Minneapolis voters reject proposal to replace police department

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Voters emerge from Sabathani Community Center after casting their ballots during municipal elections Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Minneapolis. Voters in Minneapolis are deciding whether to replace the city’s police department with a new Department of Public Safety. The election comes more than a year after George Floyd’s death launched a movement to defund or abolish police across the country.(David Joles /Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minneapolis voters on Tuesday rejected a proposal to replace the city’s police department with a new Department of Public Safety, an idea that supporters hoped would bring radical change to policing in the city where George Floyd’s death under an officer’s knee brought calls for racial justice.

The initiative would have changed the city charter to remove a requirement that the city have a police department with a minimum number of officers. Supporters said a complete overhaul of policing was necessary to stop police violence. Opponents said the proposal had no concrete plan for how to move forward and warned it would leave some communities already affected by violence more vulnerable as crime is on the rise.

The ballot proposal had roots in the abolish-the-police movement that erupted after Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year. The debate over racial justice in policing brought national attention to Tuesday’s vote, as well as a river of out-of-state money seeking to influence the outcome that could have shaped change elsewhere, too.

The ballot question called for a new Department of Public Safety to take “a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions” that would be determined by the mayor and City Council. Supporters argued it was a chance to reimagine what public safety can be and how money gets spent. Among other things, supporters said, funding would go toward programs that don’t send armed officers to call on people in crisis.

The future of policing in the city where Floyd’s death in May 2020 launched a nationwide reckoning on racial justice overshadowed everything on the municipal ballot. The debate brought national attention to the election, as well as a river of out-of-state money seeking to influence a contest that could shape changes in policing elsewhere, too.

Rishi Khanna, 31, a tech worker, voted yes on replacing the police department, saying he doesn’t believe police officers are qualified to deal with many situations, such as mental health crises. He said he thinks having professionals equipped to deal with a range of public safety issues in the same department as law enforcement will benefit both residents and police officers.

“I understand that law enforcement will have to have a seat at the table, but I think both in our community and in communities around the country, too often law enforcement is the only seat at the table,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the right solution.”

Askari Lyons, 61, voted against the ballot initiative. A resident of the city’s largely Black north side, where violent crime runs higher than in the rest of the city, he said he believes Minneapolis police officers “may have learned a lesson after George Floyd’s death and what happened to the cop that killed him.”

Lyons called it “unwise” to replace the department and said he believes change within the department is imminent.

“People are so frustrated, so angry, so disappointed” with the violence occurring citywide as much as they are with the city’s law enforcement, he said.

Opponents said the ballot proposal contained no concrete plan for how the new department would operate and expressed fear that it might make communities already affected by gun violence even more vulnerable to rising crime.

Two nationally prominent progressive Democratic leaders — U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents the Minneapolis area, and state Attorney General Keith Ellison — both supported the policing amendment. But some leading mainstream liberals, including Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, opposed it and feared the backlash could lead to Democratic losses across the country in 2022.

Support didn’t cleanly follow racial lines. Opponents included several prominent Black leaders, including some who have been top voices in the police accountability movement.

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