Governor Mark Dayton Embarrasses Himself and Minnesota
Governor Mark Dayton taught a master class yesterday in how not to respond to a tragedy. It started with the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony police officer Wednesday evening. The event drew world-wide publicity, largely because of the extraordinary video that was shot and live-streamed to Facebook by Philando’s girlfriend, who was sitting next to him in the vehicle. But the video begins after the officer shot Philando, and sheds no light (apart from the girlfriend’s own description) of what led up to the shooting. Almost everyone is treating the shooting as unjustified, which may well be the case. But so far, we have not heard from the police officer, who has been identified as Jeronimo Yanez.
Nevertheless, Governor Dayton wasted not an hour before leaping to conclusions. He said, publicly:
Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white? I don’t think it would have.
What basis did Dayton have to say that? None. Why assume, having no knowledge of why the officer acted as he did, that this incident has anything to do with race? For what it’s worth, police officers shoot more whites than blacks.
So I’m forced to confront, and I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront, this kind of racism exists and that it’s incumbent upon all of us to vow that were going to do whatever we can to see that it doesn’t happen, doesn’t continue to happen.
Racism? Really? At the time he spoke, I don’t believe Dayton even knew who the officer was, let alone whether he is a racist. Is there any reason for a governor to jump into a volatile situation like this and start spouting incendiary opinions? I can’t imagine how Dayton can think this is appropriate.
Of course, only hours later we witnessed the massacre of police officers in Dallas. We don’t yet know who the perpetrators were or what motivated them, but is there any way that reckless comments like those of Governor Dayton can possibly be helpful? If Dayton isn’t deliberately trying to stir up racial discord, he is doing a pretty good imitation of such an effort.
Jumping to conclusions about Officer Yanez wasn’t Dayton’s only failure of leadership. Less than 24 hours after Castile’s death, Dayton contacted the White House to “request that the U.S. Department of Justice begin an immediate independent federal investigation into this matter.” Here, Dayton needlessly and inappropriately abdicated his own responsibility, and the state’s, to investigate and deal with the circumstances surrounding Yanez’s shooting of Castile.
Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is perfectly capable of carrying out the necessary investigation and, as we have recently seen, the FBI is by no means beyond reproach as an investigative agency. Considerations of federalism dictate that a state should not immediately and needlessly cede its own responsibility for criminal justice to the federal government.
All in all, Mark Dayton is an excellent model of what a governor should not be.