Police reform still in limbo one year after Floyd murder

Chris Juhn/MSR News George Floyd Square, May 25, 2021.

On May 25 celebrations around the nation marked the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death. What followed that killing was a summer of civil unrest and calls for reform and, in some cases, for the outright abolition of police.

One of the events that took place to commemorate Floyd’s life was the “Rise & Remember” George Floyd Global Memorial Celebration. It attracted thousands of Minnesotans to George Floyd Square on 38th St. E. and Chicago Ave. S. where Floyd was murdered at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

The celebration was marked by barbecues, music and performances throughout the day for participants to reflect on the past year. It ended with a candlelight vigil in remembrance the many lives lost at the hands of police violence.

Pastor Rozenia Fuller of Good News Baptist Church came out to the square on Tuesday to take part in what she saw as a historical moment. “I’m glad to be out here because this is an important movement in history,” she said. “It’s not just a moment, it’s a movement and it’s a mission. George Floyd Square has become more than a crime scene.”

Fuller’s church has been active in the square donating books, food and clothing to those in need. She also hailed the work of Black women like Jeanelle Austin and Marcia Howard for their work in organizing in the square and keeping it as a memorial to Floyd since his death.

The past year has also been full of personal insights for Abiyou Rose, a young Black man from Saint Paul. “I was adopted, so I was raised in a White family,” he said. “When this whole thing happened it was a big shock to me because I was kind of sheltered from what was really going on.”

Rose was in the square when news of former MPD officer Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict came down. Though there was joy that day, there was still tension from the trial.

“I feel like this is more of a celebration,” Rose said. “There were still people crying then, but this time there’s a barbecue, people are smiling while there’s music playing, and people are happy to see everyone come together again.

Linda Sloan, executive director of the Council for Minnesotan’s of African Heritage, was also in attendance. The event brought her back to the day when Floyd was murdered. “As long as we have breath in our bodies, there is hope,” Sloan said.


MPD’s uncertain future

A year later, many cities across the country are working to introduce reforms on the state and local level to effect change in policing, but much progress is yet to be made in the city that sparked the idea of dismantling police.

Days after video of Floyd’s death went viral, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council took to Powderhorn Park and announced their plans to end “policing as we know it” and “recreate systems of public safety,” according to Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender.

Their efforts were stalled when the city’s charter commission decided that they needed more time to review the council’s proposed amendment calling for the restructuring of the police department, which then subsequently kept it from the ballot last fall.

The charter serves as the city’s constitution, and its commission is made up of a 15-member board appointed by the Chief Judge of Hennepin County District Court. They are tasked with approving or denying any changes to the city’s charter. Critics of the commission say that it poorly reflects the diversity of Minneapolis with only three members identifying as people of color.

In March, the city council voted 11-2 to send a new proposal to the commission. The Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment was introduced by council members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder. Its aim would be to create a Department of Public Safety to house the city’s safety operations, including the MPD.

It would also create divisions for traffic safety, mental health and homeless outreach. The amendment proposes a major change to oversight and accountability of the police department. The minimum police staffing rule from the charter, which states that there must be 0.007 percent of the city’s population hired onto the department, would also be eliminated.

Under the current charter, the mayor has complete control over the police department’s policies and operations. With the amendment, the mayor would be in charge of the daily operations along with the department heads while the city council would be given legislative authority over the department.

The charter commission now has until mid-August to review the proposal and make a recommendation to the city council on whether the change should be placed on the ballot.

Although the fate of the council-led amendment to the charter isn’t certain, a citizen-led petition has gained the required number of signatures to make the ballot in November. This initiative is led by Yes 4 Minneapolis, a coalition of organizations such as the ACLU of Minnesota, Reclaim the Block, and Color of Change.

The two amendment proposals aren’t in conflict according to both the council and coalition, but the citizen-led change still has the possibility of MPD’s abolition in its language. It states that the new Department of Public Safety would employ police officers “if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department.” City council leaders have expressed that they would withdraw their proposal to not confuse voters.

All 13 city council members and the mayor will be up for election this November. Their political future and the fate of the city’s police department will be decided by the people of Minneapolis.