The unprecedented rebellion following the heinous killing of George Floyd marks a watershed moment for Minneapolis like no other in its history. To date, however, the mayor and City Council’s actions fall far short of meeting this historic challenge. City officials dare not wait until the next police victim lies dead.
Council members’ pledge to reinvent policing via a vaguely worded charter amendment put the cart before the horse. A robust democratic debate depends on citizens knowing what they are voting for. Council members offered no details, no vision or models. About half the current council members were elected in 2017 on their commitments to tackle police reform and end police misconduct and brutality. Yet, following a historic crisis we find them unprepared to share their thinking on reinventing policing.
In a recent Star Tribune article, Steve Fletcher, Third Ward council member, said that in making his pledge to support the charter amendment, “It felt important to me to not come forward with a lot of my own specifics.” What? Might not his constituents like to know what he is thinking? City Council President Lisa Bender, seeking to explain the council’s lack of action, said: “I think when you take a statement and then move into policy work, it gets more complicated,” Indeed, yet she and the other council members have shown scant evidence they are capable of addressing the complexity. Nevertheless they proceeded to ask the public to grant them the final word on reinventing public safety.
While the council committed to a yearlong public discussion if the amendment were to pass, they balk at taking immediate steps to prevent another George Floyd. Such measures should begin with firing all the Derek Chauvins on the Minneapolis Police Department – those officers who have been involved in the death of unarmed people. To be clear, unarmed includes a person with a rock, a knife or a metal bar – objects that police have used as an excuse to use deadly force, even when nonlethal means and de-escalation tactics could have been employed.
The city needs to do the right thing for those families who have not seen justice. Those officers who killed their loved ones still patrol the city. This can no longer be tolerated, nor should have been in the past. City officials and legislators representing Minneapolis should also back the demand of these families that state and county officials reopen all the cases of those killed by law enforcement.
Next the city needs to terminate those officers with egregious records of brutality and those exhibiting overt racist behavior. Chauvin’s record suggests that these kinds of officers cannot be rehabilitated. Based on the MPD’s complaint backlog and anecdotal evidence, this could be several hundred, not dozens.
Next, community members must be given a decisive voice in vetting officers’ records and deciding whether the officers are fit to remain on the force, especially if entrusted with deadly weapons. Anything short of this will fail to gain the public’s confidence. Such a review process also offers a place where reconciliation and trust building between neighborhoods and public safety officers could begin.
MPD officers’ support for Police Officers Federation President Bob Kroll shows there is little willingness to accept public oversight. City officials must take action now; if not, they will show the city is powerless in the face of a political organization whose mission has been to protect those unfit to serve.
Terminating officers would likely violate the contract with the Police Officers Federation. Injunctions would be filed. Court cases would ensue. However, city officials can be confident that Minneapolis residents would back them. Business and civic leaders also need to lend their support to city officials and Chief Medaria Arradondo in removing officers unfit to serve the city.
The mayor and council also need to act on the community demand to transfer money from MPD into hiring and training of unarmed public safety personnel. A good-faith effort of $25 million could put 200 such personnel on our streets over the next few years.
Each officer terminated or who retires opens the possibility to hire two well-paid public safety professionals – youth intervention workers, mental health and drug treatment counselors, and social workers. People who live and work in their communities.
No charter amendment change is required to act on these demands hailing from community leaders and protesters. Decades of traditional policing has failed time and again to create a safer city and neighborhoods. Of course, more is needed – jobs, health care and housing.
Now, however, city officials must demonstrate their commitment to justice. Harboring officers with records like those of Chauvin is the antithesis of such a goal. All of humanity now knows George Floyd and witnessed his death by a police officer employed by our city. After decades of failure, city officials cannot afford to fail now.
Wayne Nealis is a writer and longtime peace and labor activist living in Minneapolis.
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