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Minneapolis City Council Says It Will Disband Police Force

Minneapolis Police officers enforcing an overnight curfew on May 29. Photo: Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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Less than two weeks after the killing of George Floyd, nine of the 12 members of the Minneapolis City Council — a veto-poof majority — have pledged to disband the Minneapolis Police Department. “Decades of police reform efforts have proved that the Minneapolis Police Department cannot be reformed and will never be accountable for its actions,” the group announced at a rally on Sunday. “We are here today to begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department and creating a new, transformative model for cultivating safety in Minneapolis.”

Though the council members insisted they were “taking immediate steps toward ending” the MDP, it’s not yet clear what the process will entail, how long it will take, or what the end result will be for the city of 431,000 people. The group offered no timetable or specifics about what it would do. One council member said it would “abolish the Minneapolis Police system as we know it.” Another said the goal was to “end policing as we know it and re-create systems that actually keep us safe.”

Amid the nationwide unrest following the death of Floyd, protesters around the country have been demanding that cities defund or abolish their police forces under the rationale that systemic, institutionalized racism has left departments beyond reform. Instead, advocates have called for reallocating the funding used for law enforcement to other government agencies and to resources for communities of color.

The outcry has started to get some results. On Sunday morning in New York City, embattled Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to reallocate some of the NYPD’s $6 billion budget to youth initiatives and social services — though he did not offer specifics. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced last week that he would reallocate as much as $150 million from the police force’s budget to other programs. Neither mayor’s pledge come anywhere near the scope of what may now happen in Minneapolis, where the police force had already faced serious criticism, regarding both the treatment of people of color and addressing serious crime, long before four of its officers killed George Floyd two weeks ago. The Appeal noted on Sunday:

For years, activists have argued that MPD has failed to actually keep the city safe, and City Councilmembers echoed that sentiment today during their announcement. MPD’s record for solving serious crimes in the city is consistently low. For example, in 2019, Minneapolis police only cleared 56 percent of cases in which a person was killed. For rapes, the police department’s solve rate is abysmally low. In 2018, their clearance rate for rape was just 22 percent. In other words, four out of every five rapes go unsolved in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis City Council members had sent signals they would try to disband the city’s police department amid the aftermath of Floyd’s death. But Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey has made it clear he doesn’t agree. On Friday, Frey announced new reforms for the MPD, including a ban on using choke holds and increased transparency around disciplinary decisions regarding officers. But when the advocacy group Black Visions led a protest to Frey’s house on Saturday, called him out, and asked him if he supported abolishing the police, he said he did not and was booed away.

The next day, the nine City Council members took to the stage at a protest in Powderhorn Park to express their solidarity with Black Visions. They received a standing ovation.

As far as what comes next, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

While some council members have provided hints of what the changes might mean — sending mental health professionals or social workers to respond to certain emergencies, for example — the group did not present a single, unified vision for how they would replace policing in Minneapolis.

Organizers with Black Visions said they too don’t have all the answers about what would replace the police department, but they said police can’t be reformed through initiatives like training and body cameras. This is the beginning of the process of putting together a “police-free future,” they vowed, by investing in more community initiatives like mental health and having community members respond to public safety issues.

In a conversation with Code Switch last week, Brooklyn College professor and The End of Policing author Alex S. Vitale argued that the commitment to, and process of, looking for those answers was the point:

I’m certainly not talking about any kind of scenario where tomorrow someone just flips a switch and there are no police. What I’m talking about is the systematic questioning of the specific roles that police currently undertake, and attempting to develop evidence-based alternatives so that we can dial back our reliance on them. And my feeling is that this encompasses actually the vast majority of what police do. We have better alternatives for them.

Seeking alternatives to a traditional police force is not unprecedented, either, with Camden, New Jersey, being one notable example of a smaller city that has embraced the idea. And there is support nationwide for alternatives to the police when it comes to handling drug use and mental-health crises, and several cities have tried that, as the Appeal also pointed out:

Law enforcement officers are not equipped to be experts in responding to mental health crises, often leading to tragic results — nationally, about half of police killings involve someone living with mental illness or disability. As a result, public health experts have long advocated for dispatching medical professionals and/or social workers, not armed police, to respond to calls related to substance use and mental health. Polling from Data for Progress indicates that more than two-thirds of voters — 68 percent — support the creation of such programs, versions of which are already in place in other cities such as, Eugene, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Denver, Colorado. 

But in Minneapolis, Mayor Frey — who is up for reelection next year — maintains that transforming the police department is better than getting rid of it. “People continue to require service in many forms from our public safety offices, whether in times of domestic violence, or assistance in some of the most dire conditions,” Frey told the Star Tribune on Sunday, and expressed his “tremendous faith” in the MPD’s first black police chief, Medaria Arradondo, to carry out a restructuring.

Minneapolis Councilmember Linea Palmisano — who attended Sunday’s rally where her colleagues made their pledge to disband the MPD, but did not join them — said she opposed making “a promise at all costs,” but did not oppose the idea. “I’m not here to sign a pledge,” she told the Star Tribune. “I am here to talk about alternatives to policing. I took an oath of office. I pledged to uphold the safety of our city, and by that I mean, everybody in our city, and that means different things to different people.”

Minneapolis City Council Says It Will Disband Police Force