Measure would have installed public safety department focused on a ‘comprehensive public health approach’
Last modified on Wed 3 Nov 2021 00.12 EDT
Voters in Minneapolis have rejected the idea of replacing their police department with a new department of public safety, more than a year after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer launched a national movement to defund or abolish police.
Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020 sparked outrage and international protests on police brutality and racial injustice. In Minneapolis and elsewhere, calls for major changes to law enforcement, including defunding police departments, soon followed.
If the “yes” vote had won, the Minneapolis police department would have been replaced with a department run by a nominated commissioner who would be approved by the city council.
The projected department would have used a “comprehensive public health approach” outlined by the mayor and city council via ordinances. Mandatory minimum police staffing would also be erased from the city charter.
Supporters argued it was a chance to reimagine what public safety could be and how money was spent. Among other changes, supporters said, funding would have gone toward programs that did not send armed officers to call on people in crisis.
The idea won wide support among many progressive groups who pointed out that it would have changed the nature of policing in the city – not gotten rid of law enforcement. “It’s a vote for us to all reimagine public safety and to move away from the type of systems that have not produced safety for all communities,” said Rashad Robinson, a spokesperson for Color of Change Pac, which organized support for the referendum.
Opponents said the proposal contained no concrete plan for how to move forward and warned it would leave some communities already affected by violence more vulnerable as crime was on the rise.
“Tonight Minneapolis voters have made clear that we want a planful approach to transforming policing and public safety in our city that needs to include meaningful consultation with the communities that are most impacted by both violent crime and by over-policing,” said Leili Fatehi, manager of the All of Mpls campaign, which advocated for a “no” vote on the measure.
The policing amendment earned the support of several prominent progressive Democrats, including the US congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who represents the Minneapolis area, and the state attorney general, Keith Ellison. But other prominent figures, including the Minnesota governor, Tim Walz, and the US senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, opposed it and feared the backlash could lead to Democratic losses across the country in 2022.
Rishi Khanna, 31, a tech worker, voted “yes” on replacing the police department, saying he didn’t believe police officers were qualified to deal with many situations, such as mental health crises. He said he thought having professionals equipped to deal with a range of public safety issues in the same department as law enforcement would benefit both residents and police officers.
“I understand that law enforcement will have to have a seat at the table, but I think both in our community and in communities around the country, too often law enforcement is the only seat at the table,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the right solution.”
Askari Lyons, 61, voted against the ballot initiative. A resident of the city’s largely Black north side, he said he believed Minneapolis police officers “may have learned a lesson after George Floyd’s death and what happened to the cop that killed him”.
Lyons called it “unwise” to replace the department and said he believed change within the department was imminent.
“People are so frustrated, so angry, so disappointed” with the violence occurring citywide as much as they are with the city’s law enforcement, he said.
Minister JaNaé Bates, a spokeswoman for the pro-amendment campaign, told reporters Monday that even if the proposal failed, the activists behind it had changed the conversation about public safety.
“No matter what happens, the city of Minneapolis is going to have to move forward and really wrestle with what we cannot un-know: that the Minneapolis police department has been able to operate with impunity and has done quite a bit of harm and the city has to take some serious steps to rectify that,” Bates said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report