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Minneapolis City Council Members Pledge to Abolish the Police Department

The move to defund the police will likely need a change to the city’s charter, too, requiring a city-wide vote.

Protesters face police near the 3rd Police Precinct on May 27, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A veto-proof majority of Minneapolis city council members pledged on Sunday to vote in favor of a resolution disbanding the city’s police force and replacing it with a broad system of community responses to the city’s issues.

Nine councilmembers announced their intent to “dismantle” and “abolish” the police department and system of policing currently in place in Minneapolis during a rally over the weekend. That level of commitment represents a majority that cannot be vetoed by the city’s mayor.

“In Minneapolis and in cities across the US, it is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe, council president Lisa Bender said at the rally. “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period.”

Bender added that the council is committed to “end policing as we know it and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.”

In addition to giving a vocal promise to defund the police force, city council members present at the demonstration on Sunday also signed a written pledge to begin the process of dismantling the department.

It’s not yet clear what the new system for “public safety” might look like, and even after the plan is crafted, it will likely need to cross a few more hurdles before being implemented — including a high likelihood of a citywide vote on the issue.

Minneapolis’s city charter requires the council to fund the department and to maintain a minimum number of officers staffed in relation to the city’s population. To address this, an amendment to the charter would likely be necessary, requiring either a public vote on the issue or a full approval of the council, plus the mayor’s support, to change the rules.

Because Mayor Jacob Frey has come out against defunding the police, the vote from the people seems to be the only route available to change the charter.

Local organizations that had been pushing for this change for years before the eruption of protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd are celebrating the city council members’ pledge as a major victory, without losing sight of the fact that future hurdles will also need to be overcome to implement the decision.

“This is a moment that’s going to go down in history as a landmark in the police and prison abolition movement,” Tony Williams, a member of MPD150, said in a statement released by the Minneapolis-based grassroots organization Reclaim the Block, which has been pushing for the city council to divest from the Minneapolis Police Department since 2018. “There’s a groundswell of support for this. People are grounded in the history of policing in a way that has never happened before. It’s visible that police are not able to create safety for communities.”

“Safety is being able to decide who supports you. We’re not abolishing help,” Arianna Nason, another member of MPD150, an organization dedicated to shifting “the discussion of police violence in Minneapolis from one of procedural reforms to one of meaningful structural change, added. “We’re abolishing police. That’s very different…We have to do the work to imagine something different and to listen to what people in different neighborhoods and communities want.”

Reclaim The Block also wrote in its Facebook statement that “Minneapolis makes history by beginning a community-driven process to dismantle its police department.”

And Kandace Montgomery, director of Black Visions Collective, emphasized what it took to get to this point.

“It shouldn’t have taken so much death to get us here. George Floyd should not have been murdered for so many people to wake up,” Montgomery said during the rally. “It shouldn’t have taken young Black folks risking their lives in these streets, over and over. I want to honor all of the organizers and communities who — for generations — have dreamed and worked to make this day happen.”

The city council members’ pledge to defund the police comes after nearly two weeks of protests following the death of Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes late in May. Other officers stood by while that officer continued to apply pressure to Floyd’s neck, resulting in his death. It took several days of protests before all four were issued criminal charges for their role in the killing.

Last week, Minneapolis schools announced its decision to end its relationship with the city’s police department, removing officers from their hallways. The Minneapolis school board, in a statement announcing the move, said the department’s actions “run directly counter to the values” of the school district.

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