Our city is reeling from serial tragedies. The death of George Floyd was a searing event and a stark reminder of the deeply rooted systemic racism we must eliminate from the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). The destruction of livelihoods and needed services along Lake Street and West Broadway compounded the horror. And now, our community is enduring an alarming spike in senseless gun violence that has overwhelmingly claimed African Americans as its victims.
At stake is the future of our city, which faces an almost existential crisis. From our perspective, communities of color have been doubly victimized. We’ve had to endure episodes of flat-out police racism and excessive force. At the same time, our communities have been victims of crime well beyond our share of the population.
We depend on an imperfect police force lest we have an even worse situation. Solving this crisis will take awesome persistence, serious discussion, bold thinking and follow-through. It is imperative that we reform and reinvent our approach to effective and just public safety for all our citizens.
Unfortunately, the City Council’s response to this crisis is a proposed charter amendment that will solve nothing. The council wants to eliminate the current MPD and transfer to itself the mayor’s authority over law enforcement.
In reality, beyond bumper sticker slogans and announcing a new bureaucracy, the council has not done the hard work of designing a specific and actionable new public safety system to replace the current one. They haven’t told us what comes next, let alone shown us that it will work.
All we know is that the council plans to remove the mayor’s authority to run whatever (if any) law enforcement operation replaces the current MPD. They want to create a new bureaucracy run by a bureaucrat answerable to council members. Simply put, the council’s proposal makes 13 council members and one bureaucrat accountable for law enforcement instead of the mayor and the police chief.
In the real world, of course, having 14 people ”accountable” means nobody is really accountable.
Interestingly, two years ago the council proposed the same idea. The Charter Commission quite properly delayed putting it on the 2018 ballot. The council had 24 months to put it on the 2020 ballot but waited until now to insist that it appear. It does seem that some council members are using the current crisis as a cover for rushing an ill-formed idea to the November ballot.
The fact is that the mayor and City Council can enact and enforce significant reforms without changing the city’s charter. Frankly, major police reform has not been a city priority for quite some time, perhaps because reform costs money. What we need now is hard thinking, political will and wise use of resources.
More community policing and giving the mayor and the police leadership the authority to discipline and sanction officers without having decisions routinely overturned by arbitrators are just the beginning. Some reforms the city can implement unilaterally. Others may require changes in state law. None require changes to the charter.
We are also concerned that the council proposal eliminates the job of our current chief and makes him ineligible to oversee the newly imagined public safety department. If anything, given Chief Medaria Arradondo’s highly regarded ethics, compassion, ability and experience, the council should give him the resources he needs to expand the MPD’s community outreach efforts. This is essential if we truly want to shrink the “warrior mentality” that we all know afflicts too many officers.
We share everyone’s bottom line: to change the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department. But changing the Minneapolis charter is not the place to start. It may be necessary at some point, but only after the architects of the current proposal can tell the voters what the new system will actually look like and whether it will actually work.
The council hurried its proposed charter amendment to the Charter Commission with no extended discussion and not one public hearing. So now it’s up to the commission to initiate a detailed and inclusive discussion of how to transform the MPD into an agency that reflects the best values of all our Minneapolis residents. If that means waiting until next year to change the charter, so be it.
It is false to assert that it’s the city’s charter preventing transformative change to the MPD. Yes, the voters have a right to vote on major changes to the city’s charter. But city leaders have an obligation to give the voters the chance to make an informed choice. The proposed amendment only gives the voters a choice between doing nothing or giving the City Council a blank check to “defund the cops” and eliminate the mayor’s role in running law enforcement.
That is not a path for transforming the law enforcement culture of Minneapolis.
Jackie Cherryhomes is former president of the Minneapolis City Council. Don Samuels is a former City Council member, former Minneapolis school board member and CEO of Microgrants. Sondra Samuels is CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone. F. Clayton Tyler is a criminal-defense attorney. Tim Baylor is a North Side business owner. Tom Hoch is former CEO of the Hennepin Theatre Trust. Mark Addicks is a Minneapolis resident.