Voters Reject Policing Overhaul in Minneapolis — But Activists Aren’t Deterred

Voters rejected a ballot measure to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a larger list of public safety agencies. It came after a campaign that was marred in fearmongering, misinformation, and other biases. But, a loss at polls does not mean that police reformers or racial justice activists are being sent back to the drawing board.

Activists believe there are still many avenues for reforming the public safety system in Minneapolis. The murder of George Floyd by police in 2020 sparked a rebellion against state violence and forced the nation face the reality of systemic racism. The police department is still under federal and state investigation for civil rights violations. Alternatives to policing are being developed both within the city government and through grassroots organization.

The Black-led coalition behind this amendment spoke with tens of thousandsorganizers claim they have changed the conversation by changing the conversation about public safety in the lead up to the vote. Miski Noor, codirector of Black Visions Collective in Minneapolis, a power-building group for Black queer, trans, and people in Minneapolis, said that it was no small feat to get more than 60,000 votes in support of the amendment.

“Folks are actually talking about public safety, and folks understand that public safety goes beyond policing, and that is a huge shift in consciousness from last year,” Noor said in an interview on Wednesday. “We are not starting from scratch — 60,000 people believe in a new vision of public safety, and that number is only going to grow here in Minneapolis.”

Despite supporters stating that the amendment would have made it impossible for Minneapolis police to disappear, the amendment would have passed. Instead, the proposed amendment would have changed the city charter to remove a requirement that the city keep a minimum number of police officers in proportion to the population. It would also have combined the embattled police force into a new Department of Public Safety that offers a wider range of services.

Activists and progressive Democrats such as Rep. Ilhan Omar say this police “quota” is a barrier to holding police accountable for violence and providing people with more options when they call for help, a crucial goal for activists in a city where trust between communities of color and police has repeatedly been broken. Reformers want funding flexibility and staffing flexibility to allow the city to hire a wide range of public safety personnel, including mental health counselors and medics who can treat drug overdoses.

“It’s actually making necessary structural change in order to actually meet people’s needs and provide the level of care they require, instead of consistently criminalizing or incarcerating people or killing them when police show up,” Noor said.

Question 2, a failed ballot amendment, defined the race to unseat Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Frey opposed Question 2 as well as efforts to change the governing structure so that the police chief would answer directly to the city council and not only to the mayor. Frey held on to his office but only received 43 percentof first-choice votes in a ranked-choice election. Frey defeated Question 2 supporters Kate Knuth by 56-44 margin. This is the same margin as the vote on Question 2. Frey came in second place in the first round rank-choice voting. Sheila Nezhad was a queer organizer, who was born from the coalition behind Amendment 2.

Minneapolis voters approved a measure on the ballot that will allow city officials to set rent controls. Meanwhile, St. Paul voters have capped rent rises at 3 percent. The election was won by progressives, with the exception of public safety. the success of the ballotVoters recognize the interconnectedness of both issues by approving measures. Minneapolis and elsewhere are pushing for investments to improve community well-being, including in housing, parks, schools, and other resources.

Elianne Farhat, director at TakeAction Minnesota, which canvassed voters to support the amendment, said that change-makers can still push forward for new investments and supports that improve public safety, despite Question 2. The city is also awaiting the results of dual investigations by the Department of Justice and the Minnesota Human Rights Commission into alleged abuses by the Minneapolis Police Department, and Farhat said the findings could increase pressure on city council and the mayor to pull the police “quota” from the city charter.

“We have a city budget, and it will be important to continue to make sure our city is investing in the things we know keeps people safe,” Farhat told Truthout. “We know that the MDP will continue to fail the people of Minneapolis, and we will continue to work to building alternatives to policing and building community-first public safety infrastructure, and make sure we are investing in our people.”

These alternatives are already being offered. Thanks to efforts by Nezhad and other activists — and with support from Frey — Minneapolis established in 2018 an Office of Violence Prevention that takes a public health approach to neighborhood conflict and violence among youth in particular. Neighborhood teams of “violence interrupters” attempt to resolve conflict and interrupt cycles of violence, rather than relying on police to respond after people get hurt.

Noor pointed out a grassroots project called Relationships Evolving Possibilities (REP), a network of “dedicated abolitionists who show up to support others in moments of crisis or urgency” while respecting the dignity of people in crisis. The group is currently piloting an alternative to calling the police. It connects people with community resources and responders who are trained in conflict de-escalation and first aid.

Noor said such grassroots efforts and the campaign to shift city resources into a public safety department were founded by Black people and led by Black women and queer and trans folks who have “experienced lots of violence at the hands of police.”

“These are communities that really have felt the brunt of policing and so yes, trust has been broken in so many ways, and this is part of the fight that we are inside of to create something new,” Noor said. “Folks hear that abolition is just about tearing things down, but it’s really about building things up and building new supports for one another to be able to survive and hopefully thrive as well.”

Question 2 divided the Black community within a city that has a history of racist and fatal policing. There were some activists. arguing the amendment was too vaguePolice must be held accountable. Others feared that opening up to a reduced police force would make Black neighborhoods more vulnerable. This sentiment was encouraged by an opposition campaign that made big changes appear faster than they would actually be.

Noor said the campaign for and against Question 2 was about “fear vs. hope,” echoing researchers who say fearmongering about “crime” and “violence” is an age-old tactic deployed whenever the legitimacy of police is questioned. Police and their backers have defended the grip they have on city budgets. debunked narratives tying homicides during the COVID pandemic — and on the cops’ watch — to Black Lives Matter protests and reforms that have yet to pass.

Opponents attempted to stoke fear about the prospect of moving beyond the status quo, but Noor remains hopeful about the future after mobilizing 60,000 “yes” votes and giving Mayor Frey a run for his money.

“The scariest thing is continuing to try something that is not working, which is the status quo, which is continuously murdering Black people,” Noor said.