On the night of Nov. 19, Jordan and Powderhorn neighborhood associations teamed up to hold a forum on public safety. Community members from the north and south sides of town gave testimony, trading experiences of violence at the hands of community and police alike.
One North Side teenager (a demographic often invoked but rarely allowed to speak for themselves) walked the audience through a recent police encounter in which a routine corner store run became grounds for harassment and terror, causing him to question whether he’d make it out of the encounter alive.
The goal of any public safety strategy is to ensure that everyone makes it home safe at the end of the day. This is what the entire City Council wants, it’s what the police chief wants and it’s what the mayor wants. The center of the debate heating up at City Hall is all about how to accomplish this. The mayor and the chief want to double-down into a more-of-the-same game — the type of strategy that has sustained the plot of Tom and Jerry since 1940.
Many of my colleagues and I see a different path, one where the past matters, where the fruits of inaction are acknowledged and where data overcomes the intransigence of “well, this is how we’ve always done it.”
The budget proposal being authored by three of my colleagues, which I was honored to help shape and wholeheartedly endorse, is how we break from the “increments” that have ultimately gotten us nowhere, and leap into a direction for public safety we can build on. Investing in citywide mental health response teams, growing our violence prevention capacity, and taking nonemergency reporting off the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) plate just makes sense.
Police have repeatedly been asked to take on more and more of society’s woes without being equipped to do so, and without any accountability when things go tragically wrong. Assuming policing is the only way to do public safety and that you’ll simply deepen the well of overtime pay to ensure the machine keeps running is not a plan, and it certainly won’t keep our communities safe. And, deep down, the mayor and the chief know this.
Let’s go back to that Nov. 19 meeting. After community testimony, the forum featured a panel consisting of Mayor Jacob Frey, Chief Medaria Arradondo and Council Member Alondra Cano. When the question of “a plan” was raised, the mayor and the chief spun their wheels a bit — and don’t take my word for it; the entire forum was recorded and can be found online. They said they couldn’t give specifics, but that they were deeply committed to stopping violence.
Again they were asked, and at one point the chief finally blurted, “The plan is to stop the shooting.” The call fell into an awkward silence. No one came right out and said it but it really felt, in that moment, that there was no plan from our executive arm.
When the mayor and chief did get specific, their words lingered on two ideas in particular: taking nonemergency report-only calls off MPD’s plate, and making further investments in violence prevention. Sound familiar? These are the very ideas they are now calling “irresponsible and untenable.”
When George Floyd was killed by four Minneapolis police officers just six months ago, the layers of tragedy wrapped up in his death were both undeniably felt and hard to succinctly articulate. But one of those tragic layers was undoubtedly its eerie familiarity — a sense that we were told, we were shown, we were warned and yet we did nothing.
Conventional wisdom has produced the results of this summer — from the death of Floyd to the uptick in violence. They are both the result of a century-long failure to create a public safety system that is not police-only. This conventional thinking tells us that the police will solve everything, despite having never done so. And it tells us that we can question policing, or we can have safe communities, but we can’t do, and have, both.
For months, the mayor and the chief have coasted on this conventional wisdom and no plan. Not only no plan to address the uptick in violence, but absolutely no plan to prevent the next police killing. Promises to ban warrior training required a good-faith handshake from Police Federation boss Bob Kroll; promises to halt negotiations with the Federation were broken and illegal to begin with; promises to reform the department became shallow remixes of previous reforms.
I think our communities deserve better, and that starts with addressing our residents’ safety in this budget. It starts with having a plan and the courage to pursue it.
Jeremiah Ellison is a member of the Minneapolis City Council, representing the Fifth Ward.