In the social hall of New Beginnings Baptist Ministries, located at the southeast corner of 1st Avenue and 43rd Street in South Minneapolis, Northsider Anita Urvita-Davis, who was born in the U.S., recalled how in the late 1990s a Minneapolis police officer asked her for papers in Spanish.
“The police officer at the corner, waiting to turn, looks at me out his open window and says, ‘Buenos tardes [Good afternoon].’ I looked at him and I said, ‘Buenos tardes,’” recalls Urvina-Davis. The officer then asked, in Spanish, if she spoke English. “Si,” she told the officers. “Then he said ‘Tiene papeles? Do you have papers?’ I was taken aback and I said in English ‘What?’”
Despite Urvita-Davis, who is a member of the Unity Community Mediation Team, being hurt by how she was treated, she still thinks we need police. She believes they just need to be more sensitive. She joined a committee of eight community members from the African immigrant, African American and Native American communities, all members of the UCMT, who met with the U.S. Department of Justice last Thursday morning to provide feedback on what a Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) consent decree should address.
During the U.S. Department of Justice’s two-year investigation into the MPD, they found the department engaged in discriminatory, often reckless practices against Blacks and Native Americans and those suffering a mental health crisis.
At the meeting between the Unity Community Mediation Team and the DOJ, members asked that the MPD recruit more officers from the community—officers who they believe will see them with dignity.
“Every day [Lake Street Somali Mall goers] feel discriminated against by the Minneapolis Police Department, especially when it comes to Friday prayers,” says Farhil Khalif, executive director of Voice of East African Women. “They feel like they’ve been harassed or given a ticket on the spot. A lot of people believe they’re being targeted because they’re Black.”
Mary LaGarde, executive director of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, echoed this sentiment. “We want our law enforcement to reflect the community that they’re serving. We want our Native people to be police officers, people that can relate to our community members.”
Even though some may want to abolish the police, and have the money spent investing in resources to build strong communities, Rachel Dionne Thunder said we still need the police in some cases.
“I believe that we do need law enforcement, because there are situations that I don’t want to see our community members put in without the proper training and resources and tools that police departments have access to,” says Dionne Thunder. “We need law enforcement to investigate our missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives. We need those resources to come into our community, but we need them to come in a way that’s healthy and helpful, not overbearing and restrictive and abusive.”
Pastor Ian D. Bethel agrees, but also admits it will be difficult for MPD to focus on hiring more officers, which he believes will make Minneapolis safe. “Remember that movie ‘Ghostbusters’? Who you gonna call? If someone breaks into your home, who you gonna call? You’re gonna immediately dial 911.
“We need the police,” said Bethel. “The numbers in the police department are not there [to keep us safe]. You tell a 10-year-old, ‘Go into policing as a career.’ It’s [a] hard sell. We cannot give up on that.”
The meeting was reportedly among more than a dozen that the DOJ held in Minneapolis last week. The DOJ was reportedly present at the Sabathani Community Center on June 26 and the North Regional Library on June 27, as well as meeting with organizations working with the Native American and East African communities.
However, many in the community did not know about the meetings, which were organized on short notice. “One thing we mentioned is the need to give the community better notice of outreach meetings. We’ll be working with them on this issue,” said Communities United Against Police Brutality Director Michelle Gross.
A DOJ spokesperson stresses that they plan to have “additional opportunities for input in the coming weeks in this ongoing process.” They invite community members who are interested in attending future sessions or providing their feedback on the consent decree to email email@example.com or call 866-432-0268.
Nonetheless, Dionne believes police officers will not fix all of our problems. “There need to be resources that are invested in behavioral health. There need to be task forces for trafficking, for missing and murdered Indigenous women. There need to be resources for addiction and homelessness. There needs to be protection for our children, investment in our future generations,” says Dionne Thunder.
“We can’t expect [police to be] a fix-all. But we can expect them to have integrity, to have trust, to be healthy, and to be accountable for their actions.”