Minneapolis voters reject proposal to defund police after George Floyd murder

The shows the city’s on policing after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, which touched off national civil rights protests

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 03 November 2021 02:12
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Minneapolis voters have rejected a proposal that would have radically restructured the city’s police department and replaced it with a new, non-violence focused public safety agency. It was a closely watched campaign in the nationwide conversation around whether to “defund the police”.

On Tuesday, voters in the city decided on what is known as Question Two, an amendment to the Minneapolis city charter that would eliminate a provision requiring a minimum number of police officers, and replace the MPD, now overseen by the mayor, with a new Department of Public Safety overseen jointly by the mayor and city council. The Associated Press projected that the question failed shortly after 10pm ET.

A lot has changed in Minneapolis since May 25, 2021, when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest over a counterfeit $20 bill.

In the year-and-half since, the city, and country, has seen unprecedented racial justice protests. The city saw the high-profile trial of Chauvin, who became the first on-duty white officer in Minneapolis history to be convicted of murder. The Minneapolis Police Department has become the subject of a Department of Justice investigation into biased police practices.

Backers of the question, which was kept off city ballots last year amid procedural wrangling, argue it will open the door to a more holistic approach to safety focused on health services and equity, while giving the community more control over a police department shown in numerous analyses to target Black and brown people for disparate treatment and violence, all while facing virtually no meaningful discipline.

“We’re now known worldwide as the city that murdered George Floyd and then followed that up by tear-gassing folks who were mourning,” mayoral candidate Sheila Nezhad, a former street medic during 2020’s racial justice uprising in Minneapolis, told The New York Times. “The message of passing the amendment is this isn’t about just good cops or bad cops. This is about creating safety by changing the entire system.”The region’s most high-profile leaders of colour, including congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and Minnesota Attorney General and former US representative Keith Ellison, both back the proposal.

But the plan to replace the MPD was far from beloved, in and outside the communities of colour in Minneapolis it is focused on protecting.

A September poll from a consortium of news organisations including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, and KARE 11, found that 55 per cent of registered voters don’t want to reduce the size of police force, including 75 per cent of Black voters. However, nearly 50 per cent of those same voters favour replacing the MPD, including 42 per cent of Black voters.

Minneapolis’s mayor and police chief, as well as top Democrats like Minnesota governor Tim Walz and US Senator Amy Klobuchar, oppose the measure, arguing that it isn’t the best path to secure the reform they all share a desire to see.

“When everybody’s in charge, nobody’s in charge,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who ran on a police reform ticket and is up for re-election, told Politico in September. “I think that would dramatically diminish accountability. It would reduce clarity of command.”

He added that, since Floyd was murdered, “There’s a ton of changes that have been made. Now, they’re specific, they’re technical. And you can’t fit them into a hashtag.”

Much has happened across the city since Floyd was killed when it comes to policing, and backers and opponents of the measure both have reason to be alarmed.

For those who seek to deeply change the Minneapolis police department, they point out how too little seems to have changed. Only one Minneapolis police officer was formally disciplined for misconduct during the 2020 protests and riots, even as officers fired riot control weapons at journalists and roughed up numerous demonstrators. It’s a sign to them that business as usual has continued, even though Minneapolis is controlled by liberals who promise police reform. The city has paid out $70 million in police misconduct suits in the last 20 years, while rarely disciplining officers. Derek Chauvin had a lengthy list of complaints for excessive force before he killed George Floyd.

However, violent crime has plagued the city throughout the pandemic, with Minneapolis on track to break its homicide record set in the 1990s, when it was known as “Murderapolis,” leading some community leaders to question the wisdom of potentially taking more officers off the street.

Nearly 300 Minneapolis police have left the force since the George Floyd protests, with many claiming PTSD, and MPD chief Medarria Arradondo recently said the department has the lowest number of officers available to respond to 911 calls he’s seen in three decades.

Tuesday’s vote will show where Minneapolis stands, after it made headlines last June when a veto-proof nine members of the city council stood onstage in a city page, above a sign that said “Defund the Police,” promising to, in the words of Minneapolis council president Lisa Bender, “end policing as we know it and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.”

Since the George Floyd protests, a number of liberal cities like Los Angeles, Austin, Denver, and Oakland have moved to redirect millions in police funds to community development efforts like housing and violence prevention.

Polling suggests most Americans don’t support defunding the police, though the concept has a wide diversity of meanings to different reformers, and conservative advocates have linked the idea to the nation’s rising crime rates in recent months, even though experts say there isn’t evidence that the defund movement is causing those spikes.

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