The Nov. 16 Minneapolis budget public comment session was a depressing display. My students who listened were just mad to hear “a bunch of old white people” in liberal Minneapolis saying, in any number of ways, “Yes, too bad about George Floyd. Something really has to be done about MPD. But I’m scared.”
And then, in some kind of Jedi mind-twist, “The only way to fix the police is to give them more money.”
Here are the highlights of the chief’s “public safety” e-mail:
“It is imperative that the City Council keep the Mayor’s investments in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) intact — especially the recommended recruit classes and the Community Service Officers (CSOs).”
So, the “recruit to dilute” idea: Bring in a bunch of 21-year-olds to transform the culture. Speakers said that over and over. It is, frankly, ridiculous. Think Jeronimo Yanez, Philando Castile’s killer, and see how young officers fare in these toxic, clannish environments.
CSOs are paid PR positions designed to elide the SWAT teams, the militarized presence at demonstrations and the day-to-day disrespect shown by MPD.
Expanding the Mental Health Co-Responder Program: OK, this is an effective harm-reduction step for the short term. The problem is that half of the police murders nationwide occur when police respond to calls involving people with disabilities. Taking money from the police budget to fully fund this idea is the definition of low-hanging fruit. What does “expand” even mean?
And then, the council is urged to fund the Early Intervention System (EIS), just one in a long line of attempts by police to tell us that if we give them more money, they can police themselves, reform themselves.
This is the unbelievably flabby lip-service given to “reform” in George Floyd’s city. How dare they. But look at the army of apologists they can muster among the good white liberals of Minneapolis. I am not going to say anything about nonwhite police apologists. That’s not my lane.
What’s clear is that the government won’t be coming to help us. I’m not saying there aren’t elected officials who will try. But seriously, we have the encouraging beginnings of the answer, and our electeds who know what’s up are supporting the grassroots public safety and mutual aid efforts that have sprouted up all over in the wake of May 25.
These block clubs and safety patrols and citizens’ social service networks have to get together somehow and coordinate, and see what we have when all the people putting in work come together. See what we have and what we still need.
And yes, that’s sort of unbelievable and scary. And hell no, it won’t be easy. But just think of it. It’s amazing what we have already been able to do in service to safety and solidarity in our city.
People are still stuck with this idea that “defund” means making the police disappear. Nobody in Minneapolis has taken a penny from MPD. And yet they have disappeared. And since police don’t generally prevent crime, since more police don’t mean less crime, since police spend the vast majority of their time on calls that don’t even involve criminal activity and yet result too often in charges that criminalize people beginning in their youth, police do not make the community safer.
The central question for government should not be what to do about police. It should be about what Minneapolis should spend or not spend to address police violence and community violence. It should be about a vision of safety that includes every single person.
That’s not happening. Time, in this case, is our enemy. We have to do it ourselves.
Cynthia Gomez Engoulou, of Minneapolis, is an educator.