For some Minneapolis residents, dismantling the police isn’t far-fetched

A man holds a gun as he sits on a chair outside a business.
Marc O. sits armed outside Sammy's Avenue Eatery in late May as part of a group organized by the NAACP to provide a presence in front of north side businesses during the unrest following George Floyd's killing.
David Pierini | North News

Even before the killing of George Floyd, Devonia Kliche says Minneapolis police weren't connecting with the community much.  

"They were still walking around and making their presence known and not in the best way," she said.

During the unrest in the days after Floyd's death, it became even more apparent to Kliche that the police weren't available to help her north Minneapolis neighborhood.

When protests and ransacking of businesses erupted, Kliche, who lives in the city’s Folwell neighborhood, said neighbors banded together to protect themselves. There were community members sitting outside businesses with guns to make sure outside groups didn't attack.

"We're not witnessing the law enforcement coming out. We're only seeing one or two squad cars, even the National Guard passed by one time and just waves,” she said. “It's kind of crazy, we keep fighting. How long do we have to be out here every day?"

People sit and talk on the sidewalk at night.
A volunteer security team sits along West Broadway watching for any possible disturbances in late May. Volunteers were organized by the NAACP to patrol around north Minneapolis and protect businesses.
David Pierini | North News

For those reasons, Kliche believes it would make more sense for the community to create its own pilot public safety program with funding from the city. She said it would be properly organized, armed and ready to protect.

Defunding the police isn't all that far-fetched for residents in that part of the city, who’ve grown accustomed to protecting their own neighborhoods. And when they do call the police, they say officers often fail to show up.

The issue of dismantling the police has been dominating the conversation about police reform in recent weeks after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. The police killing of yet another black person has renewed conversations about police-community relations and racism in the country.

VJ Smith, president of MAD DADS, an organization working to mentor young men of color and help reduce violence, said the community should be able to provide input in shaping the Police Department and getting rid of racist cops.

"We have to have police, but we also need to look at: How do we police better?” he said. “How do we get rid of officers that don't have our best interest, officers that don't even live in the community, don't care about the community but come in to actually do harm to our people."

To Smith, defunding the police means diverting dollars from the Minneapolis Police Department to other social services in order to reduce crime. He said housing, mental health services and support for young people who live in unstable environments would be prioritized. That plan, he said, would help close the opportunity gap between black and white residents in Minneapolis.

"Why are people so upset, why are people so angry, why are people so frustrated? Because they don't have the line of communication that we need with our officers. They don't get the respect that we need from many of our officers,” he said. “It needs to be a relationship. When people say, ‘I'll go get my gun before I call the police,’ that's a problem."

While some activists continue to use the term "abolish the police," some north Minneapolis residents say they want to abolish the police culture of staying silent when black people are brutalized.

Sondra Samuels is the president of Northside Achievement Zone, an organization that focuses on ending poverty through education.

“We want to abolish what is criminal about the police department,” she wrote in a Facebook post this week. “We want to abolish the police culture that stays silent when black men and women are abused and murdered.”

Samuels refers to the police union, which has historically protected cops and the arbitration process that reinstates some of those who are fired.

Dee Phillips, who is white and lives in north Minneapolis, is still not clear on how the Minneapolis City Council plans to defund the Police Department, but she says there needs to be a system that works for everyone, including mental health support instead of police as first responders.

"If someone breaks into my house, I'm not going to expect my neighbors to step in to save me. They're not trained to do that. That would put them in danger,” she said. “If someone breaks into my neighbor’s house, I'm not going to rush over and stop that intruder. I would call the cops because that's an appropriate time to have a police response."

Minneapolis City Council members say they're moving forward with a plan to dismantle the Police Department, but it is a process that likely would take a year.

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