Abolish. Defund. Transform. Reimagine. There is charge in words. This year, Minneapolis voters will collectively determine whether structural change of the department in charge of protecting and serving their city and neighborhoods is possible. Broadly penned policies tend to lose efficacy. Lawmakers are well aware of this, as are the marginalized communities who lose out once all of the layers of government, bureaucracy and democratic processes are applied. This year feels different. However, the crux of confusion lies in the question everyone’s asking: What happens the day after the Election?
Changing the name, scope, staffing structure, and minimum hiring requirement of a department does not equate to abolishing or defunding an entire workforce. The same workforce that prides itself on keeping our city safe has continually produced some of the worst rates of racial profiling in traffic stops and drug arrests. The same department that produces employees who, rather than safely apprehend Black men suspected of unproven minor infractions, nonviolent crimes and violent crimes not currently in progress, so they may have their day in court, has continuously defended the murder and execution of these residents in its care instead. Black men are 11 times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, yet make up less than 5% of the state’s population. Minneapolis
voters have a say in transforming the department into one that will potentially better serve its 430,000+ residents through broadening the lens of what actually keeps communities safe: investing in, and deploying, employees better equipped to produce different results than the ones described above.
A memo circulating on Facebook, originally posted by Minneapolis City Council President, Lisa Bender, clears up many misconceptions and mischaracterizations related to Question 2 on the ballot. The memo, said to have been issued by interim City Coordinator, Heather Johnston, states that should Question 2 be affirmed, police officers (peace officers) and law enforcement officers will still be part of this department. Labor contracts will also continue to be upheld. Aside from a change in top-level leadership within 30 days, meaningful ordinance change will be a long-term process. It is reasonable to expect department-level policy changes will continue along with maintaining the role of the police chief - a critical part of that process. The main takeaway? The immediate chain of command will remain in place. We will not descend into chaos on November 3rd.
The false correlation between rising crime rates with a lack of police officers is simply not true. It’s a narrative that has played out since the racist preemptive search, seizure and sentencing policies of the ‘war on drugs’ era; indeed, earlier, after the 1967 riots in North Minneapolis, when many of the current policies were implemented.
The challenge before us all, is determining to what extent sweeping citywide ordinance and policy changes will center and benefit marginalized and stigmatized communities. It will take time. The plans are not laid and will require the collective work - and will - of the people. If Question 2 is affirmed, what sounds like bold change in this moment, will be planned and implemented incrementally. What is for certain, is that demands for justice will not relent.
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J. Deebaa Sirdar
Guest Editor, Black Votes Matter MN