Policing in our nation and city must be drastically transformed. The unjust murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers put a spotlight on this urgent reality for people in our neighborhood, across the nation and around the world. Our goal is a JUST and SAFE city.
Structural racism permeates our society and its institutions and is at the foundation of our need to reform policing. I believe the people of Minneapolis agree with this judgment. I believe in action that is immediate, legitimate and enduring to transform public safety in our community. I do not agree with the city council’s proposed Charter Amendment to eliminate the police department because this will not address structural racism and it will not advance essential police reforms. In fact, the amendment is a distraction from the necessary work to address structural racism.
Public safety is a basic city service. The city council’s proposed charter amendment would fundamentally change Minneapolis city government. The city council sent this proposed charter change to the Charter Commission without a public hearing or any inclusive participation. It seems that the council is proposing this dramatic action to give the appearance that they are doing something. If the city council was genuine in their effort to transform policing they would support Chief Medaria Arradondo and his reform agenda. The council could achieve substantial police reform by pursuing the necessary changes in state and federal law, expanding the partnership with Hennepin County on vital public health programs and giving the chief the funding and tools he needs to do his job.
Hennepin County provides social welfare and public health services. It has the experience, expertise and existing programs that should be expanded to work with the Minneapolis Police Department. The city should not hire social workers and duplicate Hennepin County programs.
There are many urgent needs in our city. Structural racism must be addressed. The unemployed need jobs. People need job training and placement assistance. Businesses (many that were damaged and are owned by immigrants and people of color) need advice and financial support to rebuild and reopen. People with mental health needs require the treatment and expert staff assistance. The city needs to work with partners to provide housing that is truly affordable. The homeless need safe and healthy shelter. Let’s ask our city council to work on these urgent needs. Their charter change is not urgent and not necessary to address structural racism or transform our police department.
I oppose the council’s proposed Police Charter Amendment for several reasons:
1. It is premature. The amendment eliminates the police department without a plan. Before the citizenry is asked to vote on the elimination of the police department, the council should have developed their proposal for providing law enforcement, how they intend to implement their plan and a guarantee there will be a smooth transition without a break in public safety protection. Potential changes to our municipal government could be the focus of next year’s municipal election. The citizens would have an entire election season to discuss and debate municipal structure including the Minneapolis Charter.
2. It diminishes acountability. The amendment eliminates the responsibility and authority of the mayor and places oversight in a Director of Community Safety and Violence Prevention who would report to the council and mayor. The amendment states: If there is a Division of Law Enforcement Services, “The Director of Community and Violence Prevention shall appoint the director of the division of law enforcement services, subject to confirmation by official act of the city council and mayor.” This puts in place 15 bosses for a “potential” director of the division of law enforcement. This diminishes accountability to the citizenry, adds bureaucracy and makes policing decisions more distant from the citizens.
3. It makes no commitment to have a police department. The proposed charter change removes the current charter language: that the city council must establish, organize and otherwise provide for these departments …a police department. And replaces current language with: “The council may maintain a division of law enforcement services, composed of licensed peace officers, subject to the supervision of the department of community safety and violence prevention.” Under the new charter language there is no guarantee that there would be licensed police officers serving our city.
Finally, the council action states: “This ordinance shall take effect on May 1, 2021.” It is unbelievable that the city council could implement this structural change and advance police reform in about six to seven months. The council has promised that it would engage in a full year of consultation and deliberation with the people of Minneapolis. Has the city council backed away from that commitment? Wouldn’t it be better to have the city council listen to the people of Minneapolis before a charter change? Before changing our city government?
Recently a group of hundreds of concerned and engaged citizens – called Friends of Minneapolis – have come together to encourage a healthy and productive dialogue among community members and city leaders to ensure the steps we take towards police reform guide us to a safe and just Minneapolis for all. We encourage all our neighbors to meaningfully engage and participate in this discussion and decision-making, as it will shape the vitality and safety of our city for years to come.