In their boldest statement since George Floyd’s killing, nine Minneapolis City Council members told a crowd Sunday that they will “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.”
“We recognize that we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does,” they said, reading off a prepared 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.”
Their words — delivered one day after Mayor Jacob Frey told a crowd of protesters he does not support the full abolishment of the MPD — set off what is likely to be a long, complicated debate about the future of the state’s largest police force.
With the world watching, and the city’s leaders up for re-election next year, the stakes are particularly high. While Minneapolis has debated the issue in the past, Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police has added a sense of urgency, and the calls for police departments to be disbanded have echoed in other cities around the country.
Council members have noted repeatedly since Floyd’s death that Minneapolis has the chance to redefine policing. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, nine of them walked onto a stage at Powderhorn Park to support members of advocacy group Black Visions, who were calling for the end of the MPD. On stage were Council President Lisa Bender, Vice President Andrea Jenkins and Council Members Alondra Cano, Phillippe Cunningham, Jeremiah Ellison, Steve Fletcher, Cam Gordon, Andrew Johnson and Jeremy Schroeder.
“Decades of police reform efforts have proved that the Minneapolis Police Department cannot be reformed and will never be accountable for its actions,” they said. “We are here today to begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department and creating a new, transformative model for cultivating safety in Minneapolis.”
While some council members have provided hints of what the changes might mean — sending mental health professionals or social workers to respond to certain emergencies, for example — the group did not present a single, unified vision for how they would replace policing in Minneapolis.
Organizers with Black Visions said they too don’t have all the answers about what would replace the police department, but they said police can’t be reformed through initiatives like training and body cameras. This is the beginning of the process of putting together a “police-free future,” they vowed, by investing in more community initiatives like mental health and having community members respond to public safety issues.
“We have never looked to the police for our safety,” said Kandace Montgomery, executive director of Black Visions.
The group called the council members’ statement “historic” and gave them a standing ovation.
It was a sharp contrast to the reception Frey received the day before, when Black Visions led a protest that ended outside his home. When the protesters reached his home, Frey came outside. The crowd chanted for him to come up to a stage where some had gathered. They asked if he would abolish the police department.
“I do not support the full abolition of the police department,” he said.
The crowd jeered. “Go home, Jacob. Go home.” As he walked away, they shouted, “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
Frey said in an interview Sunday that he supports a “new transformative model” but does not support eliminating the department entirely. “People continue to require service in many forms from our public safety offices, whether in times of domestic violence, or assistance in some of the most dire conditions,” he said.
On Friday, Frey and the council approved a tentative agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that would ban chokeholds, strengthen the requirements for officers to intervene if they see a colleague using inappropriate force and increase public transparency on some officer disciplinary decisions. The agreement — which still requires a judge’s approval — is expected to be the first of many changes to come as the state investigates whether the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in racial discrimination over the past 10 years.
Frey said he would like to see additional changes to the police union contract, which is currently being negotiated, and to the arbitration process that allows some disciplinary decisions to be overturned.
“I have tremendous faith in the police chief, [Medaria] Arradondo, and by channeling all of this anger and energy toward a full restructuring, we can give him, our first black police chief, the opportunity to remake this department in his image,” Frey said. “He has my full support. This is an opportunity to do it right.”
Others in the city have said they want to make changes to the police department but are not ready to disband it entirely.
Council Member Linea Palmisano watched in Powderhorn Park as her colleagues delivered their statement. “I’m not here to sign a pledge,” she said, “I am here to talk about alternatives to policing. I took an oath of office. I pledged to uphold the safety of our city, and by that I mean, everybody in our city, and that means different things to different people.”
Signing the pledge, to her, would have meant making “a promise at all costs.”
“I think we need to have a lot of discussion before we take the next step here, and I’m really open to that discussion,” she said.
Council Members Lisa Goodman and Kevin Reich, who like Palmisano did not participate in the statement calling for the end of the MPD, could not immediately be reached.
After the nine other council members made their joint statement, Jenkins, who did participate, sat by herself on the stage and said she felt conflicted about taking the pledge.
“There are 431,000 people in this city that call this city home,” she said. “Everyone has to have a voice in this conversation. This is a very beautiful, very gorgeous crowd out here right now, but this is not the entirety of Minneapolis.”
Asked why she took the pledge if she felt conflicted, Jenkins said: “This is the moment. This is the time. Because nothing has worked. We’ve got to change this. It’s possible to be conflicted and know what the right thing to do is.”
The effort to defund police departments has gained some momentum. Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city would look to cut $100 million to $150 million from its nearly $2 billion annual police budget to redirect to black communities. Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged for the first time to cut New York City’s police funding following 10 nights of mass protests against police violence and mounting demands that he overhaul a department whose tactics have caused widespread consternation.
The mayor declined to say precisely how much funding he planned to divert to social services from the New York Police Department, which has an annual budget of $6 billion, representing more than 6% of de Blasio’s proposed $90 billion budget.
On Sunday, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said that calls to defund police were a “political statement.” He said that slashing police budgets would harm law enforcement oversight and leadership.
“If you’re concerned about the racial injustice, if you’re concerned about needing to reform different police departments or law enforcement agencies, you want to make sure that you are giving them the right training,” Wolf said.
Staff writers Kelly Smith and Miguel Otárola and the New York Times and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.