Not ready for prime time
Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, the 5th of August, the Minneapolis Charter Commission nixed the Minneapolis charter amendment proposed by five members of the Council to replace the police department with something called the the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. (I’m really sorry, but I can’t get the vision of a couple of people in polos and chinos pounding on a door and saying, “Open up! We’re from the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention!” out of my head.) The vote was ten to five against. The amendment still has life, but it won’t be on the November ballot for a referendum by Minneapolis voters.
Social media and activists have been aflame about the commission, calling it, inter alia, a bunch of ancient Karens. It’s undemocratic! Once in a while, though, the ancient Karens are just adult supervision.
I resolved to stay out of the policing wars, since I don’t live in the city, although just as Sarah Palin can see Russian out her kitchen window, I can see the city from where I live. So, close enough, right?
What’s undemocratic is putting a proposal so vague — even the proposers aren’t sure what it means — and ill-conceived before the voters that they have no idea what they are voting on; a vote either way would provide no guidance to the council as to what the voters had in mind. No cops? Some cops? A lot of cops, just a new name?
This rather defeats the purpose of a referendum, no? I think the referendum is really an attempted power grab by the council to do altogether what it wants with public safety. The police, if there are any, would have thirteen bosses, not one (the mayor). Swell.
On the day of the vote, there was an article in the Star Tribune listing some of the problems with the proposed charter amendment. It’s worth a read. The central problem is that if you want your employees to enforce the general criminal laws of the state, they must be POST Board-licensed peace officers. The Minneapolis City Council is without authority to just wave that off. It doesn’t seem to understand that.
Without a peace officer license, a “peace officer” cannot be armed and cannot make arrests, either by apprehension or by warrant, and cannot execute search warrants. Minneapolis would be a city of mall cops. Maybe you think that’s good; a lot of people don’t.
The Hennepin County Sheriff (and the county’s taxpayers) would also quickly tire of doing these jobs for the city.
To attest to the vagueness and ill-conception of the proposed amendment, consider this, from the article:
City Council President Lisa Bender told charter commissioners in a meeting last month that she could say “with relative confidence that the consensus of the [current] council would be that there needs to be some level of peace officers in the new division.”
If the council doesn’t know what the amendment means, how are residents supposed to know what they are voting on? Lotsa luck, my friends, lotsa luck.
I had a Community Voices piece published in MinnPost, also on the 5th, that addresses some of these same issues.
There was an article in today’s Star Tribune about the fallout from the charter commission vote. It includes a quote from the council:
As part of a last-ditch effort to send the proposal over the hurdle, a group of City Council members sent the commissioners a letter Wednesday assuring them that they “expect the transformed system to include law enforcement as part of a multifaceted approach to public safety.”
“The Minneapolis City Council is not asking you to put police abolition on the ballot, nor does the amendment propose this,” they wrote. “We are asking you to let Minneapolis vote on a new framework for public safety that aligns with the State of Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety.”
What utter Orwellian hogwash. Compare the amendment, linked at the top of this story, and this statement. Police abolition might be on the ballot, we don’t know, but we do know that the amendment hardly aligns with the state’s Department of Public Safety and the definition of peace officers.
[Update: Residents are lucky the commission didn’t fall for that, or they would have been faced with an unintelligible charter amendment to vote on.]
But there are some people who think that the charter commission members should have just ignored these the fatal flaws in the amendment and voted for it anyway. From the same article:
“People in Minneapolis have been in the streets for months demanding change, only to hear from the Charter Commission that there haven’t been enough studies and consultants,” Sophia Benrud, an organizer with the Black Visions Collective, said in a statement. “When white supremacy is the law of the land, it is a luxury to say we need ‘more time’ before we can make change. Every single voter should have had the chance to vote on this amendment in 2020.”
It’s the council that let you down, Ms. Benrud, because it took them months to come up with this baloney. Blame them, not the charter commission. It isn’t the charter commission that needs the studies and consultants; it’s the council.
I also saw, but cannot find at the moment, a tweet by a national ACLU-type who decried the “undemocratic” move in Minneapolis. But it wasn’t a failure of democracy here; that was earlier, when council members drafted this knee-jerk charter amendment proposal.
Now we’ll see if the council takes the commission’s advice to study this issue and come up with something direct and understandable enough that when presented to voters that a referendum will be a genuine act of democracy.
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Professor David Schultz has a Community Voices piece published in MinnPost today (Friday the 7th) that amplifies criticism of the city council in presenting the charter amendment.
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Here’s a great letter in the Star Tribune on Saturday, August 8th. Kind of as I was saying, only a lot better.
The Minneapolis City Council has only itself to blame for its 2020 charter rewrite going down in flames (“No vote on Mpls. police this fall,” front page, Aug. 6).
When you start off by pledging to abolish/end police without offering even a sketch of what will replace it, then have your council president go on CNN only to respond to the you-had-to-know-it-was-coming question of “What if, in the middle of the night, my home is broken into? Who do I call [if there are no police]?” by saying “I know that comes from a place of privilege …” — well, where did you think this was headed? The main thing that held the council’s efforts back is they couldn’t put forward a rigorous, detailed plan. Had they done so, this would’ve been on the 2020 ballot.
But to craft such a plan, it takes hours and hours of difficult reading and researching of complex issues — something the council has avoided in favor of histrionic sloganeering. By now (early August), the council should’ve had a lengthy report available to the public, downloadable from its website. In it, they could’ve laid out a data-rich plan that cited rigorous studies and scholarship.
It wouldn’t have had to be the final plan but rather a coherent, viable prototype that could be altered as community discussions and research continued over the months ahead. This would’ve shown that the council really did have legitimate ideas — not just chic, radical-sounding slogans. Instead we got two months of political and intellectual amateur hour further embarrassing our city.
Leif Erik Bergerud, Minneapolis
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