ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Amid a weekend of protests against racism and police brutality in the Twin Cities and around the world, several members of the Minneapolis City Council announced their intent to dismantle the city’s police department.
Nine of the council’s 12 members — a veto-proof majority — appeared at a rally Sunday to discuss their plans.
“Our commitment is to do what’s necessary to keep every single member of our community safe and to tell the truth — that the Minneapolis police are not doing that, Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said. “Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, to end policing as we know it, and to re-create systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.”
Discussions of dismantling or disbanding Minneapolis Police Department have circulated widely around the Twin Cities throughout the week. Bender and councilmembers Jeremiah Ellison, Phillippe Cunningham and Steve Fletcher were early advocates for the end of the department, citing its long history of racism and excessive force complaints.
The discussion has put them in conflict with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who campaigned on and enacted a platform of increasing police funding despite council resistance.
On Saturday, Frey was shamed into leaving a protest after he refused to commit to disbanding the police.
At the thousands-strong protest led by the Black Visions Collective in the city’s north side Saturday afternoon, the group’s founder Kandace Montgomery asked Frey: “Yes or no: will you commit to defunding the Minneapolis Police Department.”
“We don’t want no more police. Is that clear?” she said. “We don’t want people with guns, toting them around in our community, shooting us down. Do you have an answer? It is a yes or a no.”
After Frey replied that he does not support the “full abolition of the police department,” he was shouted away from the scene.
“Go home, Jacob, go home,” the crowd chanted, followed by “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
Frey is up for reelection in 2021.
Those who support cutting the city’s police department budget — or disbanding the department entirely — argue that money saved on police department hardware, training and manpower, along with the city’s long parade of settlements to injured citizens or their families, could be put toward improving social programs while police duties are reallocated to other departments or organizations. Opponents are skeptical that the police could sufficiently be replaced by community investment alone.
Frey was not the only public official targeted at protests over the weekend. Black Lives Matter organizers joined the Students for a Democratic Society and the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar at the downtown St. Paul office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison late Friday afternoon to demand widespread police reform and the reopening of investigations into all police-involved killings.
Ellison took over the murder case against Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck May 25 for almost nine minutes, May 30. Since then, Ellison has announced aiding-and-abetting charges against three other officers and upgraded the murder charge against Chauvin from third to second-degree. The group gathered outside his office, one organizer said, to let Ellison know that while he was doing well so far, they were watching him.
Ellison and his successors may soon have a still larger role in prosecuting police killings: the Minnesota County Attorneys Association voted Thursday to recommend giving the Attorney General’s office authority to take on all cases of police-involved killings.
That move is one of many big changes being discussed in Minnesota’s justice and policing systems. In the last two weeks several institutions have cut or reevaluated their ties to the Minneapolis Police Department, including Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, the University of Minnesota and local arts institutions like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and First Avenue — the state’s most famous music club.
Dorsey and Whitney, one of the city’s largest law firms, also announced an end to a program in which its associates gained experience by working pro bono to prosecute misdemeanors for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
The Minneapolis City Council voted Friday to ban police from using chokeholds and neck restraints, including the one Chauvin used on Floyd. The council also discussed a variety of other measures meant to increase transparency in conjunction with a state investigation into the police department.
“We have tasted victory,” Sarah Martin of Women Against Military Madness said at a protest Friday evening in St. Paul after the city council’s vote. “But this is only the beginning.”
“Don’t let them give us a few minnows when we’re out here marlin hunting,” demonstrator Paul Johnson said. A friend of his, Travis Jordan, was killed by Minneapolis police in January of 2019 when they responded to a call from Jordan’s girlfriend in which she reported that Jordan was suicidal.
Demonstrators at the Friday protest, which covered the better part of three city blocks, had widely varying views on what they wanted from the powers that be.
Some students advocated to disarm the University of Minnesota Police Department, arguing that a gun-free campus should not have armed police. Many demonstrators called for total police abolition. Others were reform-minded.
“There has to be systematic change. Something top-down, bottom-up on how we train officers, how we equip our communities to handle situations where there’s racial disparity,” said Andrew Harrison, a teacher at St. Paul Public Schools. “There’s never going to be a silver bullet to this. And it’s going to take generations to really fix everything. If this is going to be the catalyst, let it be the catalyst.”
All broadly agreed on one thing: they would get nothing without a fight.
“We played by their rules, and we waited,” Jason Heisler told the crowd, recounting the story of his black, autistic son’s 2019 killing at the hands of police in the suburb of Brooklyn Center. Police shot Kobe Heisler while responding to a domestic call his grandfather had made, despite the fact that the grandfather asked dispatchers to cancel the call. Even as a white man himself, Heisler said, he struggled to get a straight story out of police.
“George Floyd was murdered by cops taking a knee,” Heisler said. “We don’t need cops taking a knee. We need change.”
After several speeches, the group marched to the Capitol, watched closely by the St. Paul Police Department and National Guard. Downtown St. Paul is built on hills and bluffs, and protest leaders struggled to keep up their chants as they climbed toward the empty building that seats Minnesota’s government.
St. Paul police kept relatively cool as leaders led the marchers in a chant of “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-FUCK 12,” a long-winded variation on a shorthand for “fuck the police” that has peppered walls and dominated protests since Floyd’s death on May 25.
“Fuck 12, that’s right, and fuck the legislature, too,” one woman shouted into a microphone. “It took us practically burning the fucking city down to show them that we need change.”