Egregious, grotesque, absurd, crazy, ridiculous. These are a handful of the words that some local African American leaders are using to rebuke the Minneapolis City Council’s moves toward dismantling the Police Department, even as they demand an overhaul of law enforcement.
A month after George Floyd was killed, the City Council unanimously voted last Friday to revise the city charter to permit the dismantling of the Police Department, the first step toward putting the matter to voters on the November ballot. The ordinance, which the Charter Commission discussed during a meeting Wednesday, would abolish the city’s current law enforcement structure in favor of a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.
It also raises questions about the future of Medaria Arradondo, the city’s first Black police chief, the Star Tribune reports.
“Why now, when you have an African American chief who is highly regarded and trusted in the Black community?” said Steven Belton, president and CEO of the Urban League Twin Cities.
The measure doesn’t preclude a chief with a traditional policing background, but it requires the head of the new agency to have “non-law enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.” Arradondo joined the department as a patrol officer in 1989 in his early twenties.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said that there’s urgency to create a system of emergency response that isn’t harmful and that the council is not “pre-prescribing” what that looks like. He added that the charter change provides room for the council to make changes that the community asks for and doesn’t lock them in to minimum police staffing or having police as the sole emergency responders.
Belton told the Star Tribune that the problem is a culture of policing that disregards Black lives, but he said nothing in the new proposal addresses that. He said it’s irresponsible to talk about funding health care, housing and education — advocates want to shift more money from the police budget to social programs — without discussing public safety.
“The tension of living in many of these African American communities is that we are overpoliced, we are subjected to excessive police use of force, but at the same time we are also disproportionately victims of crime and witnesses of crime,” said Belton. “And you cannot talk defunding the police if there is not a concomitant strategy of community safety in place as well.”