Saint Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell sends New Years greetings to the city – with a challenge (to which I’ve added emphasis):
Happy New Year, Everyone!
As we embark on another trip around the sun, I want to take a minute to thank each of you for the friendship, support, advice and adventure we’ve shared over the past year.
And this year, I want to try something new. For a change, I want to make a resolution that’s actually achievable (unlike my previous resolutions related to exercise and weight loss—which have obviously failed …).
For some time now, I’ve been troubled by a clause in the Minnesota State Constitution. It involves the word slavery, which doesn’t reflect our state values.
Article I, Section 2 reads:
“There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”
This means that even today, 162 years since the State of Minnesota banned slavery and servitude, there is still an exception in our Constitution that allows it.
Slavery is not a Minnesota value.
Words matter. That’s why I’m making it my 2020 resolution to raise awareness of this clause to ignite a movement among people who care about doing what’s right—a movement to champion an amendment removing slavery from the Minnesota State Constitution.
This document, the original of which is kept right here in Saint Paul, is wonderful in so many ways. It protects our rights, defines and limits government power, and guides us as we address emerging issues and concerns.
It’s also supposed to reflect our values. And here in Minnesota, they include equity, freedom and respect for all people. It’s time we amend our constitution to make that clear.
As a Minnesotan, at the start of the 2020s, it is my belief that it is time – beyond time – to move forward together and strike out slavery from our shared constitution.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you have a safe New Year’s Eve and a new year filled with happiness and health.
I’m an English major, so let’s briefly re-read the sentence. The constitution bans slavery and involuntary servitude except as a result of a criminal conviction – referring to the “involuntary servitude” to the state known as prison.
The Chief is right – words have meanings.
So does history.
In 1859, banning slavery in a state Constitution was a solid, courageous statement. Minnesota was admitted to the union during the run-up to a war this nation fought, entirely over slavery and its side-effects. That clause was a pretty stark line in the sand in its day; the new state committed itself to human freedom.
Does this effort – which has garnered the support in the House of the estimable Representative and profile in courage John Lesch – merely respond to the current trend of erasing the most trivial reminders of history, while repeating its mistakes wholesale?
I mean, fine – erase the word “slavery”. Does that mean Minnesota has joined the 20th Century 12- years late?
Or will it erase the principled stance of a generation for whom principle was a matter of life, death, blood and lost years?
We live in a generation that is forgetting its history. You know the rest of the sentence, right?