The Minneapolis City Council’s last-minute attempt to add $605,000 to the city budget last week for the Fourth Precinct police station, following three weeks of peaceful protests there, demonstrates how out of touch the mayor and many of the council members are with the safety needs in north Minneapolis. The city has again failed to respond to community solutions, and the root causes that led to the Jamar Clark protests remain unaddressed. It’s time to imagine what transformative justice looks like beyond the police and punitive law enforcement.
Throughout the country, black people are underprotected and overpoliced. North Minneapolis is no exception. The protests at the Fourth Precinct station were sparked by the fatal police shooting of Clark, a final straw in a year that has seen unprecedented levels of mistrust between underresourced communities and the police. While the protests put this tension on display for the world to see, north Minneapolis residents experience aggression by the police every day. An American Civil Liberties Union report in May demonstrated what many of us already know: that black people in Minneapolis are nine times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than are white people. From our office on W. Broadway, we see overly aggressive police stops on a near-daily basis.
At the occupation of the Fourth Precinct station, the police defaulted to militarized tactics by attacking grieving community members with armed officers, Mace, pepper spray, rubber bullets and batons. One high school student suffered a concussion when the police beat her and dragged her by her hijab. Other young people were injured by rubber bullets. Guns were drawn on elected officials and their family members. After vigilantes shot five black community members, the police took 15 minutes to respond to an attack that happened less than a block from their headquarters, then pepper-sprayed people helping the victims. Since the occupation ended, many community members have reported police retaliation for their involvement in the protests. All of this was funded by our tax dollars.
This ongoing violence and harassment by the police make our communities less safe, not more. The community must have a meaningful say in policing, including police priorities, tactics, and hiring and firing decisions, with support for black and American Indian communities that are especially overpoliced and underprotected. Our public resources must be routed away from militarized and punitive law enforcement in favor of a transformative justice system that prioritizes the mental health, education and employment needs of the community.
In San Francisco and in Newark, N.J., police departments have programs that give communities a say in setting priorities for the department. Community intervention and co-policing programs throughout the U.S. prioritize unarmed mediation and help from medical and mental health professionals who can provide resolution and support for victims without the punitive consequences that often harm individuals and communities. The internationally tested Cure Violence Health Model trains community members to anticipate where violence may occur and to intervene before it occurs. In Chicago, the Cure model in the Garfield Park neighborhood reduced crime by 75 percent, saving the city an estimated $76.9 million in 2014. In Eugene and Springfield, Ore., a mobile crisis intervention team with medical and mental health professionals is integrated into the public-safety system and provides free response for a range of noncriminal crises, including homelessness, intoxication, substance abuse and mental illness problems, as well as dispute resolution.
We also must invest in economic opportunity in north Minneapolis. Minnesota’s racial economic disparities are among the worst in the nation. While Minnesota’s white unemployment rate is under 3 percent, black unemployment is over 15 percent. The median household income for black families is only $27,000 — less than half of the median income for white families. Our elected officials must stop allowing themselves to be bullied by corporations and invest in the bold economic solutions our communities need. Economic opportunity is the key to public safety.
We need a serious commitment from our elected officials to invest in real community safety: transformative justice with a focus on the mental health, employment and education needs of north Minneapolis. For real community safety, our tax dollars must prioritize our needs, not state-sponsored violence against our communities.
Anthony Newby is executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.