BY ELINA KOLSTAD
Nov. 2, 2021, will be a referendum on the murder of George Floyd and whether residents feel the city did enough to fix the problems within the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) that brought us to the center of international news, in the worst light possible, last summer. The outcome of this election will determine whether we get real change towards a public safety perspective where every effort is made to prevent crime before it happens or whether we stick with business as usual with wallpaper glued over the moldy, rotting interior that is our criminal “justice” system.
A lot of attention has focused on ballot question #2 which would replace the MPD with a Department of Public Safety and move oversight from the mayor to the City Council. There has been a lot of fear surrounding this ballot question and candidates like Sheila Nezhad who feel major structural changes are needed to combat police brutality. There is a strong fear that lawlessness and chaos will reign if major changes go through. Those against major changes feel the focus should be on reform of the MPD, not a complete overhaul of how we approach public safety. This perspective is dependent on the idea that Derek Chauvin and the officers with him were just “bad apples,” that small reforms will be plenty to make sure nothing like the brutal murder of George Floyd happens again, and that removing the MPD from the city charter and replacing it with a Department of Public Safety will automatically lead to more crime and therefore directly threaten these individuals’ personal safety.
But Derek Chauvin wasn’t just a random officer, a bad apple, he was an officer whom the leadership thought highly enough of to train in other officers. Chauvin was, in fact, in the process of training officer Thomas Lane when he murdered George Floyd that day. This was after numerous complaints against him for brutality over the course of many years. There is clearly a cultural problem within the MPD and it is also clear that the only reason the “blue wall of silence” crumbled during the Chauvin trial was that those officers in charge knew that to stand by Chauvin as usual would inevitably mean the MPD would be defunded. They had less of a problem with what Chauvin did than with the fact that he got caught. In this light many of us feel that the simple reforms proposed and what little has so far been implemented will not prevent future rampant brutality on the part of the MPD.
But perspective matters; the vast majority of those I’ve seen criticizing a new approach to public safety are unlikely to ever be on the receiving end of police brutality. They do, however, feel very threatened by “crime.” Admittedly, a truly lawless society would be terrifying. Unfortunately, a lawless society is what our neighbors in heavily policed BIPOC neighborhoods face on a daily basis when dealing with armed “peace officers” who are above the law 99.99% of the time.
When making the argument that we need the police for safety, what these people are saying is that Black lives are the price we have to pay, as white people, to be safe. Or, more accurately, for them to FEEL safe. Not only is this argument abhorrent, but it is also patently false. The police do nothing to prevent crime. The police, by their very nature, step in AFTER a crime has been committed. In contrast a public safety approach would be able to use funds now limited to after-the-fact crime management and the purchase of overstock military equipment towards crime prevention through social services and harm reduction measures.
It sucks to be the victim of crime. Recently my husband forgot to lock our car overnight. Someone discovered this and made off with most of the stuff. Things stolen included a phone charger, phone cables, a blanket, spare masks and hand sanitizer. Given that there is a homeless encampment a few blocks away from us and based on the nature of what was taken, we assume the person who stole these items came from there. Admittedly it’s frustrating to have to replace these items but we can, and easily. The fact that not everyone in this city shares that reality is gutting.
I will be voting yes on ballot question #2. I will also be voting for Sheila Nezhad for mayor and for challenger Abdirizak Bihi for Ward 6 council member. Whatever your perspective, I hope you get out to vote as well.