Public Safety

Panelists (l-r) Mikki Morrissette, Michele Braley, Matthew Walker, Deneal Trueblood-Lynch, and Leah Robshaw Robinson

In June, Minnesota Women’s Press moderated a discussion at the 2023 Community Connections conference in the Minneapolis convention center. The event featured 100 local organizations involved in relationship-building. Our panelists featured playwright Deneal Trueblood-Lynch, who addressed the absence of a Survivors Justice Act in Minnesota; Michele Braley of Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice; and Leah Robshaw Robinson and Matthew Walker of Alternatives to Violence Project. We would like to take this conversation statewide, including a filmed reading of Trueblood- Lynch’s one-act play Secrets. Here is a glimpse of the panel discussion.

Safety Is Transformative Justice

Sometimes the restorative justice process brings healing and closure to people more than vengeance, said Braley. She told the story of a young driver who hit and killed a pedestrian. The pedestrian’s husband of 60 years declined to press charges, indicating that a criminal prosecution would simply wreck another life and “accomplish absolutely nothing. My wife would not be brought back to life.” Instead, there was an 18-month process of restorative discussions between the two families, the city improved safety in the crosswalk where the accident occurred, and the driver recorded educational videos to explain that fiery crashes are not the only way new drivers can cause harm.

In a different kind of resolution, Trueblood-Lynch was incarcerated after attacking the perpetrator who sexually assaulted her 12-year-old daughter. Not only was her own childhood trauma of sexual abuse not addressed while in prison, she says, but her daughter was doubly traumatized by being separated from her mother after being assaulted.

“What was taken into effect [in sentencing] was police reports from people who knew nothing about me, who knew that their choice of words would give me even more prison time,” Trueblood-Lynch says. “My perpetrator was not sentenced. The guy I assaulted was not sentenced for the sexual trauma [he inflicted on] my daughter. Secrets tells our pasts. It tells our present. I believe it will tell our future. Because these types of secrets are woven into communities, [I am trying to get] people in the right places to see and hear Secrets, to change something and be able to look at the traumas that haunt our youth.”

After Walker attended an Alternatives to Violence Project workshop, he said, he learned that the brain tends to shut down when people are triggered with strong emotions, filled with chemicals that can lead to poor coping mechanisms. He believes we would have a much healthier society if people were taught conflict-resolution skills, which is why he is now an AVP facilitator.

Braley said: “Part of the challenge is we’ve spent 400 years building a retributive system that has led people to believe that punishment works.” She said she received a call recently from the Hennepin County attorney general’s office, wanting to talk about whether restorative justice has been proven to be effective. “I suggested they sit down with their attorneys and talk about success in the retributive system. I’ve been on the hot seat for 20 years trying to prove to people that restorative justice works. All the data is on our side. Yet we don’t ask enough hard questions about the billions of dollars we put into the retributive system. My restorative justice budget is under $100,000. You know what would work a lot better? If we funded it.”

Perspectives on Violence and Punishment

An audience member at the panel conversation, whose wife sees the horrific aftermath of violence as an emergency room nurse, said he grew up in Greater Minnesota, where the prevailing thought is that “gun violence doesn’t happen. Of course, that’s not true. A huge barrier is acknowledgment of issues.” He said he supports efforts into the preventative aspect of treating people before violence occurs, rather than waiting for punishment related to gender-based violence, sexual assault, and gun violence.

A police officer is quoted in our story about the 140-page Global Rights for Women report that examined how Minneapolis handles domestic violence issues:

“In reality, we focus more on robbers, drug dealers, and gangsters, when in fact … these are the same people committing domestic violence. Maybe our focus should be on abusers, and it would have a trickle- down effect to other violent crimes.”

Our “Re-imagining Public Safety” series includes many stories about how the Minnesota legislature debated the nature of crime and punishment during the 2023 session. Although support was given to exploring restorative justice methods, and the omnibus public safety bill passed with progressive actions, vocal pushback came from many Republicans.

In “Part 2: House Debates About Gun Legislation and Restorative Justice,” reported by Cirien Saadeh, one of the many legislators quoted is Rep. Pat Garofalo (R–Farmington), who said: “Hennepin and Ramsey County represent 76 percent of the homicides that are taking place in our state. In light of the fact that Hennepin County and Ramsey County are DFL-dominated, why on earth should we be listening to DFL officials, and policies that originated in Hennepin and Ramsey County, in terms of imposing [public safety approaches] on the rest of the state?”

Garofalo referred to the omnibus bill as the “Moriarty- Moller Crime Bill” — referring to the new Hennepin County attorney general, who has reform-minded approaches to juvenile justice. He was told that reference to the bill in that way was inappropriate, and that bills were created from input from people throughout the state. He responded that the more the DFL says he cannot call the bill the Moriarty-Moller Crime Bill, the more people will want to.

Rep. Matt Grossell (R–Clearbrook) said the omnibus public safety bill is anti–law enforcement, funding “untested, untried nonprofits instead of putting the money where it should be, into law enforcement communities, so they can do the job that we have asked them to do — to stop evil, to do good, to protect our communities.”

Rep. Lisa Demuth (R–Cold Spring) offered a “Stand Your Ground” amendment. Rep. Kelly Moller (D–Shoreview) responded that the law is also referred to as the “Shoot First” amendment, and pointed out that states with this law have seen an increase in homicides, with racial disparities.

The story titled “Major Public Safety and Gun Legislation Bills Signed Into Law (and Some of the Debates Against Them)” noted that new gun legislation will restrict access to people who are in danger of using guns to cause harm, including in domestic violence issues.

The story cited testimony from Joan Peterson, from northern Minnesota, indicating she has worked for gun legislation for 20 years. “In 1992, the year my sister Barbara was killed [by her estranged husband],” Peterson said, “there were 37,776 victims of gun violence. Last year, an all-time high of 44,299 lives were lost to bullets. If this many people died of any other cause, we would declare it a national emergency.”

Three stories focused on discussions by people involved in juvenile justice and police reform. In “Pushback to Criminal Legal System Change,” new police chief Brian O’Hara said he was brought to Minneapolis from New Jersey for police reform, but was finding many people want to preserve the status quo. “I perceived that everyone here wanted to change: residents, government, police officers. I was wrong,” he said.

In the same conversation, Hennepin County attorney general Mary Moriarty said, “If locking everybody up would make us safer, we would be the safest country in the world because we have the highest prison population. We are also the only western country that treats children under 18 as adults and sends them to adult prison.”

NEW SERIES: The Foundation of Housing

We are developing a deep series about housing. At least $2 billion is being invested in Minnesota housing. Where is it going? Who is it impacting? Who is being missed? This series requires funding from readers, grantors, and partners. Can you support the story development?