MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – On a hot summer afternoon, Latrell Snider and his partner knocked on Abdullahi Mohamed’s door, introduced themselves, and delivered their speech: Minneapolis, they said, has a chance to replace its police department with something new, and they wanted Mohamed’s. support for.
With his children watching from the living room window, Mohamed reacted cautiously, saying that he likes the police and depends on them to keep his family safe. When Snider assured him that a new public safety department would still have a police unit but would do things differently, such as answering some 911 calls without armed officers, Mohamed was encouraged.
“I think it would be a better idea,” he said.
More than a year later George Floyd’s death sparked a failed effort to abolish the Minneapolis Police DepartmentActivists and several City Council members are trying again, with a well-funded initiative that would ask voters in November if the department, belittled by critics for what they say is an enduring culture of brutality, should be dismantled.
Instead, there would be a public security department employing a “comprehensive public health approach” and authorized peace officers “if necessary.” The new department would no longer be under the sole command of the mayor’s office, which is significant given that current mayor Jacob Frey opposes the abolition of the police department, while a majority of City Council members support the idea. .
More than 30 local groups are pushing for change under the banner “Yes 4 Minneapolis.” They gathered 20,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, almost double the amount needed, and raised about $ 1 million, including $ 500,000 from the Open Society Policy Center, which has ties to billionaire George Soros.
“What we knew as public safety, which is just the police at this point, the only option we have, was unacceptable,” said Brian Fullman, lead organizer for one of the groups, the Barbershop and Black Congregation Cooperative. “The murder of George Floyd ignited a lot of historical pain and disrespect for what we have been going through, and we made the decision that we no longer wanted to have what we have now as the only option for public safety.”
Most members of the City Council began pushing to eliminate the police department shortly after Floyd’s death., but they did not meet the deadlines for it to be put on the ballot last November. The Rev. JaNaé Bates, leader of the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, said the ease with which the campaign gathered signatures shows that the momentum for change continues to exist more than a year after Floyd’s death.
“The residents of Minneapolis really were the ones who made the call for this, who said, we can’t let this lesson that took place in the summer be a thing of the past, and then what? We just wait for the police to kill the next person? she said.
Minneapolis, like most other major US cities, has been on edge due to the rise in violence and property crime in almost every neighborhood over the past year. And the police department is more than 200 officers, or about 25%, below its authorized number mainly due to a wave of retirements and disability losses following Floyd’s death.
Both factors have energized opponents of the initiative. Todo Mpls, a new group that has raised more than $ 109,000, will begin campaigning against the proposal in the coming weeks with door knocks, community events, billboards and digital announcements throughout the fall.
All MPLs campaign manager Leili Fatehi called the proposal to eliminate the department “a gimmick.” He said many residents want police accountability and changes in the department, but they are also concerned about the rise in crime.
“It is not leading us to the real solutions that balance those two concerns,” he said.
Opponents also say the ballot question does not guarantee that a new public security department will have police officers. Instead, he says officers would be included “if necessary to fulfill the department’s duties.” Bill Rodríguez, co-founder of Operation Safety Now, called the proposed amendment a “Trojan horse” and warned that the ultimate goal of the campaign is to abolish the police.
“The amendment doesn’t say there will be a police force, it says there could be, maybe, if necessary,” he said. “That is the most important thing to understand about this amendment.”
It’s one of several aspects of the ballot question that city officials plan to highlight with an explanatory note in November. Activists are trying to block such a note, arguing that the city is improperly trying to influence voters.
Regardless of how the ballot question fares, the city remains under pressure to make changes. The police department is the target of federal and state investigations into police practices, and both investigations could force widespread change. In addition, the Mayor and Chief Medaria Arradondo have implemented several policy changes since Floyd’s death, including calling for new de-escalation training, reviewing restrictions on the use of force, and strengthening the process. disciplinary.
Details of what a new public safety department would look like are scant, but Bates said that’s intentional, to involve city residents in the process. If the amendment passes, the council members would first have to pass an ordinance to establish the new department, explain how it would work, and how its commissioner is selected. It is unclear how long such a process would take.
Ed Brown, 69, heard Snider’s speech on the doorstep of his north Minneapolis home in July. Brown, who is black, told The Associated Press that a new department of public safety seems like a good plan. He believes that would mean that police officers are no longer sent on some calls for which they are not equipped and which may otherwise end in violence.
“What we have to do is reinvent the police department,” Brown said.
“I mean, not necessarily withdrawing funds, but maybe in some cases even giving them more money if they are going to do the right thing with it,” he said. “We have to have the right answers for the right situations.”
Mohamed Ibrahim is a member of the staff of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on uncovered topics.
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