‘Doing both’

Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison has come under criticism in recent months for his responses to several significant public safety issues facing our state. Violent crime, gun crimes, and auto thefts have each been the subject of action by the attorney general — just not in a wholly effective way.   

Whether it’s violent drug and gang activity in North Minneapolis, criminals conducting straw purchases of firearms, or the explosion of auto thefts, the attorney general has used the powers of his office not to go after the criminals committing these crimes, but rather to go after the businesses these criminals have exploited to further their crimes. 

In a recent TPT Almanac segment, the attorney general stated, “we need to do both.”  He went on to make it political saying, “The problem with the Republican argument is they don’t understand you can have both….,” suggesting that the best way to combat these crimes is to focus on both holding the criminals accountable AND holding exploited businesses accountable. 

The attorney general is right — the problem is he isn’t “doing both.”

In September 2022, after eight people had been shot at the intersection of Lyndale Ave N. and West Broadway Ave over a two-week period, the Attorney General’s Office and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office teamed to open a civil investigation into two businesses at this intersection, Winner Gas and Merwin Liquor, by claiming these businesses were responsible for permitting an unlawful public nuisance on their properties.  At a press conference announcing the investigation, the attorney general oddly put the onus of ridding the notorious corner of street crime onto private businesses rather than the public safety and criminal justice entities (including the Attorney General’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office), which are actually responsible for this task. “It means provide safety, it means get rid of the loiterers, it means do not allow criminal activity to go on, on your premises.” The A.G. went on to say these businesses don’t have to be lost, “they can abate the nuisance, they can just fix it.” 

In October 2022, the attorney general filed a lawsuit against Fleet Farm alleging the company had sold firearms to people who had then transferred those firearms to people prohibited from possessing a firearm — an action known as “straw purchasing.” The attorney general stated, “gun dealers and retailers have a duty to be the first line of defense against….” straw purchases, and suggested Fleet Farm was ignoring “red flags.” Defenders of Fleet Farm noted that none of the transactions cited were illegal and they questioned how a legal sale could possibly be subject to scrutiny. Ironically, one of the “red flags” noted by the attorney general, the use of using cash to purchase firearms, has reportedly increased in frequency since 2022, when several credit card companies bowed to pressure from the left to add a merchant code for firearm purchases that serves to track such purchases.

Then, just last week, in response to record numbers of auto thefts in the Twin Cities, the attorney general opened an investigation against Kia and Hyundai because they “lagged behind industry standards” for anti-theft technology, and as a result many of these cars have been targeted by auto thieves. The attorney general and police officials held a press conference announcing that the theft of Kia and Hyundai cars had led to associated crimes including five murders, 13 shootings, 36 robberies, and 265 motor vehicle accidents, often a result of the thieves fleeing the police.

The troubling aspect of these examples is the glaring lack of accountability the attorney general, and for that matter all of Minnesota’s progressive-led criminal justice institutions, have placed on criminals. The Minnesota criminal justice system has been doing a woeful job of enforcing our laws, incapacitating those arrested, prosecuting those charged, and imprisoning those convicted. As a result, we have experienced unprecedented spikes in violent crime, while at the same time our courts have departed from sentencing guidelines at record levels, and our prison incarceration has fallen among the lowest in the country.

The power and authority of our Attorney General’s Office and the Departments of Public Safety and Corrections should be working in concert to boldly address our criminal justice system shortfalls. The same level of energy applied toward private businesses exploited by criminals must be applied to our criminal justice system, which is failing at every intersection to hold criminal offenders properly accountable.  

Our law enforcement agencies need unwavering support, not attacks. Our sentencing guidelines need bolstering, not endless evaluation aimed solely at “reducing disparate outcomes.” Our courts need to feel unrelenting pressure to stop the revolving door of justice and begin sentencing offenders to prison. Finally, our correctional philosophy needs to begin valuing incapacitation — to provide society with public safety, while it applies all available resources to these incarcerated populations, giving all of us the best chance for success upon their release — it’s in our collective best interest.

The attorney general can and should be leading these efforts to hold criminal offenders accountable. His recent efforts to focus blame on private businesses rather than criminal offenders only serve to excuse the criminal behavior that has destroyed public safety in Minnesota. 

He was right to say, “we need to do both.” Now let’s see it.