Residents talk Third Precinct’s future

Photo by Henry Pan About 75 people gathered inside Squirrel Haus Arts in the city’s Longfellow neighborhood to discuss the abandoned Third Precinct building’s future. (l-r) Sneha Narayan, Matt Meshulam, Sophia Watkins, Dan Turner, Julia Hobart, Gwen McMahon, and Judy Lewison

Wanja Kuria had mixed feelings discussing with a group of mostly White people the future of the Minneapolis Third Precinct Building at E. Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. 

“I did feel a little exposed in ways that made it hard for me to want to be vulnerable, because there are some who expressed being traumatized by…buildings [that] were burnt down, but not [that] there was loss of life due to [Minneapolis Police Department]’s recklessness,” said Kuria after the group’s conversation wrapped up. She was one of the few Black women there.

Kuria was among 75 people who turned out to the event on May 16 hosted by the Longfellow Community Council. It was held at Squirrel Haus Arts, a warehouse-turned-art-studio space at Snelling Ave. and E. 35th Street in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood. 

The discussion comes at the heels of a scathing Minnesota Department of Human Rights report finding the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) engaged in patterns of racist and sexist policing. It also happened days before the second-year commemoration of George Floyd’s murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. 

It also comes as the community decides what to do with the Third Precinct building, which remains vacant almost two years after Floyd’s murder. People participating in the discussion, as well as a survey conducted by the Longfellow Community Council that evening, found that 74% of participants, who were mostly White, oppose it being rebuilt for police use. 

“They want to see it become a pillar of the community that does not look like a fortress on the corner of one of the most important intersections in the area,” said Longfellow community organizer Bennett Olupo, adding that some wanted to see the building razed or repurposed for people needing access to services such as shelter, health care, hunger, jobs, and surviving sexual assault. 

“I think having a station filled with people who address problems with guns is not actually what makes me feel safe,” said Sneha Narayan, who also lives in Longfellow and participated in the discussion. But some, including Judy Lewison, who is White and a Longfellow resident, think the Third Precinct headquarters should be back where it was. 

“I think service has degraded over the last couple of years,” said Lewison, citing that police have to drive from downtown to take a report. “And so I’m interested in any plans to relocate the group back in the precinct.” 

Yet even with police back in the community, Olupo finds the residents do not want business as usual. “Even the residents who want the police back in the building said they would want to see the major reform occur within the department for them to be back in the community,” said Olupo. “The human rights report is damning, and the residents felt abandoned by the MPD.”

Event organizers also invited City Councilmembers Jason Chavez and Robin Wonsley Worlobah to share their thoughts, along with Interim City Coordinator Heather Johnston to field questions and talk about the City’s process towards the end. 

Chavez may work with the city council to hire a facilitator with American Rescue Plan dollars to further deliberation on the Third Precinct’s future. The mayor and the city council will jointly decide the precinct’s future, said Johnston. “There are going to be certain components that are going to be proposed and brought to the council, but there are certain decisions that the council will still have to approve.”

“The conversation must continue, and it must be led by the City in partnership with the community,” said Olupo. “Something needs to be done, and we cannot let time heal us.”

Editor’s update: On Friday, May 20 the city council voted to spend $100,000 of American Rescue Plan funds for a consultant to facilitate further public discussion of the Third Precinct’s future.