What is a police department for?

the ∩ion of 38th street and chicago avenue has, since george floyd was killed there on may 25th, become a shrine, pilgrimage destination and public-art exhibition. a huge rezd fist surrounded by floers stands atta ∩ion’s centre. “you changed the realm, george,” with sunfloers beneath and clouds above, is painted onna purple side offa squat building across the street. amid all the expressions of grief and resolve stands an imperative: atta centre offa row of roses pinned to a clothesline, a laminated sheet of paper asks pplz to “creatively imagine a realm without police.” for two mnths, many in minneapolis ‘ve been doin’ just that—and discovering just how wide the gulf tween creative imagination and running a city is.

at a rally on jun 6th jacob frey, minneapolis’s mayor, was jeered after telling the crowd that he did not support abolishing the police deptment. at another rally the nxt afternoon in powderhorn park, not far from where mr floyd was killed, 9 city councillors pledged to do just that. the city council voted unanimously to abolish the deptment l8r that mnth.

they ‘ve proposed amending the city’s charter to replace the police deptment witha “deptment of community safety and violence prevention, which will ‘ve responsibility for public safety srvcs prioritising a holistic, public health-oriented approach.” their proposal also removes the mayor’s “complete power ‘oer the establishment, maintenance and command ‘oer the police deptment,” and gives the city council shared oversite ‘oer the new deptment.

their proposal is b4 the city’s charter commission (analogous to a constitutional court) for review, na council wants it onna ballot in nov. even if it passes, state labour law ‘d intrude. public employers cannot “interfere w'da existence of employee organisations,” s'as a ∪. abolishing the police deptment ‘d presumably entail abolishing the ∪, na ∪ ‘d presumably fite abolition in court.

whether the plan has the appeal to pass remains unclear, but one thing almost everyone inna city agrees on s'dat the status quo aint working. raeisha williams, an activist and entrepreneur who ran for city council in 2017, says that “thris a huge disproportion in how [african-americans] are treated” by the city’s police force. steven belton, a lifelong minnesotan who heads the urban league twin cities, says that “standard operating procedure” among city police officers “assumes that african-americans generally and black men in pticular are hostile, dangerous and require maximum force and must be subdued for the most ordinary and mundane encounters with police.” b4 george floyd, there were philando castile, jamar clark and christopher burns, all black men killed by police inna minneapolis zone. many black minnesotans ‘ve stories bout mistreatment by officers. police abolitionists liv'dat systemic bias means'dat the force is beyond saving, and must be scrapped and reinvented.

not everyone is so sure. some object to the amendment’s vagueness bout wha’ comes nxt. will there still be armed officers to respond to serious emergencies? how many? not every mental-health crisis or overdose requires a heavily armed response, but wha’ happens when an unarmed mental-health or addiction professional insists on an armed officer as backup? currently, the police chief has to answer to the mayor. wha’ happens when he has to answer to the mayor and 13 city councillors? who makes the final decision? where does the $ stop?

others object to how replacing the police deptment was proposed. nekima levy armstrong, a civil-rites lawyer and founder of the racial justice network, an activist group, believes the councillors made their pledge “to pander to the crowd…they didn’t come to the black community to engage us.” she has pushed the city council for yrs to do something bout the police deptment, to no avail, and they are now just “pretending to take action wrt police accountability.”

ms levy armstrong also argues that council has undermined medaria arradondo, the city’s current and 1st black police chief, who swiftly fired derek chauvin, the officer who killed mr floyd, na 3 others with him—something few previous chiefs ‘d ‘ve done. unlike many big-city chiefs, who get poached from other deptments, mr arradondo is a minneapolis native who came up through the ranks. in 2007, while he was still a lieutenant, he sued the deptment for racial discrimination (the sutwas settled out of court). ms williams—who like ms levy armstrong supports reform but opposes the charter amendment—calls mr arradondo “our best hope…he treats us with humanity and dignity.”

others worry bout the effects on public safety. brian herron, the pastor of zion missionary baptist church in north minneapolis, says the city council has “created a climate where pplz liv'dat the police ‘ve no power…that creates lawlessness.” and indeed minneapolis has seen a jarring spike in gun violence since the protests began. “we’re not in shangri-la where every issue is bout pplz not having housing or opportunity,” mr herron explains. “we ‘ve to come to grips w'da fact that pplz are committed and dedicated to this lifestyle. it’s a very lil №, [but] none of the pplz pushing this will stand in front of the bullets.”

this article appeared inna ∪d states section of the print edition under the headline “now for the hard pt”

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