Minneapolis residents on Tuesday will vote on a hotly contested ballot question to decide the future of policing in their city — whether they want to replace the police department altogether with a department of public safety or keep things as they are. The choice comes just six months after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd in May 2020.
The proposal, petitioned by the advocacy group Yes 4 Minneapolis, would alter the city’s charter to no longer require a police department with a minimum level of funding and instead use a “comprehensive public health approach” to nonviolent crime, which may include peace officers.
“Our movement demands our city leaders move toward a comprehensive, higher standard in public safety, where qualified professionals, like mental health responders and social workers, as well as police, can work to make all our communities safer,” the group notes on its website.
Minneapolis police did not return multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News.
The new department would not be led solely by the mayor’s office, but instead in a partnership of the mayor’s office and the 13-member City Council.
For proponents of the move, such as Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and state Attorney General Keith Ellison, urgent change is needed in a city that has made national headlines due to police killings of residents several times before, including Jamar Clark in 2015 and Justine Ruszczyk in 2017.
“We have an opportunity, once and for all, to listen to those most impacted by police brutality and the communities who have been demanding change for decades,” Omar, who represents Minneapolis in Congress, wrote in a Star Tribune opinion piece two months ago. “We have a mandate, in the wake of George Floyd's murder, to deliver a public safety system rooted in compassion, humanity and love, and to deliver true justice. I hope we fulfill it.”
Ellison called the proposal a “first step of action.”
However, many residents opposed to the reform question its efficacy, saying it lacks direction and clarity. What does a community on pace this year to surpass a record year of violence in 2020 look like without a traditional police department? They believe it sets a dangerous precedent that could be duplicated nationwide.
“This wouldn’t have saved George Floyd’s life,” Nekima Armstrong, a prominent local civil rights lawyer, activist and longtime Minneapolis resident, told Yahoo News. “They’re doing this in his name, but in that situation the store owner would have still called the cops.”
Armstrong says she wants change in her city as much as anyone, but feels this proposal lacks the accountability needed and gives the impression that no one will be in charge.
“There hasn’t been enough research and no engagement with the Black community for this,” she said. “Then claiming this is for BIPOC communities? This raises a lot of red flags. We want to ensure high-quality services and end police being able to kill people with impunity. … The folks on the ground did not ask for this.”
Current Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who leads a crowded 17-person mayoral ticket ahead of Tuesday’s election, has opposed any changes to the police department since mere days after Floyd’s murder. He’s also against this latest proposal.
"If you look at what this does do, and what this does not do, there are no police reforms built into this charter amendment," Frey told the USA Today Network. "There are no items of reform, police reform, policy change or accountability built into this."
A poll by local media outlets in September found that 49 percent of residents favored the ballot measure, with about 41 percent opposed in the majority Democratic city, setting the stage for a showdown at the ballot box.
Some activists say that other than Chauvin’s conviction, little has changed in the city since Floyd’s murder nearly 18 months ago. And this proposal, to them, is not where to start.
“Neither the state nor the city has made any real changes that would prevent another George Floyd-type killing from occurring again,” Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, told Yahoo News. “We brought forward nine bills in the last legislative session, and only one was passed. Elected officials are just not willing to address policing issues in any meaningful way.”
Minneapolis has implemented some changes since Floyd’s murder, including the allocation of more funding toward mental health services and adjustments to some of its police training. But critics say it’s not enough.
Crime continues to be a growing issue. Through September of this year, homicides were up 16 percent in comparison to the same time a year earlier, robberies were up 5 percent, and aggravated assaults had increased nearly 3 percent, according to city data.
But now the city’s police department, once guilty of endangering the safety of the community, is facing a reckoning of its own on Tuesday. Voters will decide if the future of Minnesota's largest city includes a police department or needs a different approach.
“After all we went through, we deserve the best option for the city,” Armstrong said. “Not boxed into a false dichotomy of voting between no and yes.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images, Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via Getty Images
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