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When a school principal married a Minneapolis cop, it shifted their perspectives — and gave them hope

Mauri Friestleben won’t watch the video of George Floyd’s final moments.

She leans on her husband — a retired Minneapolis Police lieutenant — to view viral videos of police killings. She trusts his perspective.

“I’ve never been able to watch any of them,” Friestleben said. “He’ll tell me honestly that, ‘It might be hard to watch that one. But as a police officer, I don’t have a problem with that shooting.'”

But in May 2020, the officer in the video was wearing the same uniform that her husband, Lt. Mike Friestleben, wore before he retired.

“I handed him my phone. So, he watches it, comes back in, gives me the phone and he says, ‘I think I just watched a murder,'” said Mauri Friestleben.

“The optics are no different than slave optics 200 years ago, with hangings and burnings and things like that,” said her husband. “It’s just different technology, different weapons.”

Mike Friestlebein, who is White, met Mauri, a high school principal, in 2016 when Mike warned her to put the school into lockdown because a gunman was in the area. Mike came by in person to ensure everyone was safe. There was chemistry between the two, and they married the following year.

Mauri Friestleben is the daughter of a White mother and Black father.

The couple lives in Brooklyn Center, about one mile from the police department. That department made headlines this month when a Brooklyn Center Police officer, who has since resigned, shot and killed an unarmed Black man, Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop. The officer was charged days later with second-degree manslaughter.

Following Wright’s death, protests and the sound of flash-bang grenades kept the Friestlebens awake at night.

A print of Norman Rockwell’s painting of Ruby Bridges hangs in the family room where the couple watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, convicted of murder in Floyd’s death. The picture shows 6-year-old Ruby, the first Black student to attend her New Orleans elementary school, being escorted by federal marshals in 1960.

There’s also another Norman Rockwell, “The Runaway,” which shows a police officer and a little boy dining at a lunch counter. The child depicted in that iconic image had run away from home. Mauri Friestleben said the pictures illustrate the relationship she has with her husband.

When watching the Chauvin trial, Mauri Friestleben said her husband had a tactical perspective, and her response was “more emotional.” These veterans of law enforcement and education say both systems are rooted in racism but can work together to become stronger, as they have.

“Being married to Mike during these difficult times makes me believe that there is hope and there can be hope. I’m not hopeless,” she said.

Mike Friestleben said marrying Mauri changed him.

“It’s opened up my eyes to things that even I didn’t see. It’s just opened up my eyes a little wider,” he said. “It’s been helpful.”

Less than 24 hours after Chauvin’s murder conviction, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis. The Friestlebens say they embrace the investigation.

“Can it be fixed? Absolutely, but you got to start changing the way you police,” Mike Friestleben said. “We all swore, we swore, we swore to protect other people before ourselves.

“You have to really get back to original policing like when you were on the foot beat.”

It’s a practice Lt. Friestleben implemented until the day he retired. Many in the community knew him by name. In fact, his relationships with members of the community helped him solve crimes. He recalls a time when a community member provided him cellphone video of a suspect police were trying to locate.

Mauri Friestleben said she sees hope in the struggle.

“I think to myself, there have to be more Mikes around, and if there’s more Mikes around, then we can do this, she said.

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