Minneapolis has triggered a nationwide toll. Now he’s putting “defund the police” to a vote.


Democrats have been divided nationally on whether the pressure to “define the police” seriously damaged their electoral prospects in 2020 or had no effect at all. It’s a debate that’s going on in almost every major city in America.

“After George Floyd, the world literally turned its gaze to Minneapolis. The pressure was high, ”said Robin Wonsley Worlobah, community organizer and city council candidate. “Really, we see what a legacy we are creating as a result of George Floyd. What are we going to do for the future of public safety? Because what we’re doing here, we know it will impact other cities.

As part of the Yes 4 Minneapolis initiative, the Minneapolis Police Department would be replaced with a Public Safety Department, eliminating the minimum number of officers per capita required by the city and replacing some with social workers, mental health experts and crisis managers – effectively funding local police by reallocating funds to other municipal departments.

The city council and the mayor would share oversight of the new department, deciding the extent of the role the police – who would be newly classified as “peace officers” – would play. These changes would mark a significant control over the power of the mayor, as Frey currently has full control of the department’s funding, staff, and leadership.

Proponents of the measure see the dramatic overhaul as a necessity – one that precedes Floyd’s death. For starters, the city charter amendment requiring a minimum number of police officers has been in place for 60 years. And, pointing to the shooting death in 2015 of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, and the shooting of Philando Castile in 2016 in the nearby town of St. Anthony, those pushing the amendment note that the basis for the protests against law enforcement tactics last summer was planned well in advance.

In April, the Justice Department said it would continue an investigation into the models or practices of the Minneapolis Police Department following the murder of George Floyd. The Justice Department will focus on the department’s use of force patterns and assess whether it disproportionately targets black and brown residents.

Despite this backdrop, Democrats in the predominantly liberal city – and across the state – do not universally support the amendment. Governor Tim Walz and Senator Amy Klobuchar both oppose the amendment, criticizing it as too ambitious in the face of rising crime rates in the city and too ill-defined to succeed.

Waltz told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in August that the amendment was better suited as a statewide voting initiative, rather than unique to Minneapolis.

Frey, who is running for his second term as mayor, is also opposed to the measure of the ballot. In his view, the provision that would place the power to reform – or abolish – the police in the hands of city council is particularly problematic.

“When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible,” Frey said in an interview. “I think that would reduce the liability considerably. This would reduce the clarity of command.

Frye expressed support for aspects of the amendment that allow social workers and mental health experts to respond to certain emergencies. But he offers his own plan for law enforcement changes that reshape the police service from within, through peer training and stricter guidelines on the use of force.

The mayor said his take on police reform was based on a heavy weighting of black and brown residents of Minneapolis, many of whom have supported police reform efforts but remain wary of funding or to abolish the police. And Frey was quick to tout his support for reform, citing a 40% increase in the use of body cameras and a ban on warrior-style training for officers on and off duty during his tenure.

“There are a ton of changes that have been made,” Frey said of Minneapolis’ approach to policing following Floyd’s death. “Now they are specific, they are technical. And you can’t embed them in a hashtag.

Bill Rodriguez, an ally of the Frey administration, co-founded Operation Safety Now group last summer to oppose the police fundraising movement. Now that the ballot amendment has gained momentum, his group has regained political fervor.

“There are very few people, not only in this city, but I think that across the country, it would be against the reform of the police, it would be against denying that there has been systemic racism,” he said. said Rodriguez. “I think what they want, however, is well thought out public policy that has actually been well defined and well designed. And that is not the case with what we see here at Yes 4 Minneapolis.

Activists dismissed Frey’s reforms as too piecemeal and dismissed critics of Yes 4 Minneapolis as fear-mongering. Organizers in favor of the amendment sought to clarify that they were not aiming to abolish the city’s police department the Yes 4 Minneapolis site (recently renamed “Yes on 2” to reflect the location of the amendment on the ballot) indicates that the amendment does not abolish or fund the police.

“People want to have these debates about ‘defund-versus-not-defund, or’ defund-or-pro-cop. These are such misinterpretations of the real conversations about what this charter change does, ”said JaNaé Bates, organizer and spokesperson for Yes 4 Minneapolis. “If you say ‘fund the police’ to 10 different people, you’ll get 10 different answers about what that really means. “

Replacing the current structure with a Department of Public Safety, Bates said, would rid the city of an outdated model and more fully protect communities from crime by allowing more experts to respond to emergencies that do not require always law enforcement.

Activists who support Yes 4 Minneapolis say current version of amendment is clear how a new Ministry of Public Security would operate under the tutelage of the city council.

“Community members have been clamoring for this solution in order to extend public safety for decades. And they always come up against the same brick wall as to why they can’t do it, ”Bates said. “This is how we remove this brick wall. “

In their efforts to gain support for the ballot amendment, activists have attempted to establish a direct correlation between Frey’s leadership and the outsized role law enforcement plays in Minneapolis. Hundreds of activists booed him from a rally in 2020 after berating the Minneapolis Police’s fundraising demands. He finally increased police budget for the city for fiscal year 2021, restoring the department’s funding to its pre-Floyd murder level.

They see the timing of the election – roughly 18 months after Floyd’s murder – as an opportunity to make the election a referendum on Frey’s term as mayor and the future of police in Minneapolis.

“I think it’s critical that our decision-makers have seen what it looks like on the streets,” said Sheila Nezhad, an organizer who helped lead the protests last summer and is now one of Frey’s main challengers. , with support from Run for Something and Minnesota’s Young. Democratic Peasants Labor Party. “Mayor Frey probably never choked on tear gas.”

Previous unsuccessful efforts to reform the city’s police department highlight the tumultuous politics – and confusion – surrounding the ballot amendment. In June 2020, a majority of city council members signed a pledge to dismantle the police department, but the initiative failed in September after a number of them failed. have strayed from their commitments.

As activists called for police funding and abolition, some city council members interpreted their demands to mean they simply wanted to reallocate some police funding to community initiatives.

“We were responding to what we heard from voters, we were responding to calls for something more transformational than what has been promised in the past,” said Lisa Bender, outgoing city council chairperson who supports the ballot amendment. . She added that the advice was “Entering a leadership vacuum” created by Frey’s administration.

Just getting the amendment on the ballot this fall was half the battle: it was challenged in Minnesota courts before its final clearance Thursday by the state Supreme Court.

Jeremiah Ellison, son of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, is a member of city council running for re-election in Ward 5, one of Minneapolis’ predominantly black neighborhoods. He said his constituents have expressed concern over his support for the amendment. They say police reform is needed – a sentiment shared by a majority of black Americans – but a major font overhaul is a bridge too far for many of them.

“You have all these people in the middle, who just want to see their neighborhood improve, who just want to see their neighbors safe,” Ellison said. Many of his constituents are “sort of stuck in the middle [of] have to decide between, “am I going to listen to people who give me a lot of nuance?” Or am I going to listen to people who scare me? ‘ And, you know, fear is quite a motivator.

Many fear that the first failed attempt at “definancing” last year is a sign that the Black Lives Matter movement is losing ground, as evidenced by the decline in public opinion towards the movement. In June, a majority of Americans expressed the belief that BLM protests for the responsibility of the police got little effective change.

But these perceptions are not the only obstacle to the passage of the amendment. Several opposition groups have invested thousands of dollars in advertising campaigns against the measure and also in the war coffers of like-minded candidates.

And the ongoing struggles by the organizers of the Amendment to clarify what the Amendment would do in practice made it difficult to justify a police overhaul in the face of a surge in crime in Minneapolis. The Yes 4 Minneapolis canvassers said they encountered some resistance from voters.

Supporters of the amendment attribute the confusion to disinformation campaigns linked to organizations opposed to Yes 4 Minneapolis. Education and training of voters, these supporters say, is their main focus in the last month before the November 2 vote.

“The power has always been there. The only difference now is that the world is watching us and seeing how we are doing, ”Worlobah said. “Or are we going to back down?” “

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