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Minneapolis public safety amendment failed to convince some activists

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Minneapolis residents have been inundated with letters and flyers from groups that either favor or oppose a poll question that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department in the city charter with a new public safety department.

Advocates, many of whom have been pushing for major changes to policing since before George Floyd was killed by a police officer last year, say the charter amendment will allow the city to reorganize public safety . But other longtime campaigners against police brutality are skeptical that this will lead to any kind of real change.

Michelle Gross has long been on the front lines of fighting police misconduct in Minneapolis. His organization, Communities United Against Police Brutality, does everything from staging rallies to lobbying city and state lawmakers to pass laws designed to hold police to account.

Some might be surprised that Gross opposes changing the charter to create a new Department of Public Safety. But she is concerned that it is just the same police department with a different name.

“I understand the desire, I truly understand the desire and the desire to make concrete changes,” Gross said. “The problem is all the things that could have been done that have never been tried.”

Michelle Gross with Communities United Against Police Brutality speaks at a rally outside of Minneapolis 4th Ward in October 2020. Credit: Ben Hovland | (c) 2020

Gross admits that police reforms in the city have mostly failed over the past two decades, but said she was also concerned that the structure of the amendment that gives city council more control over the police could creates more bureaucracy and leads to even less accountability.

“[The City Council] didn’t take the fiscal steps they could have taken to tackle police misconduct, in fact, they gave the cops more money, not less, ”Gross said. “So when they talk [that] stupid talk about funding, dismantling, all that, in fact, they did the exact opposite, so I have no faith in the city council.

JaNae Bates is Director of Communications at ISAIAH.
JaNaé Bates (left) speaks at an event in 2018. Now with Yes 4 Minneapolis, Bates sees the amendment as an opportunity to create a new structure that activists and community members can continue to support. press once it’s adopted.Marty Moylan | MPR 2018 news

However, JaNaé Bates of Yes 4 Minneapolis, who pushes for Question 2, accuses forces like the Police Federation of having blocked changes in the past. She sees the amendment as an opportunity to create a new structure that activists and community members can continue to rely on once it is passed.

“This amendment is actually a first step towards putting that power back into the hands of the city,” Bates said. “The hope is that when this passes, organizations… can also see their ways of being able to leverage this to make more possible what they have asked for. ”

Some other social justice advocates have not decided whether they will campaign for or against the amendment.

Nekima Levy Armstrong is a longtime civil rights lawyer and lawyer who runs the Racial Justice Network. She said she was not yet ready to publicly announce her position on Question 2 of the ballot. Armstrong is holding a Monday night forum on the issue. But she is skeptical of the role of city council and criticizes the absence of a concrete plan.

Bates, of Yes 4 Minneapolis, said the charter sets the rules for the city, but generally does not contain detailed plans for each agency. She said the ordinances created later as well as community engagement efforts would describe the day-to-day operation of the new Department of Public Safety.

“The opposition takes it and passes it off as a no plan,” Bates said. “But of course the plan is to have real commitment, and not just drive people’s throats – which a handful of people think should happen.”

The main opponent of the measure is a group that calls itself All of Mpls.

The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar is an activist group founded following the murder of Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer in 2015. Organizer Jae Yates said he hoped to get his own amendment on the ballot next year that would institute civilian control over the police.

“We mainly see [question 2] as a sort of ultimately useless stopgap, unfortunately, ”Yates said. “The folks at Yes 4 Minneapolis, I’m sure their hearts are in the right place, but in this case, it will really only make it difficult for the police to be accountable.”

Yates of Justice 4 Jamar said most of his group plan to vote no, although they are not campaigning against the ballot measure.

“We are not going to say to ourselves ‘if you vote for question 2, you are a bad person’,” he said. “But we think it’s important that voters are informed, but frankly Yes 4 Minneapolis has gotten a lot of support based on things that are not really part of their legislation.”

Bates, of Yes 4 Minneapolis, said many people who support organizations like Justice 4 Jamar are also supporting his group’s efforts.

“At the end of the day, organizations like this, we are not enemies of each other, and more often than not we fight on the same side,” Bates said. “We’re all trying to make these continued strides to bend that bow to justice – and it takes a multi-pronged approach to get there.”

Advance voting in Minneapolis on Question 2 of the ballot has already started. Election day is Tuesday, November 2.