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Safety Not Fear: Working for a new approach to public safety

We cannot and will not accept tweaking and tinkering with the current policing structure as an alternative to substantive change.

A police officer standing guard outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
A police officer standing guard outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
REUTERS/Nick Pfosi

Last night, communities across the country — including those in Minneapolis — hosted block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and various activities aimed at promoting a new vision for public safety. These gatherings are part of Night Out For Safety and Liberation (NOSL), an annual event hosted by the Ella Baker Center, and are designed to bring neighbors together to celebrate each other and redefine what public safety looks like beyond the police-only model.

In order to truly dismantle the systems that keep us unfree, we need the type of radical imagining we find at NOSL events to be enacted nationwide. Fortunately, in Minneapolis — across wards, backgrounds, and race — communities are coming together to lead the charge to make the city safer for all of us. At Color Of Change, we launched the Safety Not Fear campaign as a partner in this effort.

Last year, a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in broad daylight. It wasn’t the first time a police officer committed a heinous act of racial violence against a Black member of the Twin Cities. This murder became part of a long, sordid history and present of Blacks being brutalized and killed by police. These deaths — and the endless violence that police commit against Black people — are reminders of the pervasiveness of police abuse. Even as Derek Chauvin was on trial for the murder of George Floyd, Daunte Wright was killed by police just miles from the Minneapolis courthouse. For many, these tragedies are an awakening of the magnitude of this crisis. The truth is clear: The policing system is irreparably broken. Now, we must work together to build a model that fundamentally ensures public safety works for everyone.

Safety Not Fear envisions a future where every Minneapolis resident feels safe and supported, and is able to access effective, competent help when they need it. To work toward achieving that vision, the campaign gives Minneapolis community members a platform to highlight what works and what doesn’t to keep our communities safe.

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It’s clear from this ongoing dialogue that police reform and the implementation of new police training requirements are not working. What we’re doing now isn’t working. It isn’t working for Black and brown communities facing police violence. It isn’t working for families concerned about crime, or for the folks who don’t consider the place they call home safe.

Scott Roberts
Color Of Change
Scott Roberts
However, there do appear to be signs of progress. This includes the city’s existing blueprint for ensuring public safety without a heavy police presence. For many years, the Group Violence Intervention initiative — a network of unarmed first responders to gang shootings in north Minneapolis — has helped defuse and de-escalate tensions without police involvement. In the program’s first year alone, the number of shootings in north Minneapolis fell by 40 percent. The emergence of mutual aid societies, community mental health support networks and People’s Assemblies are also signs of progress, and the conversations Minneapolis needs to have to create safety for all. And finally, the existence of what is now George Floyd Square — a public space that community members have transformed from a site of horrific violence to a site of public ritual and grief, justice-oriented art, and organizing for social change — signals we are moving in the right direction. These signs show that change is possible — and is already happening.

We cannot and will not accept tweaking and tinkering with the current policing structure as an alternative to substantive change. Minneapolis and communities across the country are hungry for life, breath and free movement. This is evidenced by the way people have come together and supported each other before, during and in the aftermath of state violence. True public safety fosters life cycles — not death cycles. Real, responsive, and rapid care increases safety instead of threatening it.

Right now, we have the moral responsibility — and the power— to redefine public safety together. By investing in proven community resources — including mental health services, housing, health care access, and violence interruption programs — we can address the challenges that lead to harm and also take bold measures to protect our communities where MPD has escalated violence and harm. Doing so will lead our communities in a new direction, one that abandons the status quo and allows all people to feel safe.

If you’re concerned about safety in Minneapolis, consider joining our movement and make your voices heard. By coming together, denouncing the current racist policing structure, investing in what works and offering a new path forward, we will continue to build a future that is fairer and safer for us all.

Our safety is always worth fighting for.

Scott Roberts is senior director of criminal justice and democracy campaigns at Color Of Change.

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