Incidents Raise Policing Concerns in Rural Minnesota

Olivia, Minnesota attracted attention last week when a police officer shot and killed Ricardo Torres Jr. Torres’ friends and relatives say the officer has repeatedly harassed their community. According to the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU, it’s not an isolated incident.

Feven Gerezgiher reports:

 

Olivia, Minnesota attracted attention last week when a police officer shot and killed Ricardo Torres Jr. Torres’ friends and relatives say the officer has repeatedly harassed their community. ACLU-MN’s Julio Zelaya says Torres’ case is an example of policing issues in Greater Minnesota, and that “this is not an isolated incident that just happens in the Twin Cities.”

 

In 2019, Worthington police officers beat Kelvin Rodriguez during an arrest, rupturing two organs and breaking his ribs. Rodriguez was not convicted of any crime.

 

As part of a legal settlement last fall, the Worthington police department agreed to reforms, including implicit bias awareness training. According to Worthington Police Chief Troy Appel, his department “agreed and adapted to each of the terms of the Rodriguez settlement.”

 

But local organizers like Cheniqua Johnson say the process of holding police accountable has been “frustrating and disheartening.”

 

“Following the Solidarity march in June 2020, no action by the city, city electeds, police Department, or Sheriff’s office has been made to even remotely entertain a conversation surrounding police accountability,” Johnson said.

 

Zelaya is a coordinator with the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project at the ACLU, which led the Worthington lawsuit. He said rural areas have less legal infrastructure and public advocacy to help protect civil liberties.

 

“We see small towns, small counties that will say we don’t have the money for body cameras or won’t want to invest in those kind of accountability measures,” said Zelaya.

 

The ACLU previously won a lawsuit against Worthington for illegal detention of immigrants for ICE. Zelaya said changing demographics in the region have helped drive conversations.

 

“Rural Minnesota is becoming more brown. And that means that the policies and the way that we conduct governance is really being challenged,” he explained. “Places that were primarily white are now having to essentially deal with and work through social, political issues of multiculturalism… issues that they haven’t had to before.”

 

Zelaya said without state and federal legislation to lead the way, it’s up to people in small towns like Worthington to drive changes around policing for themselves.

 

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