Minnesota state Representative Tony Cornish (R-District 23B) is pretty sure he knows the key to stopping police brutality.
No, it's not any of the concrete reforms people have talked about forever, like better departmental training for beat cops or an increased sense of communal buy-in from officers dispatched to neighborhoods with legitimate grievances against their local law-enforcement.
For Rep. Cornish, the answer is simple: "Don't be a thug." But don't call him a racist: he will tell you himself that he has made many missionary trips to "the jungle."
In an apparently unsolicited letter to the Star Tribune newspaper, the legislator offered his thoughts in response to "some advocacy groups asking what we can do to 'reduce the use of force by police.'" Some of his suggestions (emphasis added):
"Don’t be a thug and lead a life of crime so that you come into frequent contact with police."
"Don’t hang out on the street after 2 a.m. Go home."
"Don’t flap your jaws when the police arrive. Don’t disobey the requests of the police at the time. If you think you are wrongfully treated, make the complaint later."
At no point does Cornish ever suggest that police officers may be in any way at fault for incidents of brutality, or that "hanging out on the street after 2 AM" is not a crime, or that there is anything amiss about having to wait to protest mistreatment.
He goes on to explain that he was "born and raised on a farm, dirt-poor, with eight other kids," and cites familial hardships before proclaiming "we didn’t use that as an excuse to turn to crime." The letter to the paper ends by saying simply, "Here endeth the lesson. No charge." (Was anyone demanding to pay?)
It should come as no surprise that Representative Cornish used to be a cop. Prior to his current role as chair of the Minnesota House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee, he was an officer, deputy, and chief of police in various counties and municipalities across Minnesota.
Rep. Cornish's letter, which appeared both online and in the print edition of the Star Tribune, caused an uproar in the Twin Cities, which, like so many other places around the country, has been roiled by instances of police violence and misconduct. This past winter, a St. Paul police officer was forced to resign after urging the public to run over Black Lives Matter protesters with their cars. Just last week, following the decision not to charge two officers in the shooting death of local resident Jamar Clark, the head of the Minneapolis Police Union described the region's Black Lives Matter movement as a "terrorist organization."
Users across Twitter excoriated Rep. Cornish for his message, and the Star Tribune for printing it:
Readers in the paper's "Comments" section also took the letter to task. "I am aghast," wrote one, "at the obnoxious letter signed by Rep. Cornish (R-Vernon Center) using clear racist code words and an arrogance that exceeds even his pompous behaviors."
Speaking with local station FOX9, Rep. Cornish responded to the criticism, saying "By people calling me racist, they’re trying to minimize my message. They know my message is true. And it would help in almost all cases if those rules were followed."
As for the charges of racism themselves, he added "I've got relatives that are black. I’ve gone to five different mission trips in the jungle. I spent big money helping women adopt black kids from Africa. I don’t fit the racist mold. So they should give that a rest."
Pro tip: If you want to demonstrate how not-racist you are, avoid phrases like "trips in the jungle."