Much — perhaps too much — is being made of a survey question about the future of Minneapolis policing and the answers offered by a number of city election candidates. “Do you believe that we could ever have a city without police?” asked the nonprofit Voices for Racial Justice for a voters’ guide published in conjunction with Pollen Midwest and Rhymesayers Entertainment.
By the initial tally, two mayoral candidates — Jacob Frey and Raymond Dehn — and seven City Council contenders answered “yes.” But Frey soon changed his answer and said that the questionnaire was flawed, with question wording changes and confusion in midstream.
Dehn and others who answered affirmatively made clear in subsequent comments that they don’t envision a police-free nirvana arriving in Minneapolis anytime soon. For example, Dehn, a DFL legislator making his first mayoral bid, said police forces could shrink as “we steadily remove scarcity, the underlying cause of crime.” City Council Member Lisa Bender, representing the 10th Ward, said police strength reduction would require “significant investment in education, housing and work to eliminate employment inequities.” The other council candidates who made affirmative responses: Council Member Alondra Cano, Ninth Ward, and challengers Ginger Jentzen, Third Ward; Phillipe Cunningham, Fourth Ward; Jeremiah Ellison, Fifth Ward; Janne Flisrand, Seventh Ward, and Jeremy Schroeder, 11th Ward.
Clearly, Voices for Racial Justice tapped into a vein of idealism that’s running through city politics this season. But the responses it collected don’t reveal much about what candidates think should be done in the near term to improve both public safety and confidence in police conduct. A “could we ever” question yielded aspirational answers — the sort that seasoned politicians are usually careful about providing during the heat of a campaign.
The candidates who answered “yes” about a city without police got a chorus of ridicule in response. Understandably, the criticism was loudest from business and civic leaders in downtown Minneapolis, where late-night criminal activity has been on the rise and residents — as well as the Star Tribune Editorial Board — have clamored for more effective policing. We agree with those critics to this extent: Any talk by candidates this year about a future city without police is both ill-timed and ill-advised.
But we’re hesitant about reading too much into this survey’s invitation to dream. Rather than condemn the idealists who answered “yes,” we would challenge all of those seeking city offices — in both Minneapolis and St. Paul — to be more direct and specific in the four weeks remaining in this year’s campaign about what is arguably the central challenge facing the two city governments. Please tell voters what would you do in the next four years to make your city safer and more just.