The opinion section of the Star Tribune has contained a fairly uniform perspective: Minneapolis City Council members and activists taking steps toward defunding and dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department are going too far (“Don’t abolish MPD — reinvent policing,” June 14). They’re dangerously naive.

This perspective is based in both a failure to reckon with the shortcomings of policing and a lack of exposure to the wealth of alternative community safety practices.

Skeptics would do well to listen to the communities that have the most at stake: black, indigenous and other people of color, including queer, disabled, immigrant and transgender women.

When I teach systems of law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, my students — whether or not they’re pursuing careers in law enforcement — broaden their understanding of how justice can work in varied societies, without police or prisons. Every system has its flaws; many are hard to operate on a large scale. But we cannot move forward without looking at the alternatives that already exist.

Recently, an American Indian Movement patrol protected Franklin Avenue from destruction, even as police profiled them as potential criminals.

Across north and south Minneapolis, communities have been working together to protect and heal from arsonists, white supremacist threats and violence, and police aggression, even when firefighters and ambulances were absent.

We can look to Native public safety practices that predate European systems, and build on the years of work by organizations like the Legal Rights Center to redress harm without criminal legal system involvement.

Anti-violence activists and prison abolitionists have been working for decades to handle conflict outside the criminal legal system. Public scholars like Angela Davis and Kimberlé Crenshaw and groups like INCITE! and the Audre Lorde Project have been exploring these alternatives for years.

“Beyond Survival,” published in January, is an instructive collection explaining practical, real-world community responses to interpersonal harm and conflict.

Pew Research reported in 2017 that most violent and property crimes in the United States go unsolved. The chance a killer will get away with murder is over one third — and much higher if the killer is a police officer. Black women who survive violence, like CeCe McDonald, are criminalized for fighting for their life.

The court and prison systems in this country enable mass incarceration and weaken the chances of people who commit crimes establishing a safe and healthy life after serving time. It’s naive to think reforming our dominant systems is the best we can do.

We’ve already lost too much by clinging to the familiar.

 

Leah Entenmann, of Northfield, is a professor and activist.