Minnesota Representative’s Racially Loaded Op-Ed Sparks Uproar

Republican Minnesota Rep. Tony Cornish CREDIT: STATE OF MINNESOTA
Republican Minnesota Rep. Tony Cornish CREDIT: STATE OF MINNESOTA

Days after the Department of Justice announced it won’t be prosecuting the Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting death of Jamar Clark, Minnesota Rep. Tony Cornish (R) penned an op-ed pushing back on the notion that police violence is a legitimate societal problem.

In “Really, this isn’t complicated,” Cornish, a gun-loving former law enforcement officer who represents a largely rural district, provides a number of pointers for avoiding confrontational interactions with police, including: “Don’t be a thug,” “Don’t hang out on the street after 2 a.m.,” “Don’t make furtive movement or keep your hands in your pockets if told to take them out,” “Don’t flap your jaws when police arrive,” and “Don’t use the excuse of a lack of a job or education for why you assault, rob or kill.”

Jamar Clark CREDIT: Javille Burns via AP
Jamar Clark CREDIT: Javille Burns via AP

Clark, 24, was unarmed when he was shot in the head by Minneapolis officers responding to a report of a domestic dispute last November. A number of witnesses say Clark was handcuffed at the time of his shooting, but police claim he was resisting arrest. The shooting sparked massive protests in north Minneapolis.


As you’d expect, many have taken offense to the numerous dog whistles included in Cornish’s piece. When contacted by Twin Cities TV station Fox 9 and asked about criticism of his article, Cornish used a line of justification similar to what Donald Trump invoked to defend his racist attack on a Latino judge.

From Fox 9:

“By people calling me racist, they’re trying to minimize my message. They know my message is true. And it would help in almost all cases if those rules were followed,” [Cornish] said.

So why did he write it? Cornish says, “I just got sick of cops being used as a scapegoat when something goes wrong, and the cops are called to a situation they don’t really want to be in. And something goes wrong because they’re there, and right away, it’s the cop’s fault.”

On being called a “racist,” the state rep said, “I’ve got relatives that are black. I’ve gone to five different mission trips in the jungle. I spent big money helping women adopt black kids from Africa. I don’t fit the racist mold. So they should give that a rest.”

ThinkProgress reached out to the Star Tribune in hopes of better understanding the rationale that led to the paper running Cornish’s op-ed, and received the following response from David Banks, the paper’s assistant commentary editor.

As I’ve written on occasion in explaining our general philosophy for the Readers Write content, we have three main goals: to provide insight; to reflect, on the whole, the nature of the sentiments we receive, and to produce a collection that’s engaging for readers. These goals, by their nature, can be conflicting.

To that I would add that the discussion that takes place in our letters column is an ongoing process — no one letter is the last word (and seldom the first) on any topic.

The topic of police shootings has been receiving a great deal of attention in the paper, including five letters to the editor on the day preceding Rep. Cornish’s publication. Whatever one may think of the Cornish letter, it reflects a point [of] view that is shared by a proportion of the people who write to us. Cornish’s leadership role is a factor, too — one I believe is especially pertinent for those who may disagree with his stance. Whether one is trying to develop a point of view or defend an existing one, isn’t it better to be aware of all of the sentiments that may influence public policy?

We fully anticipate publishing responses to the Cornish letter in the coming days. As always, our intent is to facilitate a full debate.