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Minneapolis responds to New York Times writer's 'dystopian ghost city' claim

Is violent crime up? Have police actually been defunded? Do ghosts actually live here?

Normally when we write about the New York Times missing the mark on Minnesota, it's something fun, like grape salad or the Jucy Lucy. This latest one ... well, take a look.

It comes from a column written by Thomas Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who was born in Minneapolis and raised in St. Louis Park, though who now lives in Bethesda, Maryland. The piece, published Tuesday, focuses on rising crime levels and the political consequences (as well as opportunism) surrounding this surge.

Here's the passage really getting attention in Minneapolis:

"For example, big swaths of my old hometown, Minneapolis, have been turned into a dangerous and dystopian ghost city, racked by gun violence, since the police murder of George Floyd, a murder that exposed two truths for all to see: that racism in metropolitan police forces is real and appalling and requires many remedies, but also that rushing to defund or dismantle police forces without a carefully considered plan is not one of them.

The defund battle cry initially guided the super-progressive Minneapolis City Council, and it has diminished and demoralized the police force, leaving behind a department that is often either unable or unwilling to risk getting embroiled in any kind of confrontation."

Minneapolis a ... dangerous and dystopian ghost city? This Minneapolis?

Friedman lays the blame for this hellscape, in part, on a "rush" to "defund" the police, citing numbers from the Star Tribune that show 200 fewer officers in the city's police department now as a result of "retirements, resignations and medical leaves."

But has the city's police department actually been "defunded?"

The 2021 citywide budget approved by the mayor and city council allocated $176 million for the Minneapolis Police Department. About $8 million of that is specifically for the creation of mental health crises response teams, and violence prevention programs.

That is indeed down from the $193 million MPD received in 2020 — but the 2021 budget included cuts to all major departments, with the city taking a significant revenue hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But city council members approved funding for two new recruiting classes in 2021, and allowed the police department to maintain its same number of authorized police officers (up to 888), rather than reducing the size of the force to 750 as some council members had suggested.

Also, the council last week approved $5 million in additional funding for MPD to cover overtime incurred over the course of the past year.

There were efforts last year to replace Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention that would retain police officers, but focus them on serious crime while taking a wider "holistic" approach to violence prevention such as mental health support and social programs.

This failed to get onto the ballot as a referendum question in 2020. Efforts to get a ballot question have been renewed in 2021, but the council's new proposal would still keep the city's police department, albeit remove minimum staffing levels and give the council more oversight. A competing proposal would see the creation of a public safety department akin to what was put forward last year.

Is violent crime up in Minneapolis? 

Yes. There has been a particularly depressing rash of gun violence including the tragic shooting of three children by stray bullets in May, two of whom died.

But this is not a problem unique to Minneapolis, so singling it out in such a way could be construed as unfair, albeit it was at the epicenter of last year's civil unrest sparked by the police murder of George Floyd.

Violent crime has gone up pretty much everywhere else in America since the start of the pandemic, with the states with the highest murder rates predominantly in the south.

And these increases are happening not just in cities run by Democrats or that have reduced police funding, but also in Republican-run cities or those that have put more money into the police department, according to the Associated Press. 

On top of it all, look at the housing market. Few people want to move out of the city, and buyers are competing over a tiny amount of stock, paying historically high prices for basic homes

A median sales price of $350,000 to live in a "dangerous and dystopian ghost city"?

Anyway, Minneapolis Twitter is, naturally poking back at Friedman's claims. 

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