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What to do about the MPD? How three activist groups are rethinking public safety.

Communities United Against Police Brutality, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar and Black Visions Collective describe their proposals for change.

A mural honoring George Floyd
A mural honoring George Floyd on display outside of Cup Foods in Minneapolis near where he died.
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein

A national movement has sprung from Minneapolis since the police killing of George Floyd. Community members are increasingly calling for greater police accountability, and polling shows Americans overwhelmingly agree; the next question is not just what that will look like, but what changes will stick.

One argument that has landed Minneapolis activists in national headlines is that the Minneapolis Police Department is unreformable — that it should be defunded and/or abolished altogether. This idea has been led by local groups Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block, which hosted a community meeting at Powderhorn Park in early June. There, a majority of City Council members took to the stage to back abolishing the police.

The council has crafted an amendment to the City Charter that replaces the police department with a “department of community safety and violence prevention.” The road toward dissolving MPD will eventually lead to the ballot box in November, as voters decide in a referendum if they’ll take on this historic move.

However, as voters watch how arguments for and against the charter amendment unfold, two other local police accountability groups are pushing to get their ideas to the forefront. Their ideas don’t center on abolishment – but don’t rule it out as an eventual outcome either. MinnPost spoke to activists advocating for three different ways to overhaul policing in the city.

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Communities United Against Police Brutality 

Michelle Gross has been on the Twin Cities activism scene for decades, and she’s had a hand in a slew of protests and police reform efforts since she arrived from New Orleans.

Gross is the president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, created after Minnapolis police killed Charles “Abuka” Sanders in November 2000. CUAPB came together in an effort to address police violence in a more strategic way, rather than being limited to sit-ins and protests after another death.

For the all-volunteer group, what that has looked like is running a 24-hour crisis line for people to report police abuse, compiling a searchable database of police complaints, and lobbying local and state representatives for policy changes. Now, the group’s 20 years of work have been packaged into a plan with 44 recommendations for police reform, addressing topics such as discipline and oversight of the police, training and collective bargaining agreements for police.

Michelle Gross
Courtesy of Black Visions Collective
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, speaking at a recent rally at the Governor's Residence in St. Paul.
“People are sick and tired of what’s been going on. They don’t want to see any more half-measures and trying to act like nothing ever happened and go back to normal and all this stuff; you know, people want to see real change. So we wanted to put together our analysis of what that real change would look like,” Gross said.

CUAPB has pushed for some of these recommendations before. The first proposal emerged from the organization’s 2010 ballot campaign to amend the City Charter and require police officers to carry personal liability insurance in case of citizen complaints or lawsuits. The reasoning goes that officers, who are usually shielded by the government from personally paying for lawsuits alleging misconduct, would get charged increasingly higher premiums by insurance companies each time they were sued. Repeat offenders wouldn’t be able to afford insurance and therefore be unemployable as a police officer, according to advocates.

The question qualified for voters ballots in 2016, but was removed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which decided that it would violate state law requiring cities to back employees in legal matters. CUAPB’s latest iteration for this measure appeals to the Minnesota Legislature instead.

Among other reforms, the group is also calling for a “disciplinary reset mechanism,” which would allow supervisors to discipline officers without being constrained by past precedent, and removing police from answering “social service” calls, such as those that involve someone who is having a mental health crisis or has overdosed. The plan cites multiple agencies that would be responsible for the different changes, including cities, the Legislature and the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training.

When Gross saw that nine City Council members had committed to dismantling MPD, she was deeply skeptical, citing her experience presenting recommendations to the council that didn’t get follow-through.

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“We know that they haven’t tried things because we’ve given them all the things they could try and they haven’t done any of them,” Gross said. While amending the charter is a huge undertaking itself, Gross said abolishing MPD won’t solve the problem because other law enforcement agencies like Metro Transit Police and state troopers also engage in violence.

“The reality is we can’t just go for these easy targets. Addressing the culture of policing and getting at police accountability, this is hard work. There are no easy solutions.”

Gross doesn’t think Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block are wrong in their push to take apart MPD. But she sees CUAPB’s proposals as the more pragmatic solution in the meantime.

“It’s not an either/or. Let’s move toward [abolishing police]. But while we’re moving toward that, can we please get these cops reined in in the meantime?”

Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar

Another organization doubtful of the City Council’s ability to enact police accountability measures is the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar. 

Minneapolis police shot and killed Jamar Clark in November 2015, which led to the occupation of the Fourth Precinct by Black Lives Matter protesters and later the founding of TCCJ4J.

It was during this time of unrest that many local activists got their start organizing against police brutality, including TCCJ4J organizer Sam Martinez.

Justice 4 Jamar focuses specifically on Minneapolis, cultivating Black leadership at its helm, according to Martinez. They say the organization gets name recognition, especially in north Minneapolis, that newer organizations may not. “You say, ‘Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar,’ and people that I’ve never met before will recognize who we are. They’ll be like, ‘Oh, Jamar. Yeah I know Jamar, let me tell you how I know Jamar,’” Martinez said.

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The organization has endorsed CUAPB’s plan, and isn’t opposed to demilitarizing, abolishing or defunding the police. But the first step, they say, is returning the power to the people through a nine-member council with complete oversight of the police. Named the Minneapolis Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), the body would replace existing civilian and city police oversight groups.

In this plan, members would be elected from each of the five police precinct service areas, each serving four-year terms, and be paid the same as City Council members. Candidates must have at least two years of experience “protecting the rights” of marginalized groups, such as African-Americans and/or Latinxs, immigrants, people who are homeless or members of the LGBTQ community.

Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar
Courtesy of Black Visions Collective
Organizers with the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, from left to right: Matilda Smith, mother of Jaffort Smith; Loretta Van Pelt; DJ Hooker; and Sam Martinez.
According to the proposal, the CPAC would have broad powers over MPD, including appointing a police chief, holding hearings and investigating alleged police misconduct and recommending disciplinary action.

The concept of community control draws inspiration from the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point program, Martinez said. The language, which has been in the works for the past two or three years, is based on a draft by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. 

“To me community control of the police … it can be whatever the people want it to be. But we have to have the power first. We have to have the mechanism to do it and that’s what this is, because you can abolish or defund the police but in the next City Council they can completely undo it. It’s not really changing the power structure of the system,” Martinez said.

Community control of the police, which has become Justice 4 Jamar’s rallying cry after the death of George Floyd, would likely require a charter amendment, which the organization would have to petition for since they’re doubtful the City Council would take it up.

“The new [council members] were elected on police accountability and were elected on Jamar Clark’s name. But are they gonna get accountability? No, they aren’t. They haven’t done it for the past five years, so why would they do it now?”

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Black Visions Collective 

To Kandace Montgomery, Black Visions Collective was built to be a “Black political home” for people in Minneapolis and across the state. BLVC was established in 2017 by many of the same activists involved in creating Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, an experience which Montgomery said left her “burnt out.”

“It’s also always hard being, especially, a Black queer organizer, because of the ways that homophobia and misogynoir impact Black queer women and femmes’ ability to be seen and recognized as leaders. The ways that that creates internal fissures, even within our movements, is difficult,” said Montgomery, director of BLVC.

The organization, which is led by Black organizers and centers on LGBTQ rights, advocates on issues of policing and environmental justice. It is often mentioned alongside Reclaim the Block, which serves as BLVC’s campaign arm advocating to defund Minneapolis police.

Kandace Montgomery
Courtesy of Black Visions Collective
Kandace Montgomery
Calls to defund and/or abolish the police have proliferated on social media, and much discussion has followed about the meaning of those terms. Montgomery sees defunding as going “hand-in-hand” with abolition.

“I think that defunding is on the path to abolishing and is a very necessary step in the process, and ultimately is the thing that is needed to abolish the police. Because one of the most egregious offenses is the amount of money that we invest in a false sense of safety via the police instead of investing in actual things that keep us safe,” she said.

Disinvesting in police doesn’t need to take a decade, Montgomery added. With the city’s annual budget proposal approaching, she sees an opportunity to cut “tens of millions” of dollars from the department over the next year. As the city “transitions” out from having a police department, that money should be used to develop a department focused on community safety and violence prevention, and be funneled toward housing, health care, education and jobs – social services that address inequalities rather than criminalizing them, according to advocates.

BLVC doesn’t yet have a concrete policy laid out for how public safety would operate after abolition, and critics like Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey have been quick to point to this uncertainty as the City Council pushes for the charter amendment. However, if residents vote for it, those specifics would then be shaped over several community-led discussions. Essentially, Montgomery is asking skeptics and residents as a whole to be willing to at least consider a police-free future.

“I think that for, especially over the next year, we’re all going to have to be in a process of educating ourselves and getting in connection, in conversation as a community to vision what comes next.”

Montgomery declined to comment specifically on the other two groups’ proposals. But she echoed some of the sentiments regarding the need for community pressure to hold the City Council accountable to its promises. She pointed to everything residents have done without city help – setting up mutual aid projects, food distribution and neighborhood watches.

“We can spend lots of time on skepticism, or we can believe. And when I say that, I do not say believe in these 12 City Council members. I mean, believe in community, because that’s who got us to this point,” she said.

“I think strategic skepticism and critique is always necessary. And we need to be hopeful and we need to believe in ourselves. And that has been the thing, at least for Black people, that has truly gotten us free, is a belief in a future in which we are not in chains. And that’s what abolition means to me in this moment.”