minneapolis police defunded

Minneapolis Says No to Reform: Police Department to be Defunded

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Following Black Lives Matter Protests, Minneapolis Announces Plans to Defund Police

With the outbreak of protests across the globe following the harrowing murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, it seems that now, finally, change is happening.

Angela Davis’ often-quoted words, ‘I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I’m changing the things I cannot accept’, ring truer than ever in the current climate.

The act of disbanding a major US city police department would have been considered an impossibility just days ago; a radical pipe dream. Now, as citizens worldwide seek justice not only for George Floyd but for all Black people who suffer as a result of such deeply rooted systemic racism, this once idealistic concept has become a reality. 

‘I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I’m changing the things I cannot accept’

Angela Y. Davis, political activist, academic and author
minneapolis police defunded
Protestors across the US have urged for the police to be defunded [Image: Open Democracy]

In the midst of the protests on Saturday 6th June, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was repeatedly questioned on whether he intended to support the defunding of the Minneapolis Police Department. After giving ambiguous answers which pointed in favour of reform, the question was put to him directly by one protester who asked: ‘Is it a yes or no, will you defund the Minneapolis police department?’ to which Frey responded that he didn’t support the full abolition of the MPD.

The crowd of protestors erupted as Frey was met with a chorus of ‘Go home, Jacob, go home’, which soon evolved into chants of ‘Shame’ as he exited through the crowd. This made clear the overwhelming consensus that promises of reform are no longer enough. 

For years, reform has been upheld as a viable solution to tackle police brutality. Yet, with each death of a person of colour at the hands of the police, it becomes increasingly clear that ‘reform’ is like sticking a plaster on a gaping wound. Reform has been tried and tested, both in Minneapolis and across the US, to no avail.

Minneapolis Mayor refuses to defund police
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was booed by protestors after admitting he did not intend to defund the MPD [Image: CNN]

Reform has been tried and tested, both in Minneapolis and across the US, to no avail

In 2014, following civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after the police shooting of Michael Brown, Obama introduced sweeping reforms to policing. This included training in de-escalation and implicit racial bias, crisis intervention, the use of body cameras, attempts to improve police-community relations and attempts to boost officer and leadership diversity across departments – including MPD. 

On the surface, such change sounds positive and impactful. The result, however, is more of the same buried beneath a facade of progressive ‘community policing’. Under Obama’s reform, the system itself remained strong – with laws which disproportionately target Black people continuously enforced – while serving the additional blow of increasing the militarization of police. 

With each death of a person of colour at the hands of the police, it becomes increasingly clear that ‘reform’ is like sticking a plaster on a gaping wound

In 2015, Obama announced that he would ban aspects of the 1033 program which sees the transfer of surplus military equipment between the Department of Defense and police departments across the nation. Yet, in 2016, just one year after his ‘ban’, the Department of Defense transferred $494 million worth of military gear to local police departments, exceeding the $418 million of equipment sent to police in 2015. 

What’s more, since Obama’s supposedly radical reforms to policing, social issues have remained to be criminalised at the detriment of predominantly poor communities of colour. Rather than tackle the root of such problems, mass incarceration spirals unabated. For the above and countless other reasons, campaigners have been making the case for defunding and dismantling the police for decades. Reform does not cut it. 

defunding the police obama
Obama further militarized police departments across the US during his presidency [Image: Equal Justice Initiative]

Just one day after Frey’s shameful exit from the protests, a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis council members announced support for disbanding the MPD. This comes after groups such as Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block invited Minneapolis City Council members to sign a pledge which vows to never again vote to increase police funding, to vote for a $45 million cut from MPD’s budget and to expand current investment in community-led health and safety strategies, as opposed to investing in police.

The council’s subsequent decision to support the dismantling of MPD is therefore largely a result of the protests we have witnessed; they are provoking real, substantive change. 

While it is not clear what this disbanding of the MPD may look like just yet, community-led safety has been emphasised. This means taking significant funding away from the police, and instead funnelling it into the likes of mental health services, youth programmes and addiction services. 

Reinvesting into communities is essential and would work to solve the core of social issues as opposed to criminalising them. Policing in the US has come to impinge on almost every aspect of life – it is present within schools, mental health crises, in domestic disputes, in drug addiction, in homelessness. Yet officers are not trained in social work, counselling and education. 

A 2017 report found that the US annually spends $100 billion on law enforcement and another $80 billion on incarceration. This has unsurprisingly resulted in increasingly underfunded mental health services, community outreach programmes and subsidised housing. What good has come of this?

Minneapolis City Council’s decision to defund the police department is just the beginning but is certainly a step in the right direction. The facade of police reform is no longer being tolerated.

Written by
Holly Barrow