The plan to replace Minneapolis PD worries many black residents

Marques Armstrong had just come out of the shower one morning in the fall when he heard shots appearing to be coming from his Minneapolis backyard. After ducking, he ran upstairs to check on his wife and daughter, and looked out to see a car driving away.

It was a depressing routine incident on the city’s predominantly black north side that confirmed Armstrong’s strong opposition to a proposal in Tuesday’s vote to replace the city’s police department – and a required minimum number of officers – with a new Department of Public Security.

“Everyone says we want the police to be held accountable and we want fair police work. No one has said we need to get rid of the police,” said Armstrong, a black activist who owns a mental health practice and a clothing store. “There has to be a big overhaul from the bottom up, but we need some form of social security, because over here, shots are fired day and night.”

The vote, which goes to voters Tuesday, has roots in the abolitionist police movement that erupted after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year. It has drawn strong support from younger black activists who were mobilized by Floyd’s death, as well as from some black and white residents of this liberal city.

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Many colored people living in the city’s most crime-ridden areas say they fear a steep drop in the number of police officers will make them more vulnerable amid a dramatic increase in violent crime.

The debate over racial justice in the police, which erupted after Floyd’s death, has brought national attention to Tuesday’s vote, as well as a flood of money outside the state trying to influence an outcome that could also shape change elsewhere.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo addresses the media regarding the proposed charter change that would replace the police department, during a new conference in St. Louis.  Mary's Greek Orthodox Church, Wednesday, October 27, 2021 in Minneapolis.  (Elizabeth Flores / Star Tribune via AP)

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo addresses the media regarding the proposed charter change that would replace the police department, during a new conference in St. Louis. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church, Wednesday, October 27, 2021 in Minneapolis. (Elizabeth Flores / Star Tribune via AP)

The campaign has been bitter. Opponents have attacked the ballot paper issue as a guard with no concrete plan for what comes after passage. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposes the ballot question, faces a fierce re-election campaign in which his two top opponents urge their supporters to let him stay from their ballots in the city’s ranked electoral system.

Arradondo, the city’s first black chief, recently urged voters to reject the proposal after previously saying an element that would give city councilors more oversight of the police would be “completely unbearable.” He has bypassed questions about whether he would stay if it goes through.

Raeisha Williams, an activist with Guns Down Love Up, said she believes the plan’s supporters are mainly white residents who have not experienced police dishonesty or the violence that black residents see on the north side. Her brother, Tyrone, died in a shooting there in 2018.

“It’s as if our voices are not being heard – they are hijacking a movement again and making it their own,” said Williams, who is Black.

JaNaé Bates, one of the young black activists leading the movement to adopt the election proposal, said her group worked hard to take all votes into account. Bates said more than 1,400 of the roughly 20,000 signatures on the petitions to get the measure on the ballot came from northerners.

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Bates said their efforts to inform people about what the initiative would do involved knocking on the doors of homes in northern Minneapolis to hear the voices of those most affected by public safety issues.

“We have been extremely deliberate because the residents of these neighborhoods are tired of accepting the status quo, both around police brutality and community violence,” Bates said.

Steve Fletcher, a member of the white city council that supports the replacement of the police department, said there is both support and opposition to the plan from all areas of the city.

“I think a lot of people just recognize that we can not be the city that killed George Floyd and did not grow or change,” he said.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA, USA - MARCH 7: Protesters march through the city during a silent march in memory of George Floyd a day before the jury selection for the trial of former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin begins in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA on March 7, 2021. George was killed by former police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. The trial against former officer Chauvin begins Monday, March 8, with jury selection.  (Photo by Christopher Mark Juhn / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA, USA – MARCH 7: Protesters march through the city during a silent march in memory of George Floyd a day before the jury selection for the trial of former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin begins in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA on March 7, 2021. George was killed by former police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. The trial against former officer Chauvin begins Monday, March 8, with jury selection. (Photo by Christopher Mark Juhn / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The voting issue calls for a new Department of Public Safety to take “a comprehensive public health approach to the provision of functions”, which will be determined by the mayor and city council. Fletcher and other supporters argue that it is a chance to recreate what public safety can be and how money is being spent. A frequent example from supporters is funding programs that do not send armed officers to summon people in crisis.

“No one is proposing to reduce our investment in public safety,” Fletcher said. “We are proposing to change the way we make these investments, and in the end I think we are ultimately investing more in public safety than we have ever done.”

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The change is proposed as violent crime in the city increases. There have been about 80 homicides in Minneapolis so far this year – 35 on the north side, according to online police crime data. Three victims were children, including one who was shot while jumping on a trampoline at a birthday party. The city was able to approach the record of 97 homicides in 1995 when it drew the nickname “Murderapolis”.

Minneapolis police descend on the block-long stretch of Lake St.  in Uptown just before sunset to dismantle the barricades that protesters raised Tuesday night, June 15, 2021 in Minneapolis (Jeff Wheeler / Star Tribune via AP)

Minneapolis police descend on the block-long stretch of Lake St. in Uptown just before sunset to dismantle the barricades that protesters raised Tuesday night, June 15, 2021 in Minneapolis (Jeff Wheeler / Star Tribune via AP)
(Jeff Wheeler / Star Tribune via AP)

This trend is amplified by the fact that the city is down by about 300 officers from its authorized force of 888, in part due to officers claiming post-traumatic stress disorder after Floyd’s death and the unrest in the city that followed.

Jerome Rankine, a black resident of the Kingfield neighborhood on the city’s more affluent southwest side, strongly supports the change. Rankine, who also sits on his neighborhood association board, says dropping the city’s requirement of a minimum number of officers would pave the way for innovative ideas to change police work.

“Unfortunately, we lack the way our city charter is set up, the power to turn these ideas into reality,” he said. “I vote yes because a yes is a vote to take the barrier of change out of the equation and take these imaginative ideas on how our police system can get better.”

Protesters set fire to a container after a shooting on Thursday, June 3, 2021 in Minneapolis.  Crowds vandalized buildings and stole from businesses in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood, after officials said a man wanted for illegally possessing a gun was fatally shot by authorities.  (Richard.Tsong-Taatari / Star Tribune via AP)

Protesters set fire to a container after a shooting on Thursday, June 3, 2021 in Minneapolis. Crowds vandalized buildings and stole from businesses in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood, after officials said a man wanted for illegally possessing a gun was fatally shot by authorities. (Richard.Tsong-Taatari / Star Tribune via AP)

Rankine’s board last week approved a vote in support of the issue of public safety. He said his own neighborhood is divided on the issue, and that’s fine: “There are no monoliths cutting clean across lines, there is no meaning cutting clean across races,” he said.

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“If we are in a movement against police brutality, then I feel that everyone should be welcome in that movement,” he said. “We have seen Minneapolis police take lives over the last many years and they have taken the lives of all races and backgrounds, so I feel there should be no barriers to entry when it comes to being a part of the movement.”

Bishop Divar Kemp of New Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, back on the north side of town, said the ballot question comes up every day in his church. He said the police department needs to be changed but the current proposal is dangerous.

“We need the police – there’s no other way I can say that,” he said.

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