BLM gets an ally from the woman who prosecuted protesters

The Mall of America rotunda is filled with Black Lives Matter protesters on Dec. 20, 2014. Jackson Forderer / For MPR News

The former Bloomington city attorney, who had refused to back down from prosecuting members of Black Lives Matter for their occupation of the Mall of America in December 2014, is now pushing back against some critics of the group’s positions.

Sandra Johnson, of Minnetonka, retired from her post in May after insisting that it would have been unethical to not to prosecute the protesters, although she said at the time that lawmakers should listen to what they have to say.

“The energy you have put into this aggressive prosecution needs to be redirected to a communitywide effort toward open dialogue between our justice system and those who do not receive equal and fair treatment and protection from our current system,” a letter from faith leaders in the metro urged her at the time.

And now she has, with an op-ed today in the Star Tribune, reacting two recent essays, one of which referred to “the Black Elephant in the Room.”

“Is it logical that a city police officer treat a young man dressed and acting out like a gangster exactly the same as he would treat a young white man dressed like a ‘prepster’?” Richard Greene, a Bloomington resident, had written. He’s a former police detective.

In her op-ed today, Johnson criticizes the writers for pointing to alleged causes of recent police shootings, but not pointing to a solution.

“I would urge Greelis, Simon and other caring individuals to move beyond rationalizations, justifications, accusations or simple admiration of the problem,” she wrote.

I spent most of my career as a front-line prosecutor; now I volunteer at a food shelf. The psychology of the disenfranchised has, as its core, distrust — developed quite simply as a survival instinct. Many families — despite hard work, intelligence and dedicated effort — simply cannot escape the cycle of poverty. People become mired in hopelessness, certain in their belief that the rest of society does not give a damn about them.

It starts when the child enters school and finds it to be a nonlevel playing field, where the children of the “haves” will most always surpass them due to their unique access to the tools for success — adequate food, shelter, clothing, school supplies and parents with time to assist their children in school work. Children in poverty see the system as rigged against them and they can appreciate the injustice. By their teenage years many have given up on dreams; others have grown hostile toward a system that appears to enslave them to a lifetime of poverty.

Johnson says as a prosecutor, and now as a volunteer, she knows why there’s so little trust between police and communities of color, assuming that the goal of the justice system “was their further prosecution.”

At this time, when many of us are truly motivated to take a hard look at our communities of poverty, we need to make some major adjustments to the playing field, starting with the children born into poverty. We need to earn the trust of minority communities, not simply by words but by political action.

That, she writes, will take money. It’s the point at which the conversation she calls for usually stops.

Related: Records: Officer may have interacted with Castile in 2011 (Associated Press)