Racial Justice

Plan to disband Minneapolis police department halted in city commission vote

In a statement posted on Twitter, city council president Lisa Bender called the commission's vote "disappointing."

Alondra Cano, a member of the Minneapolis City Council, speaks at a June meeting on defunding the city’s police department. Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP, File

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A move to disband the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of George Floyd’s killing faced an uncertain future Wednesday after a commission blocked the city council from putting a necessary initiative on the November ballot.

The proposal would replace the police department with a new public safety agency, but the Minneapolis Charter Commission voted 10 to 5 to delay consideration of a ballot measure to eliminate the city charter requirement that the city maintains a certain number of police officers per capita.

The Commission, a court-appointed board of volunteers, passed a 90-day delay, which prevents the Minneapolis City Council from meeting an Aug. 21 deadline to get the proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot – a move that effectively kicks the issue to 2021.


The proposal, backed by a majority of the city council, would allow Minneapolis to replace its troubled department, which has long been accused of racism and use of excessive force, with a new agency focused on a “holistic, public health-oriented approach” to public safety.

City council members have said the proposed new agency, tentatively named the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, would include a division of armed law enforcement officers. Yet the proposal does not say how many officers would be employed or what their specific role would be – uncertainty that was repeatedly cited by charter commission members who argued voters deserve more specifics.

“The council says, ‘Trust us. We’ll figure it out after this is approved. Trust us,'” Barry Clegg, a Minneapolis attorney who chairs the commission said ahead of Wednesday’s vote. “Well, I don’t. . . . We need more time to fill in these blanks so voters can make a decision based on an actual specific plan and not the promise of one.”

Wednesday’s vote came after several weeks of fierce debate, in which some members of the commission and the public openly complained that efforts to dismantle the police department were moving too quickly. Nine weeks after Floyd’s death in police custody, the debate over what to do with the police department has played out against an especially violent summer in Minneapolis with a record number of shootings and other crimes.


It’s unclear where the debate goes from here. Thousands of people have marched in the streets across Minneapolis in the weeks since Floyd’s Memorial Day death, calling on the city to defund the police. In the neighborhood where Floyd was killed, handmade signs reading “Abolish the Police” dot the landscape.

Yet those calls were met with an equally loud contingent of critics, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and prominent members of the black community, who pressed for a more cautious approach. Some residents, including those living on the city’s predominantly black north side, which has suffered a rash of deadly shootings and other violent crime in recent weeks, have argued they need more police, not less, and said they had been left out of the public input process.

“There is no one who does not want real reform in the Minneapolis Police Department,” Lisa Clemons, a local activist from the north side who works with the anti-violence group A Mother’s Love, wrote on Facebook. She argued trying to enact reform without the input of Medaria Arradondo, the city’s first black police chief, and members of the community “just makes no sense.”

Yet some have been critical of the outsized role of the charter commission in the effort to enact police reform – complaining the panel’s 15 members are appointed by a Hennepin County judge and not elected by Minneapolis residents, thousands of whom submitted public comments in favor of the proposed ballot amendment.


Commissioner Andrea Rubenstein, who chaired a working group that studied the proposal, acknowledged the tensions. While admitting she opposed the effort to dismantle the police department, she argued against delaying consideration of the measure in favor of an “up or down” vote, which would have allowed the city council to put the charter amendment on the ballot for voters to decide.

“If we table it, it feels more like a sleight of hand,” Rubinstein said. “It’s perfectly true that we lack sufficient information to make an informed decision . . . but an extension to consider it will not help us fill in any missing pieces.” But other members rejected her effort.

It was not immediately clear how the city council might proceed. In a call with constituents, Andrea Jenkins, a city council member who represents the South Minneapolis neighborhood where Floyd was killed, said she hoped the council could still find a way to get the issue on the ballot in November. “I think it should be on the ballot so that our neighbors can weigh in,” she said.

But it was unclear if the council had any power to challenge the charter commission’s delay, which was legally permitted under state law.

In a statement posted on Twitter, city council president Lisa Bender called the commission’s vote “disappointing.”

“(It) creates barriers to change, but it will not stop our work to re-imagine public safety in Minneapolis,” she wrote.

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