In Blow to "Defund" Movement, Minneapolis Residents Vote Against Replacing the City's Police Department

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A volunteer urges community members to vote yes on ballot question two outside of a polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Minneapolis.
A volunteer urges community members to vote yes on ballot question two outside of a polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Minneapolis.

A volunteer urges community members to vote yes on a ballot question offering an alternative to the city's police department outside of a polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Minneapolis. Credit - Christian Monterrosa—AP

Despite widespread criticism of their police department and its conduct, voters in Minneapolis have decided they do not want a new model of public safety implemented in their city.

During Tuesday’s city elections, voters’ ballots included a question asking them if they want to replace the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) with a new department of public safety, which would take a “public health approach” to addressing safety issues.

56% of voters (80,506 people) rejected the ballot question.

“This should be a wakeup call to politicians who want to simply abolish and defund police department. Police officers were their communities and place public safety and justice for crime victims at the forefront of their daily actions,” a statement from the Minnesota Police & Peace Officers Association reads. “Let’s work together for increased safety for all, instead of pursuing reckless policies which only empower criminals.”

“Regardless of tonight’s outcome, there’s broad agreement that Minneapolis residents want more tools for public safety. There’s also consensus that the status quo is not an option. We are urgently waiting for action by the Department of Justice to hold the Minneapolis Police Department accountable, and will not stop organizing for change,” Brooke Adams and Elianne Farhat, of TakeAction Minnesota, a part of the People’s Action organization, said in a joint statement.

Read more: America’s Policing System Is Broken. It’s Time to Radically Rethink Public Safety

Since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of former MPD officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, activists, reformers and community leaders in the city have been widely seen as at the forefront of the “defund the police” movement, which aims to reduce police departments’ budgets and instead invest funds into communities and neighborhoods directly, to address wider sociocultural inequities that are seen as impacting crime rates. There is also the argument that “defunding” means abolishing police departments outright, but this is a position receiving much less mainstream support.

In the immediate aftermath of Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis city council announced that it would disband the police department. The decision soon came under fire from community members as well as the larger political establishment and was eventually scrapped after being voted down. $8 million was cut from the MPD police budget last year, but that only amounted to around 4% of its $179 million budget.

“This campaign began with working-class Black and brown residents marching together to demand a higher standard of public safety in the city. It grew into a city-wide movement that spanned race, income, and neighborhoods, to give residents a say in their future and to advocate for the resources that they need,” Corenia Smith, the campaign manager for Yes 4 Minneapolis, said in a statement. “While this is not the result that we hoped for, the story of our movement must be told.”

Even with the efforts from activists on the ground to explain how the process of “defunding” could work, there still appears to be a disconnect on the meaning(s) of the term and its implementation. In the political arena, the term has been widely weaponized and used to stoke concerns over crime. In and after the 2020 election cycle, in particular, disagreements within the Democratic party were also apparent, with moderates—and pundits—arguing the issue had impacted their successes in swing suburban districts.

“It’s been clear since the beginning that the political establishment was going to do everything they could to undermine this campaign including lying, spreading misinformation, and attempting to block this vote from happening in court,” Adams and Farhat said in their joint statement.

Read more: How Are Activists Managing Dissension Within the ‘Defund the Police’ Movement?

Since Floyd was killed, Minneapolis (and many other cities across the country) has experienced an increase in gun violence. Over 500 people have been injured by gunfire in the city—a 26% increase from last year according to the MPD. There have also been 79 homicides this year in the city as of Nov. 3, compared to 80 that happened all of last year.

Activists in Minneapolis are not letting the loss slow them down, their hope is that they can continue to build on the work they’ve done in the past year and a half to attempt to better combat this violence.

“We changed the conversation about what public safety should look like. We showed the country and the world the power of democracy and the power of the people. Now, we will work to hold leaders and the system accountable. We will work to heal our city and create safer streets for all our communities,” Smith said in her statement.

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