Angela Harrelson points to a blue angel painted on the pavement, which marks the spot where a Minneapolis police officer murdered her nephew George Floyd and sparked a national police reform movement.
“If a mental health worker or social worker had been with the police the day my nephew died right here, it is very possible that he is still alive today,” Harrelson said. “I don’t want to abolish the police, but we have to do something different.”
But even after the outrage over his death and the tense protests that followed, the progressive city is deeply divided over the future of its law enforcement. The split illustrates the complicated calculation surrounding the overhaul of policing in America’s major cities, as residents fear for their safety amid spikes in crime and Democratic politicians worry that Republicans will use the issue. as a weapon in next year’s congressional elections.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo opposes the measure. Mayor Jacob Frey, who is seeking re-election Tuesday, is also against it. Neither responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.
Conversations with dozens of voters who cross racial and socioeconomic lines in Minneapolis in recent days revealed a variety of views. Almost everyone expressed confusion about what exactly would happen if the proposal was approved.
That’s largely because the details of the new public safety department would only be cleared up by the mayor and city council in the months after the vote.
Opponents say the move would fulfill the city council’s threat in the days after Floyd’s death to “defund the police.” They say Minneapolis, with a population of about 430,000 people, needs more officers, not fewer, as it faces a crime wave.
Supporters insist that the police will remain in their jobs, though perhaps in fewer numbers. They say the change would mean addressing security in a holistic way, including addressing the root causes of crime before it occurs.
If approved, the department of public safety would create a larger agency that would include police officers, as well as mental health professionals, housing and addiction experts, and people trained in conflict reduction to respond to 911 calls at which an armed officer cannot always do. be necessary.
The new department would answer not only to the mayor, but also to the 13 members of the city council, who supporters say would give residents more influence in how surveillance is carried out.
“What the police have been doing for decades is not working,” said Reverend JaNaé Bates, with the Yes4Minneapolis campaign supporting the creation of the new security department. “We want the city to have the agility necessary to match its security needs with available resources.”
Homicides in Minneapolis increased more than 17% through the end of September, compared to the same period in 2020. Robberies and aggravated assaults have also increased.
More than 200 police officers have left the force since Floyd’s murder. The remaining police have stopped interacting with the community in many ways, for fear of being involved in another hot spot case, a recent Reuters investigation found.
North Minneapolis, a poorer area where more black residents live, has seen the brunt of the violence. Nearly half of all murders in the city have taken place in Precinct 4, where residents complain of nights filled with shootings, car thefts and out-of-control petty crime.
“This is all a white progressive movement, man,” said Teto Wilson, a black barber shop owner in north Minneapolis, referring to efforts to replace the police department. “They’re trying to turn us into a fucking great experiment.”
Like other north side residents who spoke to Reuters, Wilson said police reform is desperately needed, but within the current structure. He said those who live with daily violence cannot afford to try drastic new approaches.
In the Folwell neighborhood north of Wilson’s hair salon, Anna Gerdeen, who is white and described herself as a progressive director of a nonprofit community, said she would normally support more radical police reforms. But not now, as she and her 11-year-old son feel under siege inside their own home. He will vote against the creation of a new department.
“My neighbor’s house was hit by bullets a couple of months ago. I can’t let my son play outside in the yard anymore,” Gerdeen said. “As a mother, I can’t risk any more chaos.”
Supporters of the creation of a new public security department say such violence makes clear the need for a new strategy. They say advocates have been trying for decades to pass reforms to make the police more equitable and provide more security for poorer neighborhoods, but have repeatedly failed.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a progressive Democrat, oversaw the prosecution of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who pinned Floyd’s neck to the ground for more than nine minutes with his knee. Ellison said now is the time for a real change.
Back on the street where Floyd was killed in south Minneapolis, Bridgette Stewart and other members of a community watch group had just returned from the scene of a vehicle shooting in which three people were injured last Tuesday. The group, Agape Movement, was there to act as a bridge between the victims’ family, community members, and law enforcement agencies, to ensure that nothing turned into more violence.
That’s the kind of work Stewart said needs to be done on a city-wide scale and that she says could only happen if the new department of public safety is approved.
“This is our vision, that we can all work together for public safety,” he said. “Because if we can’t get along and do this job, we’ll be trapped right where we are, in a living hell.”