BY LYDIA HOWELL
It’s a strange time to be a progressive with a lifetime of doing anti-racism and police accountability activism and, now, seeing my city overwhelmed by crime.
Conversations about Minneapolis ping-pong between right-wing screeds, “Minneapolis is a crime-ridden hellscape! Leave NOW!” to progressives asserting, “The real problem is racial equity,” while minimizing concerns about crime as (mostly) insidious bias largely felt by white, middle-class homeowners and businesses.
Pretending crime isn’t happening – and hurting real people – won’t create social change.
I’m working-class and live in public housing. Two African American neighbors were carjacked at gunpoint in our parking lot. Elder Somali neighbors, mostly women, are targeted for assault and robbery, followed home from the bank or shopping.
Gang rivalries and drug deals gone wrong ignite gunfire. Petty arguments anywhere, escalated by alcohol at bar close, get settled by bullets. Too often bystanders are harmed.
For two years, George Floyd Square memorialized victims of police violence, centered healing, and envisioned community rebirth. Crime ripples through there, too. In August, two separate shootings killed two men and seriously injured another.
I’m a survivor of multiple crimes from purse-snatching to sexual assault. Yet I worry that rising crime intensifies the racist backlash and makes criminal justice reform more elusive.
With the decreased number of police officers, precautionary habits prevent opportunistic crimes. Walking while scrolling one’s phone creates vulnerability. Cars, garages and homes must be habitually locked. Going out at night is safest in groups.
It’s empowering to remind people that our choices can make us safer.
A friend’s granddaughter left her car running at a convenience store. Moments later, it was stolen. Getting her car back quickly – without damage –implies juveniles joyriding. It seems that some juveniles are stealing cars just to ride around in them – not to sell them. Common sense would have prevented that crime.
“Defund the Police” was a dumb slogan distracting from making change. Mayor Jacob Frey didn’t try to strengthen accountability, absurdly claiming that the new Minneapolis Police Department contract was not the place for reforms.
For over 20 years, Communities United Against Police Brutality has had the most comprehensive response to police violence. Their concrete, evidence-based reform proposals can be found in “What It Will Take To End Police Violence” (documents tab) atwww.cuapb.org.
We’ve started redefining what police are for – serious, violent crime – not social problems better responded to by actually addressing them.
After George Floyd’s murder, Canopy got $3 million for mental health crises. In July, police killed Tekle Sundberg. It’s unknown what mental health measures were tried. Since 2006, Hennepin County’s COPE (Community Outreach for Psychiatric Emergencies) responds 24/7 if no weapons are involved (612-596-1223).
Traffic offenses and nonpayment of child support should be civil offenses. Restorative justice can address misdemeanors like shoplifting and vandalism. Determined coalitions can demand the failed “war on drugs” be replaced with harm reduction, treatment and decriminalization.
Obviously, this requires longer-term state legislative work to change laws. In the meantime, police, county attorneys and judges can exercise their discretion to shift priorities to what crimes to charge and jail people for.
When it comes to juveniles, we’re in a 911 emergency.
It’s a crapshoot whether a teenager gets sentenced to a juvenile facility proven to heighten probability of future crimes or diversion programs that drop recidivism to 15%. Probation is too often a missed opportunity – no consequences for the crime and no rehab either. Probation alone sends the message: “You got away with it.” Lack of interventions leaves youth walking negative paths.
My reporting this summer has found the Office for Violence Prevention unreachable. However, the people most knowledgeable about what troubled youth need might be groups like MAD DADS, who work to interrupt the crime cycles they know too well. Other nonprofits like the Y, Boys and Girls Clubs, churches, and youth-oriented groups (yet to be created) must innovate alternatives.
We already overload teachers, yet schools are public buildings that could host these alternatives after-hours. Disengaged and disadvantaged youth have unmet needs that could be filled by the types of arts enrichment, support groups, counseling, and mentoring that middle-class white children have.
Crime’s economic appeal must be countered. Labor laws allow hiring teens 14 years old and up. With so many entry-level service job openings, early employment provides paychecks, social skills and self-respect. Local government and companies should collaborate on at-risk youth employment.
When we’re looking at violence, criminal justice reform gets trickier.
The hard truth is that perpetrators are sometimes also former victims. Trauma-informed support must be more widely available. Would it help to reduce violence to intervene earlier where children and youth learn violence, such as school bullying, child abuse and domestic violence?
Can we admit how much violence is tolerated in our society before it’s taken seriously – when we call it a crime?
“It takes a community to keep a community safe. We can’t arrest our way out of this,” says Minneapolis Police Public information Officer Garrett Parten. “We have to care more for each other.”
Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist.