The only topic to push COVID-19 off the front pages this year has been the issues with racial disparities, police reform and public safety – especially here in Minnesota since the death of George Floyd.

Despite the passing of 150-plus years since slavery ended in the U.S., we continue to have persistent racism that pervades our culture, our institutions and our laws. Our collective ability to change hearts is on all of us. It is time for all elected officials to take action to alter the course of history and institute systems that provide fairness and opportunity for all Americans.

Congress and the next president need to prioritize steps that will eliminate discrimination in housing and employment, and address the educational achievement gap.

Our elected legislators must be leaders in the cause, standing against overt discrimination and racism in all forms, from blatant to subtle. They need to listen to all people, including Black and other racial and ethnic groups. They also need to bring that attitude and commitment into the law-making process.

While the federal government has a limited role in local/state policing efforts, we want strong community-based public safety teams that quickly respond to natural disasters, fires and accidents, and keep neighborhoods safe from criminals. We want law enforcement to be well-trained in crisis intervention, able to de-escalate a volatile situation while treating those involved with compassion. And all officers must be trained to understand how bias can dictate reactions and how to achieve fair and equal treatment for all.

We support legislation to modify use-of-force laws, improve police accountability through centralized data sharing, prohibit warrior-style use of force and chokeholds, and provide resources to foster diversity in hiring.

Everyone needs to work together to bring down symbols of darker times. We don’t condone random attacks on statues and memorials, but we need defined ways for citizens to object to symbols that are offensive and hurtful to certain people, such as a Confederate flag. We’d encourage a transparent and diverse citizens/officials commission that would review complaints and be empowered to act when warranted.

Incumbent DFL Sen. Tina Smith is concerned that racism persists and will continue for a prolonged period of time, saying we need to bring a sense of urgency to the problem. She supports the Justice and Policing Act, a national use of force standard and a national registry of police officers. She believes this is the beginning of a long process of changing policing, including expanding mental health counseling.

She said the lack of home ownership among Black families is a serious issue, and we need to put energy into fostering access to lending and credit, for individuals and for small business. She supports raising the minimum wage and requiring paid leave time for all workers. Expanding manufacturing and creating more good-paying jobs will help lift up American families.

As for statues and art that might cause offense, Smith does not want to erase history but said we need to look fully at our past, the good, the difficult and some that was downright shameful.

Smith’s opponent, Republican Jason Lewis, was unavailable for comment despite numerous efforts inviting a discussion with the Editorial Board.

In the 8th District, the GOP and DFL candidates agree that racism exists, all voices need to be heard, and a process needs to be used before statues and artwork are installed or removed.

The clearest difference on racism and police reform is one of emphasis. Incumbent Republican Rep. Pete Stauber, a retired police lieutenant, is the chief House author of the Justice Act, which would require local and state law enforcement agencies to eliminate chokeholds, use body cams, submit reports on all police-related shootings or have their federal funding reduced.

His opponent, DFLer Quinn Nystrom, supports the Equality Act, which Stauber voted against. The Equality Act bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and requires gender equity.

Neither the Justice Act nor the Equality Act have been enacted, having essentially full support from one party and almost total opposition from the other. Stauber has been working with Democrats through the Problem Solver Caucus to come up with a bipartisan solution for his bill. Qualified immunity for law enforcement is a sticking point.

While law enforcement is mostly local, both candidates see a role for the federal government. Stauber wants to invest in best practices and help with funding. Nystrom thinks federal law can bring nationwide uniformity more quickly.

- This is an opinion of the Adams Publishing-ECM Editorial Board. Reactions are welcome. Send to: editorial.board@apgecm.com.

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