Black leaders, activists debate police reform ballot question

WATCH: The Racial Justice Network (RJN) held a virtual Public Safety Forum on Oct. 12, 2021, providing a Black-led space and platform to discuss Ballot Question #2./Video courtesy of Racial Justice Network.

Agree on need for police accountability

On Tuesday, October 12 the Racial Justice Network (RJN) hosted an engaging Facebook Live discussion on the Question #2 ballot question. The question asks voters to consider changing the Minneapolis Police Department into a Department of Public Safety, which would take a more holistic approach to public safety. The proposal would also eliminate the requirement of a certain number of police officers in the City’s charter and effectively eliminate the role of the police chief as we know it.

Nekima Levy Armstrong, the founder of the RJN, summarized the opposing views behind the ballot proposal with two points. “Does it make more sense to essentially dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department as we know it to implement a new Department of Public Safety that will be led by the mayor as well as the 13 seat members?” she asked.

She also pointed out that “the other side of that are folks who essentially say, ‘Hey, the MPD may be broken. They may have some issues, [but] we wanna see it reformed rather than dismantled.”

The discussion was co-hosted by Levy Armstrong and Titilayo Bediako. They were joined by six community members with varying degrees of support or opposition for the amendment.

“What we’ve seen in the past year and a half since the murder of George Floyd was this unilateral structure where the mayor and the chief of police have total autonomy and control over the police department,” said D. A. Bullock, a supporter of the amendment. “They have total control over the reforms that are made. They have total control over who is hired and who is fired,” he said.

Mayoral candidate AJ Awed disagreed with Bullock, noting that the city council would be in a position of power within the new Department of Public Safety. “We’re going to assume that the city council, with [their] track record, is going to make safety and the delivery of safety better? That’s a risk…It’s an experiment on Black lives,” said Awed.

“We have the opportunity to attain everything that is needed in this community,” stated Jerrell Perry, a mayoral candidate in support of the amendment who felt that the new department would be a great asset to the community but feared the community was too divided to achieve the maximum level of change.

“There’s so much at stake here. I understand the sentiment [behind the charter]. But we have to be sensible. Because we do have an enormous amount of crime that’s happening in our communities,” added Teto Wilson, a business owner in North Minneapolis. He wondered whether the community wanted the police with reforms or would rather take a gamble on an unknown Department of Public Safety. 

“This amendment is about abolishing the police. It is about getting the police in check. It has nothing to do with safety and systemic change,” declared Sondra Samuels, founder of Public Engagement And Community Empowerment (PEACE) and Northside Youth Stand Up.

“This is not about defunding the police. This is not about abolishing the police. Those are untruths,” disagreed Mel Reeves, community editor at the MSR. He agreed with the amendment in that reforms are needed within the system of policing in Minneapolis, but worried that with the proposal, it would be difficult to hold police accountable when they misbehave.

Click the video above to watch the forum or watch on the RJN’s Facebook page.

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