Councilors talk more on desire to dismantle Minneapolis police

Gov. Tim Walz meanwhile acknowledges that there is concern from those in Greater Minnesota.
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Some of the council members who leapt to national attention on Sunday by announcing their intentions to dismantle Minneapolis Police Department spoke more about their aims on Monday.

Council president Lisa Bender spoke on CNN Monday morning, as well as during a Zoom Q&A hosted by The Appeal, along with fellow councilors Phillipe Cunningham, Jeremiah Ellison, and Alondra Cano.

Amid fears from residents and some Republican state lawmakers that Sunday's announcement will predicate chaos on the streets, councilors have been at pains to point out that it was just the first step in a process taking at least a year to come up with a viable plan for the future, and didn't mean the immediate disbandment of the city's police force.

Bender said that Sunday's announcement was about "telling the truth," namely that the Minneapolis Police Department and the system as it currently stands is not keeping everyone in the city safe.

Furthermore, she believes that the department is beyond reform, and instead what the council is pursuing is a "complete reimagining" of what public safety looks like.

And while she re-iterated a point made previously that she could imagine a "police-free future," she says that such a goal is a "long way away and would take an enormous amount of investment" in the city to address issues such as stable housing.

"The first thing on our mind is the safety of every resident, and we've heard that MPD is not creating that safety," she said.

As for those who have expressed fears about a reduction or removal of police officers and what would happen if they're a victim of crime, Bender said: "I have heard a lot of comments from people, from my neighbors, and it comes from a place of privilege for those of us for whom the system is working.

"I want them to step back and imagine what it would feel like to already live in that reality where calling the police means more harm is done."

It's likely that such a major change in approach to public safety in Minneapolis would require a public vote to change the city's charter, which requires the city keep a minimum police presence in the boundaries.

Shorter-term goals cited by Bender include the demilitarization of police officers in the city, while the city council is also expected to take steps to defund elements of the police budget, shifting it to other departments this year, as it works on its plan – with engagement from the community – over the next 12 months to put forward a public safety alternative.

Ward 5 member Jeremiah Ellison said that the council is "not going to hit the eject button without a plan," with Sunday's announcement about starting a lengthy discussion.

He says that the option of reforming police isn't a possible one, because previous reforms have failed to make an impact because of a lack of accountability for police officers.

"We don't have access to accountability. We can have officer training, we can hire locally, we can hire diverse workforces, but if someone not going to face criminal consequences for criminal acts, then what incentive do they have to change their behavior?" he told The Appeal.

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He cited figures showing a significant number of fired police officers in Minneapolis get reinstated upon appeal, which he says suggests the police chief is getting the firings wrong, "but I don't think that's true."

"So we have got these systems that we can't change and I think they make all our reforms kind of moot," he said.

"In recent years ... we have seen our police involved in a scandal to inject ketamine illegally [on civilians, not all of them suspects], we've seen sex assault victims re-traumatized by investigation process, we've seen the Minneapolis Police Department lie about rape kits going untested," he said.

"These are things just short of being killed by cops, and there seem to be no consequences."

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