Twin Cities residents will take to the streets Tuesday evening for block parties and neighborhood cookouts as National Night Out returns in the middle of a local and national debate over the future of policing.
The annual celebration, traditionally aimed at bridging neighborhoods and police departments in communities across the country, comes at a time when the Twin Cities is grappling with how to change policing and public safety in the wake of George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer.
The issue, complicated by an increase in violent crime, has become central to the November election in Minneapolis, where the mayor's office, all 13 City Council seats and the future of the Police Department will all be on the ballot. In St. Paul, Mayor Melvin Carter is also up for re-election.
This fall, Minneapolis voters will decide the fate of a proposal that would clear the way for city officials to replace the Police Department with a new public safety agency — details of which would be fleshed out by the mayor and council.
Yes 4 Minneapolis, the group behind the effort to change the Minneapolis charter to create a Department of Public Safety, will hold a Night Out for Safety and Liberation event Tuesday afternoon.
"The event … is launched in anticipation of thousands of community dialogues, on Tuesday night and beyond, about what public safety means to Minneapolis residents across race and ZIP code," a news release said.
In both cities, neighborhoods holding National Night Out events are encouraged to partner with police. More than 1,400 events are registered in Minneapolis, and more than 250 are in St. Paul.
Last year, National Night Out happened in mid-September and many neighborhood events were smaller because of the pandemic. Minneapolis National Night Out Coordinator Luther Krueger encouraged participants this year to follow COVID-19 guidance for outdoor gatherings and limit parties to 50 people in order to have a safe, enjoyable event and not "get out of the habit" of hosting.
"A lot of blocks have continued to meet apart from [National Night Out], masking up as needed, keeping to social distance and sanitation guidelines and extended their community building from years past," Krueger said.
St. Paul's theme for 2021 is celebration. The city encouraged people to see this year as a new beginning.
"We all know that 2020 was a challenging year that kept many of us away from family, friends, and neighbors," the city's participation guide said. "This year we want you to celebrate the opportunity to spend time together with old and new neighbors."
Locations for gatherings in St. Paul are online at stpaul.gov/departments/police/national-night-out. Minneapolis did not share an event list.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.