Minneapolis Activists Could Put Police Reform Directly on the Ballot
Yes 4 Minneapolis, a coalition of advocacy organizations, is on track to place a proposed charter amendment on November’s ballot that would fundamentally change policing and public safety in the city.
Joshua Vaughn Mar 26, 2021
Last year, after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, killing him, public officials in Minneapolis vowed to disband the police department and replace it with a whole new model of public safety. But the gears of bureaucracy ground those efforts to a halt.
Now, the people of Minneapolis are taking it upon themselves to make the idea of fundamental transformation of public safety a reality. The Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, a coalition of advocacy organizations in the city area, are gathering signatures for a petition to place a proposed charter amendment on the November ballot. It would move police under a newly formed Department of Public Safety and eliminate a requirement that the city employ a minimum number of officers—one for every 588 residents.
“The Minneapolis residents have made it clear that they want something different,” Corenia Smith, campaign director for Yes 4 Minneapolis, told The Appeal. “They deserve safety and folks deserve to have a number and response team to call and receive care and dignity in that process.”
Smith said the new department would take a public health approach to public safety. “Being able to implement mental health responders, being able to have social workers – folks who are well versed in domestic violence prevention and able to deescalate – those are a lot of the services our city needs right now,” she said. “Being able to have better responses to addiction and substance abuse, people being unhoused and economically displaced, those are just not things police are equipped to handle.”
Smith said the campaign was on track to exceed its goal of 20,000 signatures by April 30, though only about 12,000 are needed to get on the ballot.
Several cities have taken up plans to reduce police budgets and rethink public safety since Floyd was killed. Earlier this year, Ithaca, New York Mayor Svante Myrick proposed a plan to fully disband its police department and replace it with a Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety that would include armed and unarmed civilian first responders. Lawmakers in Albuquerque are currently considering a proposal that would divert some non-violent calls from the police department to a newly formed Community Safety Department.
The Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign—which includes TakeAction Minnesota, Reclaim the Block, Women for Political Change, and Color of Change—is one part of a two-track effort to get a charter amendment on the ballot this year. The City Council is making its second attempt and passed an amendment similar to the campaign’s earlier this month. The city’s Charter Commission blocked the council’s amendment last year, saying it needed more time to review the proposal.
Elianne Farhat, executive director of Take Action Minnesota, placed the blame for the failed amendment on the commission and Mayor Jacob Frey, who is up for reelection in November. “They chose to slow it down and they chose to continue to play politics with people’s lives,” Farhat said.
By proposing an amendment through a petition, the City Council, mayor, and Charter Commission have less power to block or slow down the proposal. Under Minnesota law, the Charter Commission and City Council generally provide oversight that the petition was legally submitted and help craft the language of the ballot question but cannot change the substance of the initiative as long as the petition met all the legal requirements.
The Charter Commission has broader authority to approve, deny, or change proposals when dealing with recommended charter amendments created by the City Council.
Both Farhat and Smith said the City Council amendment and the petition proposal were not in competition but were aimed instead at making sure residents definitely have a proposed charter amendment to vote on in November. Smith said council members have agreed to drop their proposed amendment if the petition campaign is successful.
“Derek Chauvin and the officers who stood by Derek Chauvin while he killed George Floyd are part of an infrastructure that perpetuates a culture of violence and is operating totally unaccountable to the public,” Farhat said. “It is our moral obligation as citizens, as neighbors to hold that system and infrastructure accountable and transform that system into one that doesn’t do harm and damage but actually keeps us safe.”
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