Council members stood shoulder to shoulder in the city park, adorned with two huge words: “Defund the police.”
A few days earlier it was George Floyd murdered by a Minneapolis police officer a few streets away, sparking mass protests across the country. Hundreds of protesters have now gathered in the park. They wanted rights. They wanted responsibility. They wanted reform.
“We should and can eliminate our current Minneapolis police system,” Councilor Alondra Cano said at the time.
On Tuesday, more than a year after Floyd’s death, voters in Minneapolis will decide whether to replace the city’s police station with a new public safety department, which could lead to similar actions in cities around the world. state.
If voters confirm, the police administration and the office of its leader would be removed from the city charter and the minimum funding requirement would be removed.
The new department, which could still include police officers, would be headed by a commissioner nominated by the mayor and appointed by the city council.
The language of the vote does not specify what the new department would do or how it would operate specifically. Many of these questions will be answered by the mayor and city council if action is taken. Funding for the department would still come from the city, and the total amount, as it is now, is determined by elected city officials.
Residents of Minneapolis, where the number of violent crimes has risen recently, have been arguing for months over whether to support another issue.
Most here agree that the police need to change – it’s impossible to watch a video of Floyd’s last breath and think differently, critics say – but they are divided on how this should happen, especially after national demonstrations that even demanded departmental reform. as they angered many police officers who felt unjustifiably burdened.
It is a debate that has divided the Democratic politicians who have the most political power in Minnesota and its largest city. Progressives such as U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar and the Attorney General. General Keith Ellison, who successfully prosecuted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the Floyd assassination, supports the measure.
“We now need to talk more than ever in Minneapolis about how we can have security and human rights, both a sense of security and hope,” Ellison wrote. recently Minneapolis Star Tribune op-ed. “The vote to amend the charter gives us this opportunity.”
Moderate Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Tim Walz, oppose the move, as do Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a re-elected Democrat, and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
Speaking at a news conference last week, Arradondo said that “voting on a measure to re-introduce public safety without a solid plan and implementation or direction of work is too critical a time to want and hope for the help we so desperately need.” desperate at the moment. “
For much of the past year, Frey and Arradondo have advocated extensive policy changes, including a ban on police chokes or neck restraints and a requirement for police officers to intervene if a colleague uses inappropriate force.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation earlier this year into the training, tactics, and discipline of the Minneapolis Police Department.
“It will take time and effort for everyone to build trust between the community and law enforcement, but we are tackling this task with determination and urgency, as we are aware that change cannot wait,” she said. That’s when General Merrick Garland said.
September Star Tribune poll of the 800 likely voters found that 49% supported the replacement of the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety department, while 41% opposed it. Ten percent were undecided.
Early voting began in September.
Jamar Nelson, 43, who lives on the predominantly black north side of Minneapolis, understands why some people want to re-create the city’s public safety system: He still wears a scar after being beaten in 2000 by police who broke into his apartment.
“I was against the police for a long time,” he said.
Nelson is a member of the local group A Mothers Love Initiative , working with families of gun victims.
While he supports police reform, as well as a way to tackle the mental health crisis, he fears what could happen if the measure is taken.
He recently noticed several shootings, robberies and traffic violations in his neighborhood – “pure lawlessness,” he said. A friend lost her only son in a shooting at a store.
Nelson attributes the growing crime to fewer and fewer police forces: the department has been reduced to 588 officers, about 300 less than Floyd’s murder, and all the remaining officers are not patrolling. Some left the ward because of post-traumatic stress disorder due to unrest after Floyd’s death and because of low morale in the ranks.
“It’s ridiculously scary,” Nelson said.
But others in the city believe rapid change is needed.
DA Bullock, 51, a documentary filmmaker who also lives in northern Minneapolis, supports the second question.
He noticed an increase in violence, but said police “were never at hand”.
In 2019, someone shot at a neighbor’s house – a “big and traumatic” moment for many in the neighborhood, he said. Police arrived in about 15 minutes and filmed the area, but did not seem interested in information from neighbors.
About a month ago, Bullock was driving home at night when a man shot a gun in the air. Bullock stopped and watched. An upset man jumped into the car and drove away. The officer then slowly drove past, turned on the light and drove away.
“I feel like northern Minneapolis has always been treated with a kind of contempt – as if it’s our fault that we live there,” Bullock said.
According to him, it seems to him that the police want the residents to feel stressed, as if they are living in chaos, so they will vote against the amendment out of fear.
“It’s a deliberate contempt for the people who live in the city,” he said. “To try to show us how much we need them and how much we should never dare ask.”
Lee reported from Los Angeles, and Winter, a special correspondent, from Minneapolis.