YesOR CAN’T avoid his face wherever you go. More than a year after the murder of George Floyd, and a few months after the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the policeman who knelt at his neck, the memory of Floyd remains almost hauntingly imposed on Minneapolis. The street where he was killed is delimited by two enormous constructions of black fists raised in the air; the site of his death is a makeshift memorial with fresh flowers despite the freezing cold of October; murals of him and protests envelop the city.
Despite the upheaval her death and the protests that followed caused in the city and country, very little about the police in America seems to have changed. Cities that hastily cut police budgets are now backing down in the face of resurgent violence. After months of negotiations, a much-vaunted bipartisan congressional police reform deal fell apart.
On November 2, however, Minneapolis voters will have the chance to do something drastic. In addition to passing judgment on Jacob Frey, the outgoing mayor seeking re-election, they are also voting on whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety department that “uses a comprehensive public health approach. “, and eliminate a mandatory minimum of police officers established in the city charter.
In a city where there were as many as nine Biden voters for every Trump supporter in the last presidential election, such a referendum would pass easily if Democrats were united. They are not. Mr. Frey presents himself against the measure. The governor and state senators, all Democrats, are opposed to the idea of âârepealing and replacing the police service. But Keith Ellison, the state attorney general who won a murder trial against Mr. Chauvin, is for it. âIf we don’t make changes to the circumstances that brought us to George Floyd and the aftermath, we’ll have moreâ¦ And I want to do something different,â he says.
Rhetoric and reality
The critical division is whether or not the plan is a pretext to âdefine the policeâ. Opponents insist that these are slogans disguised as politics. “I have never supported the funding or the removal of the police,” Mr. Frey wrote in defense of his position. Shortly after Floyd’s murder, a majority of the city council appeared at a rally in Powderhorn Park on a stage in which “DEFUND POLICE” appeared in gigantic capital letters.
Supporters of reform have adjusted their language. As with the civil rights movement, “those furthest to the left are what pushed the movement … After contributing to a police report which argued that ‘abolition is the only way forward’, Ms. Nezhad now avoids such campaign rhetoric, preferring words like âreinvest.â Kate Knuth, another mayoral candidate who supports reform, says: âMy vision of a public safety ministry absolutely includes the police,â funded at the same levels as today.
Reform activists in Minneapolis favor a less provocative slogan, “Developing Public Safety,” for their road signs. The established minimum force size – 17 officers per 10,000 population – is not particularly high for a large city, although it is unusual to be so explicit. The argument for its abolition is that it is an obstacle to reform. “This is not revolutionary or radical, it is literally common sense to keep people safe and frankly benefits the police,” who are overwhelmed, says JaNaÃ© Bates, Church minister and leading activist . Law enforcement would remain, she said, but some of the funds would be reallocated to other emergency response means, such as mental health professionals.
Advocates hope the proposed rebranding and redirecting funding to unarmed social services will restore confidence among minority communities, without risking a backlash among white residents. Such an approach is necessary to win. Public opinion in favor of âdefinancingâ police services has never been high. The increase in violent crime has made it even less.
In June 2020, 41% of Democrats told investigators at the Pew Research Center that they wanted to cut budgets for local police. By September 2021, that figure had fallen to 25%. Among the general public, support rose from 25% to 15%. Official data recorded a 30% increase in homicides nationwide between 2019 and 2020, the largest increase recorded in a single year. Preliminary data for 2021 suggests the rate may continue to rise. Minneapolis is on the verge of having 88 murders this year, the highest number in the city in the past 25 years.
The energy for police reform is often inversely linked to crime. This puts the reformers in a difficult position. In August 2020, the Austin, Texas city council voted to cut its annual police budget by a third. Its most recent budget completely reversed this trend. There is now a referendum in that city to institute a minimum staffing requirement for police departments – exactly the kind Minneapolis is currently trying to defeat. Other Democratic-led cities, such as Atlanta and New York, have had to reverse earlier statements about cutting police funding in the face of rising crime. If Minneapolis were to vote differently, it would go against an emerging trend.â
This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “A Matter of Safety”