The fate of Minneapolis police is in the hands of voters

MINNEAPOLIS – A few days after a policeman assassinated George Floyd , protesters gathered outside Mayor Jacob Frey’s home to demand the...

MINNEAPOLIS – A few days after a policeman assassinated George Floyd, protesters gathered outside Mayor Jacob Frey’s home to demand the end of the Minneapolis Police Department. The mayor said no. The crowd responded with taunts of “shame!” “

On Tuesday, nearly a year and a half since Mr Floyd’s death threw Minneapolis at the center of a heated debate over how to prevent police abuse, the city’s voters will have a choice: whether the police department of Minneapolis is replaced by a Department of Public Safety? And Mr. Frey, who ruled the city when Mr. Floyd was killed and parts of Minneapolis set on fire, should he keep his job?

Minneapolis has become a symbol of all that was wrong with American policing, and voters now have the opportunity to go further than any other major city to rethink what law enforcement should look like. But in a place still reeling from Mr Floyd’s murder and the unrest that followed, residents are deeply divided over what to do next, revealing how difficult it is to change the police even when most people agree that there is a problem.

“We are now known around the world as the town that murdered George Floyd and then we followed that up with tear gas that weeping,” said Sheila Nezhad, who decided to run for mayor after working as street doctor during the demonstrations, and who supports the proposal to replace the police service. “The message of passing the amendment is that it’s not just about good or bad cops. It’s about creating security by changing the whole system.

Many residents have a poor view of the Minneapolis Police Department, which before Mr. Floyd’s death made national headlines for the 2015 Jamar Clark murder and the murder of 2017 Justine ruszczyk. In recent weeks, an officer from Minneapolis has been accused of manslaughter after a fatal high-speed chase and, in a separate case, body camera video emerged showing officers making racist remarks and appearing to celebrate hitting protesters with non-lethal bullets. A local media poll last month found that 33 percent of residents had favorable opinions of the police while 53 percent had unfavorable opinions.

Despite this reluctance, the predominantly Democratic city is divided on how to move forward. Many Democrats and progressive activists are pushing to reinvent the government’s entire approach to security, while moderate Democrats and Republicans worried about rising crime say they want to invest in policing and improve the current system . In the same poll last month, 49 percent of residents were in favor of the ballot measure, which would replace the police department with a public safety ministry, while about 41 percent did not.

The divisions extend to the top of the Democratic power structure in Minnesota. Representative Ilhan Omar and Keith Ellison, the state attorney general, support the replacement of the police department. Their fellow Democrats in the Senate, Amy Klobuchar and Tina smith, oppose it, as did Mayor Frey.

“I deeply know that we have problems,” said Frey, who said his message of improving but not funding the police resonated with many black voters, but not with white activists. “I also deeply know that we need the police. “

Since the murder of Mr. Floyd, many major cities, Minneapolis included, invested more money in mental health services and experimented with sending social workers instead of armed officers for some emergency calls. Some departments have reduced road checks and minor arrests. And several cities have slashed police budgets amid the nationwide appeal for funding, though some have since funding restored in response to rising gun violence and changing policy.

In the days following Mr. Floyd’s death, as protests erupted across the country, Minneapolis became the center of a push among progressive activists to fund or abolish the police. A veto-proof majority of city council quickly committed to dissolve the police. But that initial effort to get rid of the police pulverized, and “defund the police” has become a political attack line for Republicans.

If the ballot measure passes next week, there would soon be no more Minneapolis Police Department. The replacement agency would focus on a public health-to-safety response, with increased city council oversight and a new reporting structure. And while almost everyone expects the city to continue employing armed police, there would no longer be a minimum staffing level required. The wording of the ballot said that the new Ministry of Public Safety “could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary.”

Supporters of the measure, which would change the city’s charter, have strayed widely from “defund” language, and there is little agreement on what the amendment might mean in practice. Some see it as a first step towards the eventual abolition of the police, or a way to reduce the role of armed officers to a small subset of emergencies.

But other supporters of the amendment, including mayoral candidate Kate Knuth, said they would actually add more officers to a new public safety department to make up for the large number of resigners or leave since. the murder of Mr. Floyd.

“It’s clear that people want to be confident that we have enough officers to do the job that we need them to do,” said Ms Knuth, a former state legislator. “But the goal is public safety. Not a specific number of police officers.

Concerns about police misconduct persist in Minneapolis: this year, the city responded more than 200 complaints.

But concerns about crime also shape much of the conversation, and although Minneapolis voters are considering replacing the department, city officials have offered to increase the police budget by $ 27.6 million. , or 17%, essentially restoring the previous cuts. At least 78 people have been killed in the city this year, and 83 people have been killed last year, the most since the 1990s.

“Minneapolis is in a war zone – it’s an ongoing war where your children are not safe,” said Sharrie Jennings, whose 10-year-old grandson shot dead and seriously injured in April while being dropped off with a family member. “We need more police.

For his part, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo urged voters to reject the amendment, saying it does not give a clear idea of ​​what public safety would actually look like if the police department were to disappear.

“I wasn’t expecting some sort of solid, detailed, word-for-word plan,” Chief Arradondo said at a press conference this week. “But at this point, frankly, I’d take a drawing on a napkin.”

Some black leaders have touted the amendment as the work of well-meaning but misguided progressive white residents whose views are shaped by the relatively safe neighborhoods in which they live. About 60% of Minneapolis residents are white.

AJ Awed, another challenger to Mr. Frey, said he agreed that police in Minneapolis needed to be overhauled and that the current system was detrimental to black residents. But he said he didn’t like to see white residents angry over Mr Floyd’s death rushing to get rid of the police department, describing it as “a cover because you feel guilty about it. that you saw”.

“We are very sensitive to the delegitimization of our security apparatus,” said Mr. Awed, who is part of the large American Somali community in the city, and whose family fled to the United States after a breakdown in the security system. public security. “The police are a fundamental structure of society. “

Not everyone sees it that way.

Minneapolis remains deeply shaken by what has happened over the past 18 months: the video of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck. The looting, arson and police repression that followed. The months of on-board windows and helicopters flying above us. Then the trial this year of Mr. Chauvin, who was convicted of murder.

For some, confidence in the police has been irreparably eroded.

Demetria Jones, 18, a student at North Community High School, said she plans to vote for the amendment and has grown more suspicious of officers since Mr Floyd’s death.

“I didn’t realize how much they didn’t care about us and care about our lives until I watched this video,” Ms. Jones said.

Among black residents, who make up about 19% of the population, the struggle for the amendment has exposed a generational gap. Many older leaders, some veterans of the civil rights era, oppose it, while younger activists were largely responsible for the campaign that collected signatures to put the amendment to a vote.

Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights lawyer and former head of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP, opposes the amendment, saying the language is too vague.

“When you think about the history of policing in the city of Minneapolis and how so many of us have fought over the years to raise awareness, to push for policy changes,” Ms. Levy said Armstrong, “It doesn’t make sense to me at this point that there is no written plan.

One evening last week, Matthew Thompson, 33, was holding his baby in Farwell Park in North Minneapolis. He had been an early supporter of the proposals to fund the police and had expected to vote for the amendment. But when he recently dropped his young son off at daycare, he learned that the windows in one of the employees’ car had been smashed by a stray bullet and he had heard more gunshots at night, did he declare.

All of this has left him unsure of how he will vote on Tuesday. “I’m still really in conflict over this,” he said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The fate of Minneapolis police is in the hands of voters
The fate of Minneapolis police is in the hands of voters
Newsrust - US Top News
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