Shootings and homicides are on a record pace in Minneapolis, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said during his appearance in the August 26 African American Leadership Forum (AALF) virtual town hall. “Crime has spiked since May 25, George Floyd’s death. We have seen this in other parts of the country as well.”
The city’s first Black police chief pointed out that the majority of gunshot victims “are people who look like me.” Gun violence in many Minneapolis neighborhoods was the discussion topic of the panelists, which featured longtime local pastor Rev. Jerry McAfee, community activists Lisa Clemons and K.G. Wilson, and retired St. Paul policeman Melvin Carter.
Wilson was especially dismayed with the recent killing of a 17-year-old teenager in North Minneapolis August 25, the city’s 50th homicide of 2020, two more than the 48 total homicides in 2019. “I have seen less of a response on what I see as Black-on-Black violence,” he stressed.
“I have seen innocent children shot and killed in our community, and I may have seen 10 to 15 people show up for that innocent child. But on the flip side, I have seen when an individual is shot or killed by the police, thousands of people respond.”
Clemons, a retired MPD sergeant, started A Mother’s Love Initiative in 2014. She said, “A lot of the gun violence is because we got people who believe [someone] has to pay. People are coming out of the criminal justice system and back into the violence.”
McAfee concurred that too often violence is retaliation from a previous incident, sometimes dating back years. Gangs and sub-groups have replaced families for too many young Blacks, he added. He said our communities are “disconnected” for various reasons, including a breakdown in families.
“Wherever the gap is, how then we utilize city, county, federal and church things that is already there and get the family back together… A healthy and whole family will solve the [violence] issue in our community, “said the pastor.
Carter argued that a “state of emergency” is needed to address the gun violence issue. He compared the current violence to a horror movie: “It is a nightmare,” the retired St. Paul officer observed.
“I believe police reform and community reform” both are needed, continued Clemons, who has been outspoken and critical of the Minneapolis City Council’s current plans to dismantle the MPD in favor of a new community safety operation. “My concern is saving lives in the community,” she said.
“There will be no perfect plan, but we have to have some plan,” said Arradondo, who agreed that his department needs change but added that he has been hamstrung by council restrictions along with resistance from police union higher-ups.
Yet he reaffirmed that the police can’t do it alone. “We are sadly mistaken if it’s solely up to the police to curtail this violence. There are things we do well, and there are things that we need to do in responding to violent crime. But we are not going to get rid of housing and the homeless issue,” Arradondo continued. “People historically have wanted police to solve all societal problems, and we just can’t.
“We should not be the only entity that responds to people with mental health issues. I don’t want to criminalize homelessness and addiction. It’s going to take faith leaders, social workers, parents, teachers, private sector folk in order for us to really get this.”
Arradondo reminded the panel that 90 % of his department budget goes to salaries, health and retirement benefits, and the remainder for training and other administrative needs.
“When you talk about defunding [the police], you are going to strip away basic responsibilities [of MPD,” he said. “I believe you have to look universally—all city budgets and enterprises should be looked into. We need to look at where our priorities are all over.
“I do believe as chief we need to have funding to support all of these other areas that impact our communities, especially where it impact more communities than others,” said Arradondo.
Carter said, “We need an emergency plan, not sound bytes, because of the complexity of the crisis. There is no perfect plan [to solve the violence problem], but the emergency can’t wait for all of us to be in agreement. We will disagree.”
Arradondo praised the work of McAfee, Clemons and Wilson in the community—the three have been helping his department deescalate situations after a violent incident takes place. “It will require all of us to do this hard work,” he concluded. “We have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”