Minnesota organizers demand more than police reform

George Floyd

Minnesota organizers are calling for deeper systemic reform in how Black bodies are policed and the consequences police face for their actions in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and global protests.

Gov. Tim Walz and the Minneapolis City Council announced a list of reforms on Friday for the Minneapolis Police Department, including banning chokeholds and allowing the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department to review body cam footage. 

Related Story: State, City of Minneapolis ban chokeholds, reform MPD policies

However, organizers “won’t accept their crumbs” in their fight for systemic change, said Nekima Levy Armstrong, activist and founder of the Racial Justice Network the night before the Council’s vote.

The Racial Justice Network, along with other active organizations such as Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN), have already demanded the firing and arrest of the four police officers involved in Floyd’s death, along with revoking their licenses.

“These are actually big victories that should be no brainers but wouldn’t have happened without community pressure, national pressure, global pressure,” said Levy Armstrong. 

Nekima Levy-Armstrong
Nekima Levy-Armstrong/Facebook Nekima Levy-Armstrong handing out masks and clothes in North Minneapolis on May 24

They have also called for an independent prosecutor with no ties to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s office or any of Minnesota’s law enforcement community. Walz instead announced that Attorney General Keith Ellison would oversee the case.

“We can check the boxes off of our most urgent demands,” added Levy Armstrong. But, organizers are seeking more. 

Michelle Gross, head of CUAPB, shared a 22-page document at a roundtable Rep. Ilhan Omar and other elected officials Thursday outlining what it will take to end police violence. It lists demands she and other organizers have been fighting for for years that were only partially addressed in the recently announced reforms. 

The demands include requiring police officers to carry their own liability insurance, establishing a civilian oversight committee, restricting the use of deadly force, and ending warrior training.

“It goes all the way to annual psychological testing of officers,” said Levy Armstrong. “It goes to removing officers from the force who have a history of excessive force or killing people,” she continued. “We’ve been asking for the MN Post Board to strengthen their requirements to renew officer licensing, to strip officers of their license when they are involved in an unjustified or unjust killing or overusing excessive force.”

Michelle Gross
Chris Juhn Michelle Gross

Organizations such as Black Visions Collective (BVC) have gone one step further, calling for the complete dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department. “We are past police reform,” said BVC organizers in a recent statement. “We are calling on our Mayor Jacob Frey to immediately begin the process to defund [the police] and together, allow our communities to transition to community-led safety.”

Gross acknowledged the growing movement for police abolition. “I think it’s a good sentiment,” she said. But, until the community can actually move in that direction, she suggested small, significant ways to reduce police presence. This includes removing cops from schools and to not have them be the first responders to mental health crises and welfare checks. 

“People end up getting beat up in their own homes for no good reason. We have to get cops out of things that cops have no business being involved in,” she said.

“We need to demand complete rehaul of the system,” added Jaylani Hussein, executive director, CAIR-MN. “The system has laws that are oppressive. It has policies and procedures that are oppressive. We are concerned that this moment of demanding for justice could be coopted by failed political leaders who now want to champion policies that are watered down, as well as organizations that are interested in continuing the status quo.”

Jaylani Hussein
Photo courtesy Jaylani Hussein

Doing that, he said, would only be “putting bandaids on an issue that requires a complete review of all the aspects that led us to the killing and the torturing of George Floyd and many others in the community.” 

Addressing all of the issues will require cooperation from state, county and city governments, including the MN Post Board.

Levy Armstrong said the changes should have been addressed after the deaths of other Black bodies at the hands of police. “But they didn’t because people go back to business as usual when they have the opportunity.” But, Gross said the world has shown that officials can no longer ignore their calls. 

“The ability to do half measures and slide and never pay attention to this is over. It’s done,” said Gross. “You are not going to evade responsibility for addressing our policing problem anymore. You have to adopt these changes. Otherwise, the next Geroge Floyd is right around the corner.”

Communities United Against Police Brutality will present its complete list of demands to the public on Monday, June 8.