The Minneapolis Police Department must be reckoned with


Opinion Writer and Opinion Editor

Since the uprising following the murder of George Floyd, the conversation around policing in the United States has been split wide open, as have the political divisions in this country, and Minneapolis has become ground zero in this fight. As such, we have a unique opportunity to set the stage for a radical, new approach towards public safety that other municipalities and states can emulate.  Some are calling for reform of the police institution, while others call for the complete abolition of the police.  A joint coalition by these two factions has been struck around Ballot Question 2, which states the following: Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety?

While the coalition website states that in no way does it advocate defunding or abolition, its vision puts less power in the police department’s hands and more power into the hands of the mayor, city council, and their proposed department of public safety. The amendment would also allow the city to reduce the number of police officers in the city.

Indeed, abolitionist organizations like the Black Visions Collective and its sister organization Reclaim the Block are part of this coalition and are a leading force around reimagining a world without policing. According to abolitionist and Black Visions Collective organizer Julia Johnson, “We need to chip away at the power the police have and give it to the people…193 million dollars to patrol Black and Brown people…we need to take that money and put it in social services that address the root causes of violence and crime in our communities. We need mental health services, job advocates, housing advocates and violence de-escalators.”

Black Visions, with other organizations, has established many people’s assemblies to have deep conversations within the community about reimagining what public safety in Minneapolis could look like.  Assemblies start with a political education presentation emphasizing the historical role of police as slave patrols and enforcers of the theft of native lands. They also highlight the 20th century Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) which focused on surveilling and destroying communist groups and political organizations of color such as the Black Panther Party. The assemblies then move into discussions of what our communities need more and less of to feel safe and how people already keep their communities safe without police. 

Yet despite these efforts, large swaths of people are not in favor of abolishing the police.  A KARE 11/MPR News/Star Tribune/FRONTLINE Minnesota Poll found that 49% of voters favor replacing the police with a commission of public safety. The position differs along unlikely racial lines: 51% of white voters support replacing the department, while only 42% of Black voters support the amendment. When asked if Minneapolis should reduce the number of police in the city, support was as low as 29% collectively with white and black people again differing 29% and 14% respectively. For many people living in North Minneapolis, concerns around gun violence and the deaths of young people in our community are salient, and talk of police abolition for many is perceived as tone-deaf. Father of two, Northside resident and high school social studies teacher Tom Lachermeier had this to say about the gun violence in the community and his opposition to Ballot Question 2“In the last six months, two families…have had to leave North Minneapolis because of trauma that they have experienced, their kids have experienced because of gun fire. One friend…they had bullets go through their window and miss their nine-year-old son by a few feet…I am very against it [Ballot Question 2]…Everyone I talk to in the community…they are very against the idea because they do not feel safe with less police.” 

Additionally, the subject of police abolition has faced some division in the state supreme court.  While one district judge said that the wording for defunding the police on the ballot “failed to describe the effects of a proposed charter amendment adequately,” Chief Justice Lorie Gildea stated that she hopes to impede the start of voting on said charter amendment sooner than later, despite concluding that the challenge to the ballot did not meet the “standard” that the court had set in previous cases.  

Minnesotans insisting upon a swift plan of action are having their patience worn thin by political indecision. They aren’t desperate but feel a sense of urgency to ensure that power is transferred from the Minneapolis Police Department to an as-of-yet unnamed public safety plan. Many reformers and abolitionists alike agree that a change needs to happen. Minneapolis residents should make their voice heard on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 2.  No matter the outcome, the fight over policing in Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota, and in the country at large is just beginning.