The smoke has cleared after two weeks of protest in Minneapolis. Some of the shine has been rubbed off the “mini-apple” as the world has glimpsed the brutality and lawlessness of the Minneapolis Police Department. And now anxiety is growing around the question, “Will real change actually occur?”
“Time has expired on talk not backed up by action,” wrote community members calling themselves Minneapolis for a Better Police Contract in an open letter. ‘Transformation does not start tomorrow, it starts now. If you are true to your word about listening to the community members and including them as equal partners, then immediate action congruent with those statements must follow.”
The group is responding to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s extension of an olive branch to the community with promises to include it as advisors in helping to develop structural reform and transparency in the police department.
Despite the department’s spotlight exposure during the first week of justice protests for George Floyd, in many instances, it behaved unprofessionally as police shot out the eye of a foreign correspondent and targeted with projectiles a woman standing on her own porch.
They were caught on camera at two different protests spraying clouds of mace at peaceful protesters while driving by them in cars. They were caught on camera firing rubber bullets and what appeared to be paintballs at reporters and young people who were protesting peacefully.
Minneapolis Police Lieutenant Bob Kroll, president of the Police Federation, seemed intent on sabotaging the mayor and the police chief’s efforts to make concessions to the community. He wrote a letter calling the protesters terrorists and revealed that he was talking to other police departments encouraging them to keep a hard line.
In an interview with the Intercept he admitted that shooting people didn’t bother him. He has shot people on a few occasions. Even the Minnesota Highway patrol got into the act. They were caught on camera puncturing all four tires of dozens of cars in a large parking lot downtown, cars which they presumed were being driven by protestors.
No rational explanation for this property destruction was given by the troopers’ command. The protest had remained peaceful, so there was no apparent reason except for plain meanness to flatten the tires of cars that, as it turned out, belonged to people living and working nearby.
Yet several Black residents led by Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church called a press conference last week to show support for embattled Chief Arradondo. The press conference came on the heels of the chief reporting that the department had suspended negotiations with the Police Federation.
“There is nothing more debilitating to a chief from an employment matter perspective than when you have grounds to terminate an officer for misconduct and you’re dealing with a third-party mechanism that allows for that employee not only to be back in your department, but to be patrolling your communities,” Arradondo said.
However, according to labor law attorney Gregg Corwin, “The City can’t unilaterally refuse to bargain or pull out of negotiations. Either they are choosing to ignore the statute or they don’t understand it, but they’re constrained by state law.”
Recently, local and national headlines have announced that the Minneapolis City Council has agreed to disband the police, but they have not made it clear how they plan to do it.
Experts have estimated that this will be a long and drawn-out process, saying they would have to amend the city charter that deems police as an essential part of City services. Skeptics have said it cannot be done. Other proposals have been made, and the Minneapolis police have agreed that chokeholds would no longer be permissible.
“So the police are banning chokeholds?” one speaker asked the crowd rhetorically at a rally at 38th Street and Chicago. “Why would they think it was okay to choke people in the first place?”
The majority of the marches and rallies have been called by a coalition of Communities United Against Police Brutality, St. Paul Black Lives Matter (a group independent of the national organization), Racial Justice Network, CAIR Minnesota, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar Clarke, and several individual activists. It was this coalition that organized the first march and rally through downtown on the day after the burning and looting of stores.
This destruction was apparently carried out not by local disaffected youth, but rather by organized provocateurs. These youth apparently simply took advantage of the chaos.
While there has been consternation about what will happen if there is no police presence in North Minneapolis, which was quite a distance removed from the South Minneapolis uprising, there was no police protection as neighbors reported gangs of marauding White Supremacists riding around. On one occasion a member of the North Side team that armed itself to protect businesses along the Broadway Avenue corridor was actually shot at.
Few stories in the mainstream press have reported it, but neighbors North and South have told the MSR that they encountered White supremacists in their neighborhoods after the curfew. Curfew was imposed the weekend of June 1 and extended for several days, and finally ending after it was pushed back to 10 pm.
KSTP Channel 5 interviewed a private security firm that had been on hand to protect several businesses, and it reported that a well-organized mix of anarchists and White Supremacists had caused most of the damage. The results of their handiwork have deprived some neighborhoods of most of their stores and shops.
While the motives of the White supremacists appeared to be the destruction of Black property and to cause the police to shoot at Black people, the motives of the anarchists are unclear, since they consider themselves a revolutionary group. Their strategy harkens back to the days of Vietnam when U.S. government policy was to destroy Vietnamese villages to save them.
While slogans like “defund the police” and “abolish the police” have been bandied about, there has been consternation in the White community and Black community alike over the possibility of not having police. Defund the police activists explain that they don’t want to get rid of police so much as stop police abuse and put to better use some of the money used to fund police.
They say the idea is for the community to find more creative ways to police itself and have pointed out a few areas in which police should not be involved. Some activists have suggested that the community create a crisis team that can respond to people having mental-health crises. Many people have been injured or killed by police responding to such calls.
Having crisis counselors available who can intervene in disputes before they turn into domestic violence has also been proposed. They suggest that police not be involved with people with alcohol and drug problems, but rather have these treated as the health and social problems they are rather than as criminal issues.
Defund the police proponents say the call to defund means putting money into badly needed housing programs or improving public education. Under the best circumstances, the money removed from the budget would be put into the community’s hands to make improvements in the aforementioned areas. Yet another potential use for the funds would be community-run treatment centers.
And then there has been the ultimate call to simply abolish the police.
“People like me who want to abolish prisons and police have a vision of a different society, built on cooperation instead of individualism, on mutual aid instead of self-preservation,” wrote police abolitionist activist Miriame Kaba in the New York Times. “This change in society wouldn’t happen immediately, but the protests show that many people are ready to embrace a different vision of safety and justice.
“When the streets calm and people suggest once again that we hire more Black police officers or create more civilian review boards, I hope that we remember all the times those efforts have failed.”
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.