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Minnesota Lieutenant Governor On The Source Of Unrest In Her State

NOEL KING, HOST:

There is a well-known expression here - Minnesota nice. It means many things to many people - sincerity, kindness. It can also mean fake nice, unwilling to confront difficult truths, like the depth of racism here. When George Floyd was killed by a police officer, anger kindled into mass protests. Now Minnesota's government wants to dig into what it calls systemic racism in the state, starting with law enforcement. Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan talked to me yesterday.

PEGGY FLANAGAN: Unfortunately, Minnesota nice too often means that we gloss over the deep inequities that exist in our state. Were one of the happiest states in the country. Our schools and health care systems are at the top of the lists on all the lists that you want to be on top of. We've got a really incredible state - if you're white.

If you are a person of color, if you are indigenous, if you are an immigrant or refugee, the opposite is true. There are historical, entrenched disparities in education and health care and housing and wealth in nearly every single aspect of life here. And so the swell of mourning and grief has been simmering just below the surface, and it has burst out into public. It is heartbreaking, and I am angry.

And it is not my job to critique the expression of that heartbreak and anger, in particular for the black community. That is not my role. My role is to create space, to ensure that people are seen and heard and valued and to do everything within my power as lieutenant governor to try to change these systems. And if we do not do it now, we will fail.

KING: Give me one concrete example of something that you plan to do because you're talking about inequities that have existed for decades, if not centuries. What is one thing, one concrete thing, that you can tell the people of Minnesota listening, the people of this country listening, that Minnesota can do to make this better?

FLANAGAN: We are getting ready to file a charge of discrimination against the Minneapolis Police Department, and this will launch a civil rights investigation into the department. Our Minnesota Department of Human Rights will be leading this and looking to use their investigatory authority as a tool to support the city in our efforts to make deep systematic change. And this investigation will look at the last 10 years of the Minneapolis Police Department so that people can feel safe in their communities and know that they are protected by law enforcement, instead of fearing law enforcement.

KING: To be clear, this investigation will encompass all of the Minneapolis Police Department, not just the four officers who were involved with George Floyd's death.

FLANAGAN: That's correct. And we are at this flashpoint right now that has sparked grieving and protests across the country. But my hope - and I will do whatever I can to ensure that we are also one of the places that folks can look to for healing and for justice for George Floyd but also for the black community across the country.

KING: I've been talking to people in the state of Minnesota all week about these deep structural inequities, these deep structural problems. One of the people that I spoke to is a state representative. Her name is Ruth Richardson. She has a 17-year-old son. He runs track. She's afraid to let him go running in their neighborhood because she's afraid he will be shot by the police. Here's what she said to me when I spoke to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RUTH RICHARDSON: When I visited the site of George Floyd's death, there was a sign that said smash white supremacy. And as I was watching the sign just kind of blowing in the wind - it was on a white sheet and spray-painted with red letters - I was like, the answer's right there; the answer is literally blowing in the wind at the site of where George Floyd was murdered.

KING: What is the desired outcome of this investigation?

FLANAGAN: As a Native American woman, it is not lost on me that I work in a system that was created, in many ways, to eliminate and erase me and our community as a whole. So I'm not interested in just making policy change here and there.

But we also need to be in a place where we call white supremacy white supremacy. And, well, that is the piece where Minnesota nice gets in the way. And folks say, oh, gosh, don't talk about racism; oh, gosh, that is, you know, incendiary language, like, white supremacy. It is what the state has been built on, and unless we tackle it in a really aggressive way, we are not going to see the systematic change that we need.

KING: Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanigan, thank you so much for your time.

FLANAGAN: Thank you so much, Noel. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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