Earlier this week, we reported that Minneapolis voters struck down a proposed amendment to the city's charter—dubbed Question 2—that would dismantle and disband the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety.
Question 2 garnered substantial national attention, but importantly, also created the potential for an entry in the history of elections in the Twin Cities. Early voting was reported at record levels, and overall voting is estimated at more than 53%—the highest turnout for a municipal election in recent memory.
The proposal would have eliminated the minimum police staffing requirement—as well as the position of police chief—in a time during which Minneapolis has seen a major spike in murders (with 79 homicides reported so far this year) and other violent crime. For perspective, consider the fact that Minneapolis recorded 84 murders last year, up from 48 in 2019.
In the first six months of 2021, Minneapolis surpassed all shots fired reported in 2019, according to the department's ShotSpotter data.
In looking at Minneapolis as a microcosm of the anti-police movement across America writ large, it is perhaps useful to view the activity there through the prism of Three Laws of Motion proposed by English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton.
The Laws of Motion
Newton’s First Law of Motion relates to inertia. Simply, it states that an object will remain at rest—or in uniform motion in a straight line—unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.
Question 2 was put on the ballot and placed before Minneapolis voters in response to calls to defund and/or dismantle the police department following the in-custody death of George Floyd in May 2020.
Violent protests erupted across the country after the Floyd incident. And the conversation about policing in Minneapolis changed forever. It became plainly evident that what had been would no longer be—the only questions remaining were, "What would change?" and, "How?" and "When?"
The "inertia" of the Minneapolis Police Department—and all of American policing—had been inexorably disrupted.
Newton's Second Law of Motion involves more complex arithmetic—in general terms, defining "force" as "mass times acceleration" (F = m * a)—and relates to what happens to an object when it's acted upon by an outside force.
Bending Newton's Second Law to fit this discussion (admittedly something of a square peg in a round hole), a political movement (force) equals the total of funding/backing (mass) multiplied by the aggregate appeal to the voting public (acceleration).
There was plenty of backing/funding for Question 2. Supporters included United States Representative Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison as well as political organizations such as the ACLU, MoveOn.org, and the Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America. Of the $2.5 million in total contributions raised by the organization supporting the measure, nearly $1.8 million—or roughly 71 percent—came from a dozen mostly out-of-state donors.
But the appeal of the issue turned out to be insufficient. In the end, $2.5 million multiplied by 43.83% of the population is still not a winner.
Maybe—just maybe—votes really can't be bought.
What am I saying? Of course they can.
Just not at the high cost of human lives a quality of life.
Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action (force) there is an equal and opposite reaction. If one body exerts a force on the second body, then the second body exerts an equal force on the first body (get your mind out of the gutter).
Before I go further with this one, it must be remembered that Newton's Third Law of Motion is a horse so frequently flogged in the context of politics that I'm hesitant to pile on the poor animal, but clichés are clichés for a reason, so let's ride.
Myriad incidents during the so-called "summer of love" following the death of George Floyd revealed deep-seated anti-police sentiment among a small—but highly vocal—segment of the American population.
Across the nation in places like New York, Baltimore, and Portland, so-called "peaceful protests" morphed into violent riots, with arsonists burning whole swaths of those cities to the ground and police resorting to rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the rioters.
Millions of dollars in damage was done to property, thousands of cops were injured—some seriously—while attempting to restore order, and innocent members of the public watched with a mixture of horror and anger.
This week those people cast their votes with a pent-up vim and vigor.
Elsewhere in America, policing matters were on the ballot on Tuesday—each well worth mentioning in this space—with mixed results.
Voters in Austin (TX) overwhelmingly rejected Proposition A—by a margin of 68.4% to 31.6%—that would have forced the city to hire hundreds of new police officers and enable the agency to have two on patrol for every 1,000 residents. This comes as something of a surprise given the fact that way back in September Austin set a record of 60 homicides so far in 2021—the most violent year logged in six decades of tracking this unfortunate statistic.
In New York, voters selected—in a landslide ratio of roughly 7:1—retired New York Police Department Captain Erica Adams as the next mayor of that city. Throughout the campaign, Adams made combating gun violence and improving public safety a main focus of his campaign, while also calling for cuts to the NYPD's budget and the shifting of some jobs to civilians that heretofore have been done by officers.
Voters in Albany (NY), Bellingham (WA), Cleveland (OH), and Denver (CO) also cast votes on law enforcement initiatives regarding matters including civilian police oversight, collective bargaining practices, department budgets, facial recognition technology, hiring practice guidelines, incarceration procedures, officer training requirements, and other issues.
Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, supporters of Question 2 will inevitably regroup, and those in opposition would do well to not gloat too long on their victory. In fact, given what we know about Newton's Laws of Motion, everyone should anticipate remaining in motion moving forward toward reasonable, rational police reform.
Up to now, it's seemed—to just about any sane outside observer—that the people in Minneapolis are so "woke" they've got their eyes wide shut to the rising violence, repercussions of riots, and persistent primal fear in that once wonderful city.
But this week's vote to retain that city's police force might give hope that some semblance of rational thought remains.
I've asked in this space several times, "When will the pendulum of public opinion swing back in favor of the silent majority of American citizens who respect and admire police officers?"
It would appear from the various votes cast and counted across America this week that there really exists—as has been said in this space many, many times—an awe-inspiring majority of people who respect and admire their police.
Next week, I'll use Stephen Hawking's early writings on black holes to examine the effectiveness of Chicago's gun control laws.
Just kidding, not even I could do that.