Why the Minneapolis public safety ballot question is bad for Black people


Last summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, we joined our Minneapolis neighbors to raise our voices and joined the protests for justice, demanding meaningful reform to the city’s police force.

The Minneapolis City Council has also responded but the response quickly became detrimental to our neighbors in the city, and particularly, those of us who are African American.

Their rash approach is enshrined in a ballot question for the upcoming November 2 election that would eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department. It is incomplete, misleading and downright dangerous.

 As concerned citizens of Minneapolis, we have filed a lawsuit requesting an immediate hearing to have the ballot question replaced. The current question reads as follows:

 Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety, which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety? Yes or No.

 As it is currently written, the proposed amendment identifies no funding mechanism for the new “Department of Public Safety.” It also does not specify an effective date. Under state law, the implementation date would be 30 days after passage, meaning the Minneapolis Police Department would cease to exist as of December 2, 2021.

By only granting one month to create a brand-new department, we feel the improper ballot question is immature and poses an enormous risk to the safety of our children and neighbors.

Minneapolis voters have a right to understand the potential outcome and timeline if the amendment passes. The current ballot question hides that information, minimizes the impacts, and must be corrected. For instance, the ballot question should mention that there is no identified funding mechanism and clarify the cease date.

 To complicate matters further, the amendment would:

Not require the proposed “Department of Public Safety” to employ a single licensed peace officer—the only individuals that, under Minnesota law, can make arrests for felonies like domestic assault and kidnapping, among other crimes—effectively eliminating any form of City-provided peace-officer protection in Minneapolis.

Remove the mayor’s “complete power” over the police, giving the head of public safety 14 bosses with no single person responsible for overseeing law enforcement in Minneapolis, effectively eliminating political accountability for law—enforcement actions.

Remove the position of Chief of Police, thus eliminating our visionary and the first African American police chief, Medaria Arradondo.

The current proposal was written by a new political coalition called Yes 4 Minneapolis, which is funded largely by entities from outside Minnesota. The coalition sued after the City attached an explanatory note to the ballot question.

By the way, no suit was brought against having an explanatory note on the ballot question for rent control (which the council approved), only about policing. Given the major changes being proposed, we want voters to have a full understanding of the impact it will have if passed.

While other much smaller cities have disbanded police departments, no city close to the population of Minneapolis has ever attempted it. Without a proper plan for funding and only 30 days to create the proposed “Department of Public Safety,” the city becomes a social experiment for untested policing proposals.

African Americans will continue to be the human sacrifices. For example, of the 435 people shot this year— a 125% increase over 2019—84% were Black, 82% male and 49% were under age 26. That means, our young, Black males are and will continue to be the victims of our experiment-in-progress.

Like many other Minneapolis residents, we demand meaningful change to the city’s police force, AND it must be done right. As it is currently written, this proposal, if passed, would only cause more crime, violence, death and confusion, especially for the Black citizens of Minneapolis.

Don Samuels is a former city council member and CEO of MicroGrants, which awards modest grants to low-income people of potential, to start a business or career.

 Sondra Samuels is the president & CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), a collaborative of over 40 partner nonprofits and schools that is leading a revolutionary culture shift in North Minneapolis focused on ending multigenerational poverty through education and family stability.

Editor’s Note: Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson recently ruled in favor of the civil lawsuit brought by Minneapolis residents Don and Sondra Samuels and Bruce Dachis, who opposed the amendment’s language.

Judge Jamie Anderson objected to the language used in the amendment calling it “unreasonable” and “misleading.” In light of the ruling, the Minneapolis City Council revised the amendment language and approved it Sept. 7.

The new ballot question reads:

“Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?”

The explanatory note reads:

“This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.”