Ballot question passion: Hundreds call in on removing police from the city's charter

A person holding a white board stands in a circle of people.
Tayler Grayson of Minneapolis facilitates a group discussion Sunday, June 14, about divesting money from police budgets and reinvesting it into communities.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The Minneapolis Charter Commission listened as hundreds of residents weighed in, sometimes passionately, on the idea of dismantling the police department. The commission hosted a call-in meeting Wednesday instead of an in-person hearing.

The commission is tasked with reviewing and then approving the language for a ballot question on whether to amend the city’s charter to remove the police department and replace it with a new public safety model.

About 200 callers testified and many of them agreed that police reform is necessary, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police. An overwhelming number of callers want to add the question to the November ballot, but others say the proposal is vague, lacks input from the African American community and a clear vision.

Keion Franklin, an activist with the faith-based coalition ISAIAH, said a powerful but problematic Minneapolis police union needs to be removed from the department and the only way to do that is to amend the charter.

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“We need change in the community,” he said. “You guys have a chance to change policing across the country, you guys need to lift up your minds, your hearts and voices and make this happen for us.”

The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously late last month to dismantle the police department through the charter amendment process. The proposal would remove the department from the city’s charter, replacing it with “a department of community safety and violence prevention.”

The proposal would also remove the mayor’s authority over the police department and give the city council authority to “maintain a division of law enforcement services, composed of licensed peace officers, subject to the supervision of the department of community safety and violence prevention.”

If the Charter Commission finishes its work by Aug. 5, an amendment would have a better chance of hitting the deadline to be included on the November ballot.

Many who spoke at the public hearing said it was the only way to overhaul the system of policing, which has been discriminatory toward Black people in Minneapolis, citing their own experiences being stopped and physically restrained by police officers, while others expressed fear that others may be hurt or killed in the future.

Cynthia Gomez lives in the Powderhorn neighborhood and teaches in north Minneapolis.

“I’ve seen the MPD’s contempt for our communities taken out on the bodies of my students,” she said. “They can’t help themselves even when the cameras are rolling. What are we supposed to do with a toxic force  rotten with racist and white nationalist elements even if there are some good cops.”

Others say the amendment is not well-researched, was drafted among city council members behind closed doors and would do nothing to take troubled cops off the streets. 

Al Flowers, longtime activist and critic of the Minneapolis Police Department, listed off the number of gunshot victims in recent weeks as he urged commissioners not to move forward with the amendment proposal.

“None of them are out there while my community is dying,” he said of supporters of the amendment. “Do not bow down to the pressure.”

The Minneapolis Charter Commission is set to hear from more callers at another remote public hearing July 21.