Washington Post - March 2019
Christopher Burns, a 44-year-old black man, was unarmed and at home in Minneapolis with his fiancee and three young children when the police arrived in response to a domestic violence call. The officers put him in a chokehold, and he died on the scene, according to the medical examiner.
The 2002 incident marked the third killing of a black person by the city’s police department that year, prompting local activists to stage rallies and demand that the two officers involved in Burns’s death face charges.
The focus of the community’s anger was Amy Klobuchar, the up-and-coming attorney of Hennepin County, who had declined to prosecute police accused of using excessive force against black suspects.
“WE MUST NOT LET THEM GET AWAY WITH THIS!” one activist group wrote in a newsletter. “Many people are watching to see if she will really fight for justice in this case.”
Klobuchar, then 42, declined to bring charges against the officers, and a grand jury she convened did not indict them.
Nearly two decades later, Klobuchar is a Democratic senator running for president, the culmination of a remarkably smooth rise built in part on the tough-on-crime image she cultivated during eight years as a prosecutor. But her record from that time is getting a closer look as she introduces herself beyond heavily white Minnesota, courting an increasingly diverse Democratic base that is closely attuned to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
As chief prosecutor for Minnesota’s most populous county from 1999 to 2007, Klobuchar declined to bring charges in more than two dozen cases in which people were killed in encounters with police.
At the same time, she aggressively prosecuted smaller offenses such as vandalism and routinely sought longer-than-recommended sentences, including for minors. Such prosecutions, done with the aim of curbing more serious crimes, have had mixed results and have been criticized for their disproportionate effect on poor and minority communities.
“We were already a community in distress when she became Hennepin County attorney,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. “Rather than taking steps to help mitigate some of those concerns and issues, during her tenure in office, her policies exacerbated the situation.” ...
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