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Minneapolis may be the first city to dismantle the police

The city council is debating radical steps to rebuild law enforcement.

A woman wearing a mask and a white T-shirt reading “defend the police” walks down the street along with many other protesters in Minneapolis
Demonstrators marching to defund the Minneapolis Police Department dance on University Avenue on June 6, 2020, in Minneapolis.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

On Sunday, after weeks of protests following the police killing of George Floyd, a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis City Council members pledged to dissolve the city’s police department and create a new system for providing public safety.

“We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department,” Jeremiah Ellison, a Minneapolis city councilman, said on Twitter last week. “And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together. We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response.”

Ellison has been joined by eight other council members. On Sunday, City Council President Lisa Bender, who has pledged to vote for the plan, said the lawmakers decided to take the step because “our efforts at incremental reform have failed. Period.”

The commitment from city officials is a victory for advocates of racial justice, including Minnesota-based advocacy groups Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block, which have called on the city “to defund the Minneapolis Police Department and invest in the resources that really keep us safe and healthy, especially in Black communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color.”

After Floyd was killed by a then-police officer on May 25, 2020, the organizations jointly circulated a petition asking the city council to freeze new spending on police, cut $45 million from the Minneapolis Police Department budget (MPD), expand community-based investment, and end police violence.

The council’s plan seems to go beyond this proposal, although exactly what council members plan to replace the MPD with remains unclear. However, ideas like those of Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block would likely be included in the city’s final proposal, given that local officials have pledged to work with community groups to outline a vision for the future of preventing crime, mediating civilian disputes, and addressing emergencies.

Minneapolis has suffered from longstanding policing problems

Black Lives Matter activists have been calling for the nationwide defunding of police since publishing its policy platform in 2016. In that document, policy advocate at the Center for Popular Democracy Marbre Stahly-Butts and Forward Justice co-director Daryl Atkinson argue for rerouting funds from policing to “long-term safety strategies such as educational, community restorative justice and employment programs that have been shown to improve community safety,” including “investments in community based drug and mental health treatment, education, universal pre-K, and other social institutions [that] can make communities safer while improving life outcomes for all.”

Citing a study published in JAMA, Stahly-Butts and Atkinson honed in on the power of such programs — particularly those that are preventative — noting that “children who do not participate ... are 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.”

The paradigm promoted by Black Lives Matter has spread across the country as calls to defund or abolish the police become a rallying cry in many of the nation’s anti-racist protests. In their place, demonstrators have called for more funding for mental health professionals and preventative programming, such as youth employment and educational initiatives.

Overall, activists’ push for “the dismantling” of the police is rooted in racially biased policing. Beyond the killing of George Floyd, there has been a consistent pattern of racialized police brutality in Minneapolis; the issue is the subject of an upcoming investigation into the last 10 years of MPD policies and procedures. Comprehensive New York Times reporting also found that over the past five years, “Police in Minneapolis used force against black people at a rate at least seven times that of white people.”

“When the police get physical — with kicks, neck holds, punches, shoves, takedowns, Mace, Tasers or other forms of muscle — nearly 60 percent of the time the person subject to that force is black,” wrote the Times’s Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Lazaro Gamio.

The broad contours of this reporting comport with other investigations of police departments in Ferguson, Missouri; Newark, New Jersey; and Baltimore. Those investigations also found racialized malpractice from officers toward their black constituents.

Beyond the use of force, there are additional metrics suggesting the MPD is ripe for reforms.

Citing city data, reporters at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis found that in 2019 the Minneapolis Police solved only 56 percent of cases in which someone was killed. As the Appeal’s Jay Willis reported, results are even worse for crimes involving sexual assault. “For rapes, the police department’s solve rate is abysmally low,” Willis writes. “In 2018, their clearance rate for rape was just 22 percent. In other words, four out of every five rapes go unsolved in Minneapolis.”

According to statistics from the FBI — the MPD’s crime clearance rate is below average. Nationally, law enforcement officials cleared 61.6 percent of murder offenses and 34.5 percent of rape offenses in 2017.

These poor results would seem to support the claims that many black communities are both “underpoliced and overpoliced,” meaning they experience an undue amount of violence yet also suffer from inadequate crime prevention and resolution.

Minneapolis’s move to dismantle its police department comes in the context of this conversation. The city’s push to introduce a new policy paradigm for public safety positions it as the first to meet this protester demand — and a potential model for other cities currently weighing similar concerns.

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