The Cities Can and Must Do Better

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in May 2020, riots and protests ensued for nearly two weeks in the Twin Cities. The destruction and violence associated with the riots generated international attention that placed Minneapolis front and center of the headlines as it dealt with the civil unrest. Many of the headlines involved the trauma that police officers and first responders were exposed to while carrying out their duties of protecting the communities; trauma that often includes actual physical harm and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that continue to scar them on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, for many of the police officers and first responders working during the riots, these injuries became too unbearable and ultimately, forced them to cut their careers short. Since the riots, almost 200 Minneapolis police officers and another 200 more officers and first responders from other jurisdictions retained Meuser, Yackley and Rowland, P.A. to represent them for their career-ending injuries.

A significant number of these clients suffer from PTSD as a result of the trauma they were exposed to not only during the riots, but also over the course of their careers. For many of these officers and first responders, PTSD was not sustained overnight, nor was it linked to just one incident. Rather, as is typical for this injury, our clients battled the debilitating PTSD symptoms for quite some time before reaching a breaking point where they could no longer continue performing their duties without jeopardizing their own and their fellow officers’ safety. Many of our clients, sadly, had to battle the PTSD without any support or resources from their employer.

For every officer forced to end their career due to PTSD, many, many more officers continue to report for duty knowing that they also suffer from the debilitating effects of PTSD, but are either trying to “muscle through” this illness or are forced to continue working due to economic reasons. Unfortunately, as many of these officers acknowledge, by doing so they continue to place themselves and their partners in significant danger.

As the Derek Chauvin trial drew near, anxiety increased in the community, and amongst the rank and file of our men and women in law enforcement. Concerns of renewed unrest, riots, and destructive protests in the aftermath of the trial’s outcome were widespread. For officers who have continued working despite suffering from PTSD, many feared that their symptoms would be retriggered, forcing them to relive the nightmares all over again. As such, police officers are understandably concerned over whether their mental health will continue to deteriorate to the point where they may end up on the wrong side of a life-or-death situation at work.

Are the Twin Cities and surrounding communities better prepared to protect the community, and just as importantly, protect law enforcement and first responders? Will police departments and law enforcement agencies take the appropriate steps to fully address the adverse impacts to each officer’s mental health if riots take place in our communities again? We can only hope. There is no doubt these entities need to do a much better job protecting its officers, providing them with appropriate equipment and resources to defend themselves, and supporting them and not leaving them feeling abandoned. At Meuser, Yackley and Rowland, our sincere desire is that the Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and other municipalities learn valuable lessons from the riots of 2020, Derek Chauvin’s trial and beyond. FOR THE SAKE OF OUR POLICE OFFICERS AND FIRST RESPONDERS, THE CITIES CAN AND MUST DO BETTER!