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Minneapolis city councilors backtrack on promise to dismantle the police

Members of the Minneapolis City Council are backtracking and revealing they have regrets on their collapsed promise to dismantle the city’s police department, saying the pledge was ‘up for interpretation’. 

On June 7 the council released a pledge to dismantle the Minneapolis police department and replace it with a new community support and outreach system following the May 25 death of George Floyd. 

However, that effort was stalled in early August when the city’s Charter Commission voted to pause the amendment to dissolve and replace the police force and voted to take 90 more days to review it. 

Council members have revealed that they didn’t state their intentions clearly and it caused confusion among officials, activists and the public.

Councilor Phillipe Cunningham said the language in the pledge was ‘up for interpretation’ and that even after the pledge was released, ‘it was very clear that most of us had interpreted that language differently, according to New York Times report.

Members of the Minneapolis City Council are backtracking and revealing they have regrets on their collapsed promise to dismantle the city's police department, saying the pledge was 'up for interpretation'. BLM protesters pictured in Minneapolis on September 11

Members of the Minneapolis City Council are backtracking and revealing they have regrets on their collapsed promise to dismantle the city’s police department, saying the pledge was ‘up for interpretation’. BLM protesters pictured in Minneapolis on September 11

Critics are bashing officials for not working together and for failing to define whether the move means to abolish the police altogether or reallocate funds. A police fires tear gas and less-lethan rounds at protesters on May 29 in St. Paul, Minnesota at a George Floyd demonstration

Critics are bashing officials for not working together and for failing to define whether the move means to abolish the police altogether or reallocate funds. A police fires tear gas and less-lethan rounds at protesters on May 29 in St. Paul, Minnesota at a George Floyd demonstration

Councilor Andrew Johnson, one of the nine members who supported the pledge in June, said that he meant the words ‘in spirit’. 

Council president Lisa Bender said: ‘I think our pledge created confusion in the community and in our wards.’ 

Elected officials have interpreted the pledge differently, some believing defunding the police means to redirect some money in the police budget to social programs and others thinking it means creating a police-free future.

The move to dismantle the police has faced significant legislative hurdles as it has been rejected by the city’s mayor, a plurality of residents in public opinion polls, and the city’s Charter Commission. 

Previous hopes to have the move to dissolve the department on this November’s ballots have been dashed.  

Now taking its place is incremental reforms for the police department. 

Since the May 25 killing of Floyd, Minneapolis has banned chokeholds, enacted new de-escalation requirements and changed reporting measures for the use of force.

City Council member Linea Palmisano, who was one of the three councillors who did not take the pledge, admonished her colleagues for rushing the pledge saying they ‘have gotten used to these kinds of progressive purity tests.’

But some activists still believe that pledge should seek to completely abolish the police department. 

‘What kind of violence are we going to experience over the next year? When these decisions a re made on a political level, they have human consequences,’ Miski Noor, an organizer with Black Visions Collective, said.

‘I think the initial announcement created a certain level of confusion from residents at a time when the city really needed that stability,’ Mayor Jacob Frey, who refused to support the pledge, said.

‘I also think that the declaration itself meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people — and that included a healthy share of activists that were anticipating abolition,’ he added.

Minneapolis City Council members above. On June 7 the council released a pledge to dismantle the police force but in August the move was paused by the city's Charter Commission who asked for 90 more days to review the plan, meaning it won't be on this November's ballot

Minneapolis City Council members above. On June 7 the council released a pledge to dismantle the police force but in August the move was paused by the city’s Charter Commission who asked for 90 more days to review the plan, meaning it won’t be on this November’s ballot

Councilor Andrew Johnson (left) said he meant the words of the pledge 'in spirit'.

Council president Lisa Bender said: 'I think our pledge created confusion in the community and in our wards.'

Councilor Andrew Johnson  (left) said he meant the words of the pledge ‘in spirit’. Council president Lisa Bender (right) said: ‘I think our pledge created confusion in the community and in our wards’

In the wake of Floyd’s death and national uproar against police brutality and systemic racism, gun violence has surged in the embattled city this summer.

Some communities are worried of how the policing system will continue to function in the city.

Cathy Spann, a community activist in North Minneapolis, an area home to many of the city’s black residents, says that black and brown communities are paying the price for the political stall.

She is in favor of adding more police officers on the streets.

‘They didn’t engage black and brown people. And something about that does not sit right with me. Something about saying to the community, “We need to make change together” but instead you leave this community and me unsafe,’ she said.

Minneapolis has a long history with police violence and incremental changes within the force.

But to many reforms like body cameras and civilian oversight aren’t enough.

From the get-go the pledge to dismantle the police department had problems, including a lack of a transition plan. 

On a policy level, the councillors did not have the unilateral power to end the city’s police department as some residents believed.

The national public attention only heightened the pressure.

There are conflicting points of view in Minneapolis on how to move forward with the police department in the wake of George Floyd's death (above). A poll conducted by The Minneapolis Star-Tribune found a plurality of residents, including 50 percent of black people, opposed reducing the size of the police department.

There are conflicting points of view in Minneapolis on how to move forward with the police department in the wake of George Floyd’s death (above). A poll conducted by The Minneapolis Star-Tribune found a plurality of residents, including 50 percent of black people, opposed reducing the size of the police department.

Minneapolis has been the focal point of the movement to dismantle and defund the police following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25 (above) where white cop Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck until he lost consciousness and died

Minneapolis has been the focal point of the movement to dismantle and defund the police following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25 (above) where white cop Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck until he lost consciousness and died

‘I was surprised and was overwhelmed by it,’ Councilor Cunningham said. ‘A big lesson learned for me was to be mindful of the language and words we used and how it can be interpreted.’

The agenda to dismantle the police was further polarized by President Donald Trump and Republicans who pinned the move to defund police forces as a Democratic agenda in a bid to win over suburban voters.

However, prominent blue figures like Biden joined Mayor Frey in rejecting such proposals.

The City Council made the pledge, passed a provision to ask voters to remove the police department from the city’s charter and place public safety duties under a new department with an unspecified structure, but there were no public hearings on the matter.

Dave Bicking, board member of Communities United Against Police Brutality, a grassroots group in Minneapolis that was founded in 2000, did not back the pledge.

Lisa Bender admonished the Charter Commission for pausing the amendment to dismantle the police force in August, taking it off the 2020 ballot

Lisa Bender admonished the Charter Commission for pausing the amendment to dismantle the police force in August, taking it off the 2020 ballot

His group supports a smaller police force with more limited responsibilities.

‘I think the City Council and the people they work with pretty much knew that this was a nonstarter. But it would get them off the hook and give them some time until things blow over,’ Bicking said of the charter amendment.

After the decision the matter went to the Minneapolis Charter Commission, a group of city volunteers, which considers legal and technical questions to charter amendments before they go to residents for approval.

The commission consists of members appointed by the chief district judge, but they are not elected by voters.

The commissioners had concerns about the council’s proposal saying it does not meet several guidelines including legal provisions and necessary public input.

Optics also played a role as the board is largely white and was unelected, compared to the diverse city councillors who were supported by activists.

They also faced mounting public pressure to pass the charter amendment.

Barry Clegg, the commission’s president said one day he woke up to graffiti outside his house and his home was egged.

George Floyd's family members cry as attorney Ben Crump speaks at a press conference outside the family justice center after a court hearing on the murder of George Floyd on September 11

George Floyd’s family members cry as attorney Ben Crump speaks at a press conference outside the family justice center after a court hearing on the murder of George Floyd on September 11

Andrea Rubenstein, a charter commission member, said she was inundated with e-mails ordering her to pass the charter amendment – or else.

As the commission reviewed the case, evidence proved that the public wanted police reform but did not support the actions of the councillors or the aims of activists.

A poll conducted by The Minneapolis Star-Tribune found a plurality of residents, including 50 percent of black people, opposed reducing the size of the police department.

They faced backlash for not getting on board the proposal and in the end in August in a 10 to 5 vote chose not to pass the councilor’s amendment and called for further study – killing the chances to put the amendment on the November ballot.

‘A majority-white, unelected board of people can’t decide that they knew better than the community,’ Miski Noor, the Black Visions organizer said.

Council president Bender said: ‘I understand that we did not give the charter commission a lot of time to weigh a very substantive change to our system of government. I also know that we’re proposing a question to put to all of the voters of Minneapolis. And I think the charter commission is overstepping their role by digging so far deeply into the substantive question.’

Now the amendment to dismantle the police department could appear on the 2021 ballot when the mayor and city council members must all run for reelection.

Activists have cast blame on officials and the mayor for not working together.

‘What I see happening is these council members and these other elected officials all trying to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle. And it’s up to us, in my opinion, to let them know that the genie ain’t going back in the bottle,’ activist Michelle Gross said at a recent public meeting at Powderhorn park convened by Communities United Against Police Brutality.

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