On Monday, May 25, a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, suffocating him to death while he called for his mother and said, “I can’t breathe.” Three other officers did nothing to save his life. George Floyd joined Justine Ruszczyk Damond, Thurman Blevins, Travis Jordan, Mario Benjamin and Chiasher Fong Vue as the sixth person to be killed by a Minneapolis police officer in the last three years and many more in the years preceding, including Jamar Clark and Terrance Franklin.
In the days that followed Floyd’s death, thousands of Minneapolis residents took to the streets during a global pandemic to demand fundamental, structural change to the way we provide public safety. The city has received hundreds of complaints about police behavior during that time, and is cooperating with a lawsuit filed by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigating patterns of racial discrimination within the Minneapolis Police Department over the past decade.
In neighborhoods, our communities are facing an uptick in gun violence that needs addressing now.
As members of the Minneapolis City Council, we have the responsibility to address the persistent failures in our policing system and to propose the best possible solutions for safety, including investments in proven strategies to prevent violence. Meaningful change requires a common-sense amendment to the city charter, which we unanimously forwarded to the Charter Commission. We urge them to let Minneapolis residents vote on the amendment this fall.
In every corner of Minneapolis, our constituents want to live in communities where they feel safe and their lives are valued — particularly by city employees who are hired to protect them. Across Minneapolis, we are united by our aspiration for a city where all of us can live stable, healthy lives in communities where people of color, particularly Black community members, are not unjustly targeted, harassed or murdered by public servants. We care about each other and deserve to have our tax dollars used to achieve the results our community is worthy of.
Mayors, police chiefs and councils have attempted reform under the current city charter for decades and, despite good-faith effort, accomplished too little. They did not prevent the death of George Floyd. At the same time, the number of officers on the force alone has not made a measurable difference in the rise or fall in violent crime, even as millions more dollars each year are poured into the department. On top of the $193 million annual MPD budget, the city has paid more than $24 million in settlements related to police use of force in the past three years.
We can and we must be the generation of Minneapolis residents that creates a just, effective and sustainable approach to public safety. With an amended city charter, we can deploy a full range of solutions to community safety, building on proven successes and drawing on concrete lessons from Minneapolis neighborhoods and models from other cities, including investments in crisis workers, mental health professionals and mediation services instead of armed police. Inaction on the charter restricts what solutions we can consider, prescribes a “police-centric” approach to safety, and limits our leverage with the police union.
The City Council proposed this charter amendment with consensus — and compromise. It replaces the charter-mandated Police Department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, broadening the scope of safety and violence prevention solutions while allowing for the option of a police force in a Division of Law Enforcement Services. The new department would report to the mayor and City Council — like every other department in our city government. Its director would have non-law-enforcement experience. And, like every other city department, there would be a clear, publicly transparent way to make policy and direct staff.
Once the charter amendment passes, our city will have the flexibility to build on multiple efforts already underway to improve public safety. This includes scaling up the work of the City’s Office of Violence Prevention and applying data-driven lessons from our 911 Workgroup to improve how we respond to emergency calls. Most important, we have started a process of citywide community engagement to reimagine how our city budget and policies can improve safety and better align with the values we share — a process promising that we’ll think bigger than our current charter allows.
We believe the people of Minneapolis are ready to seize the historic opportunity of shedding the systems that have failed us and embracing the profound responsibility of transforming the ways we protect one another and keep each other safe.
We have a duty to work toward true solutions. Minneapolis residents deserve to move forward together and exercise their democratic power. The city charter belongs to the people of Minneapolis. We urge the Charter Commission to let the people of Minneapolis vote.
The authors are members of the Minneapolis City Council. Jeremiah Ellison represents the Fifth Ward; Lisa Bender represents the 10th Ward and is council president; Alondra Cano represents the Ninth Ward; Cam Gordon represents the Second Ward; and Steve Fletcher represents the Third Ward.