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A Message from the Chief: Balancing Public Safety & 1st Amendment Rights — A Suggested Do-Over

On March 24, 2016, Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau released a YouTube announcement about police treatment of citizens as County Attorney Mike Freeman releases his decision on how to proceed with the potential indictment of two police officers.

Her video caused a local sensation.

Her statement appears below in the left column and my suggested rewrites appear on the right hand side. The lesson of this exercise is that if the city, including its police force, wants peace in the community, it has to wage peace in the community at every opportunity. Here is one way.


Chief Harteau’s Statement

Lukaszewski’s Proposed Approach

1 The Minneapolis Police Department has a long history of helping residents, and those who visit our city, exercise their first amendment rights.
2 It is also our responsibility to do everything in our power to keep people safe. As always, our first responsibility is to keep everyone safe, especially during public demonstrations.

To that end, we will be holding a briefing meeting for individuals in the community and community leaders to explain our approach to public safety, whatever the public response turns out to be to the County Attorney’s decision, whenever it is announced.

We will reach out to those who might be unable to attend this meeting to make certain that they are aware of our plans and approaches.

3 We understand that an upcoming legal decision has the potential to cause some tension and angst in and around our city.
4 As we plan for the county attorney’s decision, whatever that may be, I would like members of our community to know public safety is always our number one priority.
5 We will not tolerate acts of violence against anyone, and that includes acts of violence against our officers. In general, we will act to preserve, protect and defend everyone’s safety, including our officers. We will move quickly if there are acts of violence against anyone.
6 We will enforce the laws of Minnesota and the ordinances of the City of Minneapolis, and anyone who violates them will be held accountable. Energetic demonstrators can expect to be held accountable to obey the laws of Minnesota and the ordinances of the City of Minneapolis.
7 We will not allow people to set fires on our streets or occupy and vandalize our buildings. Fires on the street will be prohibited, as will occupancy of buildings and structures. Acts of vandalism, if any, will be dealt with appropriately.
8 We will not allow people to jeopardize the safety of others by causing massive disruptions and hindering emergency vehicles from helping those in need. We will expect that all participants will permit the free flow of emergency vehicles to help those who need help, regardless of the enthusiasm of crowd participants.
9 We are asking the news media on the scene to avoid using their camera lights. In today’s digital electronic age, these lights are completely unnecessary and their presence tends to energize crowds. There will be ample lighting at the scene for public safety and digital videography.
10 The MPD has to, and will, strike a balance between first amendment rights with the safety of everyone. Everyone has the right to be heard and the Minneapolis Police Department will assist in those rights being available. But, the safety of everyone involved is our first priority.

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