Plan to replace Minneapolis PD worries many Black residents

MINNEAPOLIS (AP), Marques Armstrong was just getting out of the shower when he heard gunshots coming from his Minneapolis backyard. After ducking, he ran upstairs and checked on his wife, then looked out to find a car moving away.
It was a sad and routine event on the predominantly Black north side of the city. This reaffirmed Armstrong’s opposition to Tuesday's ballot proposal to replace the city’s police department with a minimum number of officers in a new Department of Public Safety.

Everyone agrees that we want police to be held responsible and fair policing. Armstrong, a Black activist and owner of a mental health clinic and clothing store, stated that no one has suggested we should get rid police. There needs to be a massive overhaul, but there must also be some community safety.

Tuesday's ballot proposal will go to voters. It is rooted in the Abolishing-Police movement, which erupted last year after George Floyd was shot and killed by a Minneapolis officer. It has received strong support from young Black activists, who were mobilized after Floyd's death, and from some Black residents throughout this liberal city.

People of color living in high-crime areas of the city fear that a sharp drop in police officers will make them more vulnerable to violent crime.

The national debate about racial justice and policing, which erupted following Floyd's passing, has drawn attention to Tuesday's election as well as the river of outside-state money that sought to influence an outcome that could lead to change elsewhere.

It has been a bitter campaign. Opponents attacked the ballot question for being vague and lacking a plan for what happens after it passes. Opponents are ignoring concerns about a decline in police presence and the possibility that Medaria Arradondo (the city's Black police chief) will resign if the initiative is passed. Supporters claim opponents are exaggerating these fears. His two main opponents, Mayor Jacob Frey and Medaria Arradondo, are urging supporters to vote against him in the city’s ranked-choice system.

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Arradondo, the first Black chief of the city, has urged voters not to approve the proposal. He had previously said that any element that would allow City Council members to have more control over policing was too much.

Raeisha Williams is an activist with Guns Down Love Up. She said that she believes the plan supporters are mostly white residents who haven't been subject to police misconduct or the violence Black residents are experiencing on the north side. In 2018, her brother Tyrone was killed in a shooting at the site.

Williams, who is Black, stated that it seems like we aren't being heard and they are taking over a movement again and making it theirs.

JaNa Bates was one of the Black young activists who led the effort to pass the ballot proposal. She said that her group tried hard to include all voices. Bates stated that more than 1,400 signatures for the petitions to place the measure on the November ballot were from residents of the north.

Bates stated that their efforts to inform the public about the initiative involved knocking on doors in north Minneapolis to hear from those most affected by safety concerns.

"Weve been very intentional because these residents are tired of accepting police brutality or community violence as the status quo," Bates stated.

Steve Fletcher (a white City Council Member who supports replacing the Police Department) said that there is support and opposition from all parts of the city.

He said that a lot people recognize that they cannot be the same city that killed George Floyd, didn't grow or change."

The ballot question proposes a new Department of Public Safety that will take a holistic public safety approach to the delivery of functions. This would be decided by the mayor and City Council. Fletcher and others support the idea, arguing that it offers a chance for us to reimagine public safety and how we spend our money. Supporters often point out that funding programs don't send armed officers in crisis situations.

Fletcher stated that nobody is proposing to decrease our investment in public security. "We propose to change how we invest in public safety, and in the end I believe we are investing more in public security than ever before.

As violent crime is increasing in the city, this change is being considered. According to crime data from the online police department, there have been approximately 80 homicides in Minneapolis this year. 35 of these were on the north. Three children were killed, one of them while jumping on a trampoline during a birthday party. It could be close to the 1995 record of 97 murders, which earned the city the name Murderapolis.

This trend is compounded when the city has 300 fewer officers than its authorized force of 808. It is partly due to officers who claim post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after Floyd's death and the unrest that followed.

Jerome Rankine is a Black resident of Kingfield on the city's more affluent southwest. He strongly supports the amendment. Rankine also serves on the board of his neighborhood association. He believes that dropping the city's requirement for a minimum amount of officers would allow for innovative ideas to improve policing.

He said that because of the way our city charter was set up, we don't have the ability to make those ideas a reality. I vote yes because it is a vote to remove the barriers to change and allow these creative ideas about how our policing system could be improved.

Last week, Rankine's board voted in favor of the public safety issue. He stated that his neighborhood was divided over the issue. "There aren't monoliths that cut across lines. There is no opinion that cuts across lines of race.

He said that if we are part of a movement against police violence, then I believe everyone should be welcomed in that movement. Over the past several years, we have witnessed Minneapolis police kill people. They also took the lives of people of all races and backgrounds. I believe there should not be any barriers to joining the movement.

Bishop Divar Kemp, New Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church is back on the city's northern side. He said that the ballot question comes up daily at his church. He stated that the police department must be changed but that the current proposal is too dangerous.

He said, "We need the police -- there's no other way to say that."


Mohamed Ibrahim is a Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps member. Report for America, a non-profit national service program, places journalists in local newsrooms so they can report on undercovered topics.