Rep. Ilhan Omar and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison have endorsed a ballot initiative that would abolish the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with with a new department of public safety.
The two Democrats are supporting the proposal on the ballot November 2, which seeks to create a new department that employs a ‘comprehensive public health approach’ and licensed peace officers ‘if necessary.’
The initiative would remove language in the city charter that requires Minneapolis to keep a police department with a minimum number of officers based on population.
The city would then create a new agency responsible for ‘integrating’ public safety functions ‘into a comprehensive public health approach to safety.’ The new agency could have police ‘if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department.’
Rep. Omar, a member of the so-called Squad of left-wing House Democrats, argued in an op-ed on Tuesday that replacing the Minneapolis police department is necessary
The new proposal would remove a reference to the police chief´s job from the city charter. Current Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is seen above
Omar, a member of the so-called Squad of left-wing House Democrats, argued in an op-ed on Tuesday for the Star-Tribune that George Floyd’s murder last year by a Minneapolis police officer made the changes necessary.
‘For decades, those opposed to change and civil rights have used fear and invocations of ‘law and order’ to keep people from reimagining a more humane system,’ she wrote.
‘We have a chance in this moment to reject that. We have an opportunity, once and for all, to listen to those most impacted by police brutality and the communities who have been demanding change for decades,’ Omar argued.
Omar insisted that there was ‘nothing radical about this amendment.’
Ellison, a left-wing Democrat who supported Senator Bernie Sanders in his recent presidential bids, announced his support for the measure in a tweet.
‘As a resident of [Minneapolis] where George Floyd’s murder sparked a national call for real reform, I will vote Yes for greater public safety & more human rights for all,’ wrote Ellison, Minnesota’s top law enforcement official.
As proposed, the new department would no longer be under the sole command of the mayor´s office, which is significant given that incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey opposes abolishing the police department while a majority of City Council members supports the idea.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison endorsed the proposal on Twitter
More than 30 local groups are pushing to support the change under the ‘Yes 4 Minneapolis’ banner.
They gathered 20,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot – almost twice the number necessary – and have raised about $1 million, including $500,000 from Open Society Policy Center, which has ties to billionaire George Soros.
‘What we knew as public safety – which is only the police right now, the only option that we have – was unacceptable,’ said Brian Fullman, lead organizer with one of the groups, Barbershop and Black Congregation Cooperative.
‘The murder of George Floyd ignited a lot of historical pain and disrespect that we have been going through, and we made the decision that we no longer wanted to have what we have now as the only option for public safety.’
A majority of City Council members first began pushing to eliminate the police department soon after Floyd´s death, but they failed to meet deadlines to get it on the ballot last November. The Rev. JaNaé Bates, a leader of the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, said the ease with which the campaign gathered signatures shows the momentum for change is still there more than a year after Floyd´s death.
‘The residents of Minneapolis really were the ones who made the call for this, who were like, we can´t just let this lesson that took place in the summer to be something that fizzles out, and then what? We just wait for the next person to be killed by the police?’ she said.
Minneapolis, like most other major U.S. cities, has been on edge due to rising violence and property crime in almost every neighborhood in the past year.
And the police department is more than 200 officers, or about 25 percent, below its authorized strength due mostly to a wave of retirements and disability leaves following Floyd´s death.
Minneapolis police officers stand in formation after a vigil for Winston Boogie Smith Jr. in Minneapolis last June. Voters will consider a proposal to abolish the police department
Both factors have energized opponents of the initiative. All of Mpls – a new group that has raised more than $109,000 – will begin campaigning against the proposal in the coming weeks with door knocking, community events, mailers and digital ads through the fall.
All of Mpls campaign manager Leili Fatehi called the proposal to eliminate the department ‘a gimmick.’ She said plenty of residents want police to be held accountable and changes in the department, but they also worry about rising crime.
‘It´s not getting us to the real solutions that balance those two concerns,’ she said.
Opponents also say the ballot question doesn´t guarantee that a new public safety department would have police officers at all. Instead, it says officers would be included ‘if necessary to fulfill the department´s duties.’ Bill Rodriguez, co-founder of Operation Safety Now, called the proposed amendment a ‘trojan horse’ and warned that the campaign’s end goal is to abolish police.
‘The amendment doesn’t say there will be a police force – it says there could be, maybe, if necessary,’ he said. ‘That’s the most important thing that needs to be understood about this amendment.’
The ballot proposal has sparked heated controversy and debate in Minneapolis, and three city residents are suing the city over its inclusion and wording.
Organizer Latrell Snider, left, talks with Minneapolis residents ahead of the November election, as small armies of door-knockers are hitting the streets seeking to build support for a ballot question that would eliminate the city’s police department
Two of the plaintiffs are former City Council member Don Samuels and his wife, Sondra, who oppose the movement to defund the police.
The couple were part of a successful lawsuit against the city after the number of police officers fell below the minimum requirement set in the charter.
Attorney Joseph Anthony wrote in a court petition that the question as worded ‘hides’ information from voters that would help them understand it.
It’s the second time this summer that the city has been sued over the ballot question. A judge earlier tossed out an explanatory note that the city had sought to attach to the ballot question that aimed to highlight some of the measure’s effects.
Attorneys for the city said they were reviewing the lawsuit.
Soon after Floyd´s death last year, activists tried to get a question on the November ballot to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department, but ran out of time.
A well-funded group of activists and several City Council members are trying again this year.
The proposal was written by a political coalition called Yes 4 Minneapolis, which brought the first successful lawsuit against the explanatory note. The group argued that the city didn´t have the authority to include the note and that the language was misleading.
The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit argue that the question should mention that, if approved, it would remove the minimum funding requirements for police; a reference to the police chief´s job; and a line that gives the mayor ‘complete power’ over police operations, the Star Tribune reported.
The lawsuit asks the courts to block city, state and Hennepin County officials from issuing ballots that include the current question. They want a judge to send the question back to the city for revision.
Early voting in the city’s November election begins September 17.