TC Jewfolk, via JTA — Enzi Tanner didn’t watch the trial of Derek Chauvin.
Even as the jury returned guilty verdicts Tuesday afternoon on all three counts against the former Minneapolis police officer — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — the community safety organizer at Jewish Community Action, a Minnesota social justice organization, had been thinking of issues bigger than the result.
“My biggest concern before was in focusing solely on the trial, it makes us about one incident,” Tanner said. “It’s about that 9 minutes and 29 seconds on May 25. And that’s what it ends up being about and not the broader system. Even in the trial, people are arguing that Derek Chauvin is a rogue police officer, that he’s not typical. And he is.”
For Tanner, a Jew of color, the state of policing and public safety in the country is the intersection of his work as an organizer and who he is as a person. And the April 11 killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer in nearby Brooklyn Center only strengthened his resolve to pursue broader efforts to transform public safety through his work at the Jewish Community Action, which shifted last year to focus squarely on responding to George Floyd’s death. (The officer in the Wright killing has been charged with manslaughter.)
“This last week actually provided more opportunities and more clarity than before,” he said. “Before the murder of Daunte Wright and around the trial, we [were] already planning and trying to work on some political education pieces on what’s next.”
Fueled by a belief that fear is holding back needed changes in policing, Tanner is putting together a workshop for his organization on anti-Black racism, fear and the need to be secure.
“We have a narrative in this country about anti-Black racism and fear, and it allows for that confusion between security and actually being secure,” he said. “Fear is a physical reaction, it’s not just a psychological thing. When we watch scary movies, we actually react to that, so getting in tune with that, and our initial reactions, I just think that’s important.”
A virtual training on Sunday started tackling some of the difficult conversations that come around the topic of reimagining public safety. A portion of the training included about 20 minutes of breakout rooms with scenarios of how to practice having conversations about policing.
One of those needed conversations is about the movement to “defund” police in Minneapolis and beyond — a term that Tanner says has a different meaning depending on whom you ask. To him, it means the middle ground between reform, which requires investing more money into police forces, and abolition, doing away with police entirely.
“Folks who want to defund, it’s this middle ground. It’s saying that we have enough resources as a community to provide for what we need,” he said. “When you talk about defunding, you’re talking about reallocating, and as you’re talking about reallocating, to me it actually opens up the world to dreaming of what’s possible. How can we imagine a world in a society that we’ve never seen? And it’s scary as hell.”
For Tanner, the road ahead is certain to be difficult — but it’s one that he sees traversing nonetheless as an action with a deeply Jewish antecedent.
“I just keep imagining our ancestors being at the Red Sea and being like, ‘OK, you go,’ ‘No, you go first.’ And then everyone else is like, ‘This is a really bad idea, y’all. We don’t even know what’s over there. We haven’t even seen it before.’ And I feel like, in many ways, we get a chance to do this, make mistakes, learn and grow,” he said.
The US Justice Department announced Wednesday, a day after Chauvin’s conviction, that it would investigate the Minneapolis Police Department. Previous investigations have ended with agreements, known as consent decrees, between federal and local authorities to changes in policing and oversight.
Regardless of the conviction, Tanner said justice isn’t done.
“There is no justice,” he said, “because there is no redemption or repair in a cage.”
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