Legislators weigh in on 'thug' letter
Local legislators on Thursday agreed with the premise of a colleague's letter that others have called racially insensitive. Minnesota Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, directed his letter at "some advocacy groups" that have been asking how to r...
Local legislators on Thursday agreed with the premise of a colleague's letter that others have called racially insensitive.
Minnesota Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, directed his letter at "some advocacy groups" that have been asking how to reduce police use of force. The letter appeared in the Star Tribune's "Readers Write" section.
"Don't be a thug and lead a life of crime so that you come into frequent contact with police," Cornish wrote. "Don't rob people, don't use or sell drugs, and don't beat up your significant other."
The numbered advice list went on to suggest people not "flap their jaws" at police or "use the excuse of a lack of a job or education for why you assault, rob or kill."
"Here endeth the lesson," Cornish said at the close of the letter. The phrase was traditionally used in the context of a church service, but also features prominently as a line of dialogue in the 1987 cop film "The Untouchables."
Known in the Legislature for his ardent support of police and gun rights, Cornish serves as chair of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee.
Nekima-Levy Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, took umbrage at the letter, particularly at the use of the word "thug." She interpreted it as a racial dog whistle referring to black men.
"I'm disgusted that one of our state legislators would feel comfortable writing a racially-charged op-ed that reinforces negative stereotypes about African-Americans," the Star Tribune quoted her as saying in a subsequent article about the op-ed piece.
Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, tweeted a link to a KARE 11 story about the article along with the comment "So when did good advice become controversial?"
In an interview later, Kresha said Cornish's advice was sound.
"Is there a charged word in there? I suppose," he said. "But ... it's probably advice that many fathers or parents have given to their own kids. Don't beat your significant other. Don't stay up late. I get it, we're in a racially charged environment-but are we to the point where we don't actually (give) good advice to our kids?"
Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, brought up an incident earlier this year when Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted a meeting of the Public Safety committee that Cornish chairs. Lueck wasn't actually present at the meeting, which was temporarily shut down, but said he watched footage of what went on.
Lueck described protesters' demeanor at the hearing, and other Black Lives Matter protest events, as "arrogant."
"You want to stay out of trouble, don't be going around being ignorant and arrogant," he said. "It's pretty simple. I think it's a lot to do about some people that obviously had a problem growing up, didn't get the proper training when they were kids. It's called courteous behavior."
Cornish, rather than have police intervene and expel the protesters, simply stopped the meeting, Lueck said.
"There's the adult in the room," Lueck said.
As to Cornish's letter, Lueck said, "I don't understand what the big deal is."
Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, emphasized the rule of law.
"We're a nation of laws," he said. "When people break the law, they tend to have a few excuses or reasons-you could use either one of those words, I guess."
Heintzeman said he hoped good will come from Cornish's letter.
"I hope that people will recognize the common sense in what he's saying," he said. "If you break the law, there should be consequences."