Small-business owners in Minneapolis who lost everything in the riots don’t want to lose their police department, too. But nobody thinks it should be business as usual, either.
That view is shared by large and small companies, according to an informal survey conducted by the Star Tribune, which asked dozens of business owners if they support the recent pledge by a City Council majority to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department in response to public furor over the death of George Floyd.
“What I feel in my heart, and what millions of people feel, is that there is a young girl without a dad who should still be on the planet,” said restaurant owner Charles Stotts, whose Town Talk Diner & Gastropub was destroyed in the riots. “There needs to be a fix to this, whatever that fix is.”
Jonathan Weinhagen, president & CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, said the group’s members believe the city must reach out to “communities of color” and deliver “significant reform” to the department. After years of complaints, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights recently launched an investigation of the police department to determine if its officers have engaged in discriminatory practices toward people of color.
“We stand with Chief [Medaria] Arradondo and his efforts to hold officers accountable and dramatically overhaul policing in Minneapolis,” Weinhagen said in a statement. “Businesses are concerned about calls for abolishing or eliminating the police department. We believe it is important to maintain and improve public safety. And the necessary changes for the MPD will take consensus from the community and continual work from leaders across Minneapolis.”
The business community was rattled when nine of 12 seated council members told protesters in Powerderhorn Park on Sunday that they will soon “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.” The announcement came one day after Mayor Jacob Frey told a crowd of protesters he does not support abolishing the MPD.
“We recognize that we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does,” the council members said in a joint statement. “We’re committed to engaging with every willing community member in the City of Minneapolis over the next year to identify what safety looks like for you.”
The nine members offered no details on the proposal, but some business owners seized on the phrase “police-free.”
“I was already kind of fed up with a lot of the lunatic ideas that have come out of the City Council, even before this,” said Don Blyly, who is facing $2 million in losses from the destruction of Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s bookstores on Chicago Avenue. “The police department needs to be fixed. But if they do the kind of things they are talking about now, then I will not rebuild in the city of Minneapolis.”
The council’s lack of specifics is infuriating to many business owners, some of whom accused the council of pandering to the mob.
“They are just looking to please some people,” said Khaled Aloul, owner of two GM Tobacco stores that were heavily damaged during the riots. “We don’t even know what it means: dismantle the police department.”
Like other business owners, Aloul was frustrated when he turned to the police for help during the riots. After looters broke into his store on Lake Street, he said he spotted several officers and asked for help.
“They said we have instructions from the mayor not to interfere,” said Aloul, who lost an estimated $800,000 in tobacco products to looters. “I understand they were overwhelmed, but I think if they had fired off a couple of shots they could have scared people off.”
Despite the experience, Aloul doesn’t like the idea of disbanding the department.
“How do you know the new thing is going to be better?” he asked. “Can you imagine a town without police? Look at what happened when the police didn’t come. The whole area is a disaster. It looks like we had a civil war here.”
Some business owners said they would like to see the department relinquish some duties to others, such as dealing with mentally ill individuals or the homeless. The Minneapolis Downtown Council has recommended that mental health professionals “co-respond” to police calls involving emotionally distraught residents.
Some business owners believe that violent outcomes could be avoided if police were better trained. In Floyd’s case, things spiraled out of control when officers responded to a complaint that Floyd passed a counterfeit $20 bill, a minor crime. The Minnesota Business Partnership, which represents some of the largest companies in the Twin Cities, has called for increased training on “interactions with African Americans and people of color.”
“Getting rid of crime fighters won’t eliminate crime,” said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Partnership, whose members include U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and the Star Tribune. “So we support that crime fighters get good training and that they be held accountable if they exceed the rules.”
The partnership is asking state lawmakers to make it easier to get rid of problem cops, including the repeal of laws requiring binding arbitration for law enforcement officers accused of misconduct. The group also is calling for a change in collective bargaining rules that impede discipline of officers who “seriously betray the public trust.”
That doesn’t go far enough for some business owners.
“I definitely want the city to defund them and start over,” said Ray James, whose Fade Factory Barber Shop on West Broadway was destroyed during the rioting. “I think we need to start letting people from our community police our own community, because we all love each other and we kind of know the problem people. And sometimes, problem people ain’t really problem people.”
Staff writers Jim Buchta and Dee DePass contributed to this report.