Community Groups Weigh In on Minneapolis Police-Reform Amendment

Minneapolis Police Union President Lt. Bob Kroll speaks during a 2018 news conference in Minneapolis. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Abolishing or reworking the Minneapolis Police Department received broad-based acclaim from commentators at a Wednesday night public hearing for a city charter amendment that would enable it, but the amendment itself was a little more controversial.

The Minneapolis Charter Commission is the first hurdle for the council’s plan to rework public safety in Minneapolis. 

A proposed amendment would remove the requirement for a mayor-commanded police force with a minimum employee-to-resident ratio of 0.00017 and establish a separate Community Safety and Violence Prevention department under the city council’s authority. 

That amendment needs to pass muster with the commission in order to secure a spot on the ballot, and do so in double-time to be voted on this November.

Wednesday’s meeting, the first of two, had over 200 people sign up to make one-minute comments, many of whom were stymied by technical difficulties. 

Of the approximately 190 commenters who made it through to say their piece, the majority were supportive of the amendment, but some said it did not go far enough or dismissed it as a power grab by the Minneapolis City Council. A few denounced the idea of police abolition entirely and others decried its timing.

“I’ve seen the MPD’s contempt for our communities taken out on the bodies of my students,” Cynthia Gomez, a teacher and resident of Powderhorn Park, the neighborhood where George Floyd’s deadly arrest took place. “They can’t help themselves even when the cameras are rolling. What are we supposed to do with a toxic force rotten with racist and white nationalist elements, even if there are some good cops?”

Several members of Reclaim the Block, a Black-led community organization which has called for the defunding of MPD since its foundation in 2018, testified in favor of the amendment. Lex Horan told the commission that the police have been running out the clock on reforms.

“MPD has fought to grow its budget year after year by claiming that this is gonna be the year that they’ll build trust with the community, by hiring co-responders, implementing a new training, under the leadership of a new chief,” she said.

“And then, seven weeks ago, MPD murdered George Floyd. We can’t keep giving MPD one more chance to build trust. We need to transition to systems that build trust because of what they do, and not in spite of it. And right now, the charter is standing in the way of this tremendous change that’s needed.”

But some members of Minneapolis’ Black community, including activists Al Flowers and Nekima Levy-Armstrong, a 2017 mayoral candidate, said the amendment had been put together without consulting the Black community.

“Do not be bullied by these antics where they’ve got a hundred people calling in,” Flowers said. “Do not bow down to the pressure of all these white people calling.”

The meeting was held online, with commenters phoning in their comments to a blank screen and largely silent commissioners. Struggles with the phone system plagued the meeting as callers repeatedly asked if commissioners could hear them or dropped off entirely.

Abolitionist Jess Linden pointed out that the council’s proposed amendment didn’t guarantee any actual defunding. 

“The proposed amendment gives us a fill-in-the blank, and just wants us to trust that it’s the change that we’ve been looking for,” she said.

Linda Galloway agreed. 

“It does nothing but give some power to the city council, who we cannot trust, because they are the ones who could have done something about it, the mayor could have done something about these killer cops, and they didn’t,” she said. “We need specific language that actually puts power in the hands of the people to hold killer cops accountable.”

A few other callers mocked abolitionists. Dale Hume, a North Minneapolis resident, signed off with “Alexa, give me the number of a private security firm.”

Meanwhile, several advocates asked why the charter commission was a necessary step at all, and expressed concern that some commissioners, whose duty is to determine whether the amendment is fit to go on the ballot, had been publicly arguing against its merits. 

One commenter also took note of commissioner Al Giraud-Isaacson’s confusion of the two black men on the City Council, Phillipe Cunningham and Jeremiah Ellison in a tweet last week. Giraud-Isaacson quickly offered a public apology to Cunningham.

“I’m a white Southwest Minneapolis resident who had no idea that a unanimous, veto-proof vote by the city council could run up against such a secretive, unelected and unrepresentative body as the charter commission,” June Tiemann said. 

If the amendment does not go on the ballot, she added, “I think it’s possible that many voters, like me, will want to figure out how we can change the Minneapolis Constitution to remove secretive, unelected, unrepresentative bodies like the charter commission.”

Giraud-Isaacson, in a tweet after the hearing, attempted to demystify the commission. 

“How did I find out about the secret society of the Charter Commission?” he wrote. “It was easy. I searched “Minneapolis Boards and Commissions” found the city web page listing them all and applied.”

Another public hearing is scheduled for July 21. If the commission delays past Aug. 21, any charter amendment votes will have to be delayed until 2021 at the earliest.

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