After about two weeks of protests following the killing of George Floyd, the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to dismantle its police department. Local officials are working with activists and organizers to determine what the city's new public safety system will look like. With people all over the world watching, Minneapolis, Minnesota could serve as the blueprint for a new standard across the U.S.
The Minneapolis City Council secured pledges from nine members on Sunday — a veto-proof majority — to dismantle the police. According to a report by The New York Times, these council members sided with activists within the community who say that the city's police department cannot be reformed, and must be rebuilt from the ground up. That means that Minneapolis will likely be the first city to put some of the previously radical ideas for a post-police community into practice.
It took 2 weeks of protest for Minneapolis to say they are disbanding their police department. Unthinkable a short while ago. What could happen at 4 weeks? 6? 8? Keep protesting— Alex Peter (@LolOverruled) June 8, 2020
To many Americans, calls to "defund the police" or "abolish the police" have been shocking and confusing, but the suggestions actually come with some strong precedents. Policing looks very different in countries outside of the U.S., and some community organizers want to borrow from the templates set out in other parts of the world.
"This is massive," said Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. "This is the first time we are seeing, in our country's history, a conversation about defunding, and some people having a conversation about abolishing the police and prison state. This must be what it felt like when people were talking about abolishing slavery."
Even at home, the idea of replacing the police with other emergency response services is not new. Within political science and activist discourse, there are plenty of carefully thought-out plans for how a community could move forward without armed police — at least by our current definitions.
For an in-depth look at some ideas for police abolition, check out books such as Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete?, Alex S. Vitale's The End of Policing and Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. In the meantime, here is a condensed explainer of how Minneapolis might move forward without a conventional police department.
Plans to Make Plans
We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.
And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together.
We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response.
It’s really past due. https://t.co/7WIxUL6W79— Jeremiah Ellison (@jeremiah4north) June 4, 2020
As of Sunday, the Minneapolis City Council said that it did not yet have concrete plans for what the community's new public safety system would look like, according to The New York Times. The council promised that the community itself would be involved at every step of the process, and that it would also take past studies from around the world into consideration.
Demonstrators said that the important part here was the scale of change the City Council had agreed to. Earlier in the day, protesters booed Mayor Jacob Frey after he said that he did not want to de-fund his police department. Whatever comes of the City Council's new plan, demonstrators can be sure it will be far different from what they have now.
"Protesting is good and needed, press conferences are good and needed," said Councilwoman Alondra Cano. "That third space is needed where we are committed to each other, and not the camera."
One of the basic concepts underlying police abolition is that a person with a gun is not the best response to many — if not most — of the crises that police are called on to respond to. For example, another report by The Times cites activists who want to see nurses respond to drug overdoses, or want to see social workers respond to mental illness calls. In this way, a more specialized network of experts could be established to meet a community's needs rather than expecting police to be able to handle whatever is thrown at them.
Police themselves have thrown support behind this idea. In a 2016 press conference, former Dallas Police Chief David Brown said: "we're asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. ...Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding? Let the cops handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding? Let's give it to the cops. Here in Dallas, we got a loose dog problem. Let's have the cops chase loose dogs."
Two of the cops involved in Floyd’s murder were students at Minneapolis University’s sociology program. Academia often refines and gives racism a veneer of legitimacy. Not combat it or prevent it from being employed https://t.co/S796U19bsP— Danie The Degenerate (@daniecal) June 8, 2020
Advocates for police abolition say that not only are police ineffectual in many of these contexts, but that they cause more harm than good by escalating tense situations through their very presence. On Twitter this week, professionals like nurses and teachers have come forward to remark on how much easier it is to de-escalate an angry person when an armed police officer is not there imposing on them.
"De-fund" the police and "re-fund" other city programs? Police absorb a substantial portion of many city budgets. pic.twitter.com/ZfDPJ2sbg3— Rajat 🦨oni (@rsoxPNW) June 8, 2020
Of course, many of the services described above have very little funding and infrastructure compared to police departments — something that activists want to see drastically changed. To pay for the more specialized network of first responders they are proposing, they would like to see police departments "defunded," arguing that their budgets are unnecessarily high right now.
The Minneapolis Police Department reportedly got a budget of $189 million this year — about 14.54 percent of the city's $1.3 billion total budget. According to a report by PopularDemocracy.org, this is up from about 11.2 percent of the city's total budget in 2015. This is a larger percentage by far than any other service except for Public Works, which got 23.3 percent of the budget for public transportation and infrastructure management in 2015.
Organizers want to see that money redirected into programs for nurses, social workers, housing programs for the homeless and other ways of addressing common emergencies. Bear in mind that Minneapolis' police budget is relatively low compared to other large cities. Many communities dedicate 25 percent or more of their municipal spending to police, and that money fuels overtime pay, military-grade equipment and other expenditures that activists oppose.
CAHOOTS, or Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, was created in 1989 though an alliance of the police and the White Bird Clinic, which itself was a community service founded in 1969 by activists, social workers, medics, and hippies who did not trust the police. 2/— Belle 🏰 Resists (@BelleResist) June 8, 2020
Members of the Minneapolis City Council have voiced support for a crisis intervention model called CAHOOTS — Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets — which has been used successfully in Eugene, Oregon since 1989 according to The New York Times. CAHOOTS employees took over about 20 percent of Eugene's 911 calls in 2019 with a budget of just $2 million.
CAHOOTS employees are trained and authorized to respond to issues like public intoxication, homelessness and some mental health emergencies. They also offer crisis intervention, counseling, mediation, information and referral, transportation to social services and first aid. The program is not designed to replace cops altogether, but experts say its model could be expanded to do more.
Disbanding the MN police and the centering of police abolition is the result of years of work and organizing by BLM. Democrats have accomplished nothing but increasing the police budgets, fuck off, STEP BACK back, and boost BLM’s voice instead of tone policing their rhetoric. pic.twitter.com/LzKpO0oIJs— Maester Merry-Wan (@MaesterMerry) June 8, 2020
Whatever alternate strategies are provided, some opponents of police abolition say that they will not feel truly safe if police are disbanded altogether. This has caused some advocates to suggest "re-branding" the idea to get more people on board. Minneapolis Councilman Jeremiah Ellison told Sunday's crowd that he is thinking more about "funding a different safety strategy."
"Is the goal to execute some kind of vendetta against MPD? No," he said. Still, to the extend that a physical security force would still exist, advocates want it to look so different as to be virtually unrecognizable as a "police" force.
One popular suggestion is that officers be required to live within the community they work in. According to a 2014 report by Five Thirty-Eight, about 60 percent of police in the U.S.' biggest cities lived outside of their jurisdictions at the time. Some studies have shown that residency requirements for police have driven rates of violent encounters down within those communities, while also providing guaranteed jobs within each neighborhood and leveling the playing field for taxes as well.
Whether a city that has abolished its police department would call these security officers "police" when all is said and done remains to be seen. Some advocates have argued that it is worth renaming them no matter what to give victims of police violence peace of mind and to force beneficiaries of it to grapple with the change.
How are we supposed to reform this? https://t.co/nu79GzBm7j— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) June 8, 2020
Another common argument in favor of total police abolition is that it is the only way to be sure that whatever replaces the police is free of systemic racism. In his 2017 book, We Were Eight Years in Power, author Ta-Nehisi Coates draws a direct lineage from modern police departments to 18th century "slave catchers," whose job was to capture escaped slaves and return them to their masters. He also argues that white supremacy is "foundational" to the U.S. law enforcement system, and changing it from within is not possible.
Black Lives Matter activists often cite a 2018 report showing that violence against African Americans was "baked into" the Minneapolis Police Department upon its founding in 1867. To those who fear for their safety without cops, these activists retort that they will fear for their safety so long as conventional cops do exist.
No insignia, names or ID. Private comm equipment. Mix-matched helmets/clothes. Sure looks like King George III has hired some of Erik Prince's Hessian mercenaries to patrol the streets of DC. Asked who they’re with, they claim to be WITH “The Department of Justice.” #Blackwater pic.twitter.com/l56xWE88dA— Jake Morphonios 🔴 www.blackstoneintel.com (@morphonios) June 3, 2020
Despite their radical calls for police abolition, activists are not immune to fear of what might take its place themselves. As the idea becomes more mainstream, some social media users are expressing worry about its possible replacements — from private security contractors or "mercenaries" to a federally funded "surveillance programs." The presence of unidentified military contractors at recent Washington, D.C. protests has fueled these concerns.
The only solution, activists say, is to be thorough in planning for the replacement of police within the community. From the sounds of it, the Minneapolis City Council hopes to have these planning sessions behind closed doors, but some of the ideas listed above will surely be discussed there. In the meantime, other big cities like L.A. and New York have committed to smaller budget cuts to their police department, and activists are watching closely to see where that money is redirected.