Minneapolis Set to Vote on Dissolving Police Department

Minneapolis was a landmark last year after George Floyd’s brutal murder by police on a busy street corner sparked riots against racism and police violence that swept across the country. The marches and “reforms” following previous police killings in Minneapolis did not stop former officer Derek Chauvin from taking Floyd’s life in broad daylight, or prevent the deadly police-perpetrated shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in a northern Minneapolis suburb one year later. After decades of percolating among activists, calls to “defund” and “abolish” police entered the national conversation.

Minneapolis’ future in policing, public safety and law enforcement is up for grabs.

Minneapolis could make history again if voters on Election Day embrace a “comprehensive” approach to public safety that looks beyond the police, potentially creating a community-driven model for the rest of the United States, where Black people are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people, and where Latinx and Indigenous people also face deadly police violence at disproportionate rates.

Minneapolis voters will vote on Question 2, a ballot initiative by activists and organizers to amend the city charter to replace Minneapolis’ Police Department with a Department of Public Safety, on Tuesday. If passed, Question 2 would not immediately remove police officers from the streets or the city’s payroll. Instead, proponents say, Question 2 would kickstart the process of expanding the city’s approach to public safety — such as dispatching unarmed social workers to help unhoused people and sending de-escalation experts to domestic disputes — rather than relying on the “armed-police only” approach.

Question 2 would eliminate the requirement that Minneapolis have a minimum police force and replace the police chief by a public safety commissioner, who answers to both the mayor and the city council. The Department of Public Safety could include police officers “if necessary,” according to the amendment’s highly-contested language. The existing police force would be transferred into the new department by policymakers who use new staffing flexibility for building out alternative forces.

Ultimately, cops would no longer be needed for “situations where they do not have proper training,” such as a mental health crisis, or interactions with people sleeping outside for lack of shelter, accordingTo the Yes4Minneapolis campaign. Opponents call Question 2 a “national experiment for defunding and abolishing the police” with “no clear plan” for what comes next, a claim that supporters say is both misleading and designed to stoke fear.

“Conservative forces in Minneapolis are pouring literally millions of dollars into fear-mongering, telling people that there will be no police within 30 days of the amendment passing, which is false,” said Sheila Nezhad, a Minneapolis organizer and candidate for mayor who helped write the ballot question, in an interview with Truthout.

Currently, the state requires licensed police officers to perform specific duties. The charter amendment would not alter existing labor contracts with police, according a city. memo. Question 2 could allow Minneapolis police to be replaced with other public safety officers over time. This would allow the city to reinvest its resources back into its neighborhoods. Nezhad stressed that this must involve high levels community input.

“Nearly every single city in Minnesota has a department of public safety, not just police,” Nezhad said. “So, it’s sort of a bureaucratic shift in that way; it does open up big possibilities for us to fund these other strategies.”

Minneapolis is divided over the ballot question, which has raised deep questions about the validity of the vote. conditions in low-income neighborhoods that have led to gun violence on the cops’ watch,And why some people feel safer around police while others feel threatened. It’s also divided the four frontrunners in the race for mayor as leadership in the left-leaning city faces its latest reckoning over a string of police killings and brutality casesThat put the department under federal investigation.

Jacob Frey, the incumbent Mayor, is a Democrat who claims he’s been elected. worked to reformThe police department has been criticized by activists for opposing structural changes. Frey, who opposes Question 2, is challenged from the left by Nezhad and Kate Knuth, two candidates who support the new “comprehensive” approach to public safety. A.J. Awed, a progressive attorney and war refugee from the city’s Somali community, opposes Question 2 but has called for a “Citizen’s Assembly” to decide on a “new model of public safety.”

Progressives have united around Nezhad and Knuth, urging voters list both candidates on their ranked-choice ballots and leave Frey’s name off altogether. Rep. Ilhan Omar, the outspoken progressive Democrat from Minneapolis, has endorsed Nezhad and Knuth and a “yes” vote on Question 2.

Knuth is a former lawmaker in the state, an environmental advocate, and a climate expert. Nezhad was born from the coalition of social justice groups and unions such as Reclaim the Block, the Minnesota Youth Collective and the Minnesota Youth Collective that placed Question 2 on the ballot. A win for Nezhad and Question 2 would be a clear signal that voters in Minneapolis are ready to move beyond the “armed-police only” model.

Knuth and Awed didn’t respond to a request of comment. Frey’s campaign declined an interview and did not answer a list of questions in an email.

The Frey campaign’s internal pollingThe mayor leads Nezhad by 14 points with Knuth further behind. Frey has easily outraisedHis opponents were not impressed, but Nezhad stated that she has a dedicated ground crew knocking on thousands upon doors. Nezhad outperformed Frey in a runoff for the Minneapolis Democratic Farmer-Labor Party’s endorsement but did not reach the 60 percent threshold needed to win. Frey has the fundraising advantage ahead of Election day, but with the city’s ranked-choice voting system, the mayor could still lose if enough voters “don’t rank Frey.”

“I am the public safety candidate in this race,” Nezhad told Truthout. “I have spent years working as an organizer and as a policy analyst and budget analyst around community safety strategies and safety beyond policing in Minneapolis, and I have a demonstrated track record of being successful here in the city.”

Nezhad cites her work with Reclaim the BlockThe Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention was created by the, a group that was at the forefront of the police diverstment movement. They also secured $8 million funding from various sources. The municipal agency is an alternative to police and takes a public-health approach to street violence prevention, especially among youth. It recognizes that poverty, racism, and community divestment are all factors that contribute to violence. Frey claims that he has allocated $2.5 million to the city for violence prevention programs. The frontrunners in the race for mayor have focused their campaigns on improving housing.

The violence prevention office recruits “violence interrupters” to work on neighborhood teams to de-escalate conflict on the streets, a model that has proved effective at preventing gun violence in other cities. Nezhad said passing Question 2 would help these programs expand along with investments in “youth programing and youth jobs.” Dissolving the police department into a public safety office would also give people more options when they call for help.

“So, I have been thinking about this for quite a long time, and when [Question 2] passes, we will keep fully funded 911 and 311 response, but we will add more options,” Nezhad said.

Nezhad said the city now has four “mental health responders” who respond to emergency calls, but more are needed to serve an entire city. Minneapolis isn’t the only city that has this kind of emergency response. Cities across the country are creating teams of counselors and medics to help with mental health crises. The Minneapolis police abuse of people with behavioral impairments is being investigated by the Justice Department.

“So, scaling up that program, more domestic and sexual violence advocates, more violence, interrupters, more gun violence prevention specialists, all these kinds of increased options for response for the types of calls that police don’t need to be sent to, and for people who are afraid to call the police when they need help,” Nezhad said.

Question 2 opponents say dissolving the official police department is an “experiment,” but supporters say it is simply the first bureaucratic step toward reallocating resources and taking a more comprehensive approach to public safety. Nezhad describes her opponents as “pro-cop” and supporters as “abolitionist,” but her campaign is not calling for police to abolished — at least not right away.

“I think some folks want it to be the entire package of change, which if you look at the history of civil rights movements across issues, electoral politics is a small part of it, right?” Nezhad said. “Most of it is changing our collective consciousness and understanding and social contracts of how we treat one another and help one another.”

Nezhad’s rhetoric tacks closer to the “defund the police” protest slogan; the candidate said her city has cut funding to schools and social services for decades while pouring money into policing and jails. Nezhad believes that her city is ready to reverse the course of events. It will take time and a lot of community input.

Despite police repression and chaos after George Floyd’s death, people continued to protest and demand accountability from the city leaders. They also created networks of mutual help and discussed new visions of community safety. After a cop fatally shot Daunte Wright during a scuffle following a traffic stop in April 2021, Nezhad said people “kept coming out night after night” to protest as police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets.

“I mean, that’s why I’m running for mayor, because I’ve seen the widespread transformation on the ground,” Nezhad said. “People stepping up to take care of one another to protect our communities and boldly and fearlessly protests injustice, and our elected officials have failed to meet the moment.”