Door by door, backers of Minneapolis public safety reform effort seek community support

People gather petition signatures near George Floyd Square
Volunteer canvasser Leslie Alvarez looks on with a portrait of George Floyd in the background during the People's Power Love Fest on Sunday at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

Leslie and Amy Alvarez drove to Minneapolis' George Floyd Square on Sunday for a final push toward what they hope is a new beginning.

They were looking to help gather the final 500 signatures toward a goal of 20,000, to get an amendment onto the November ballot to change how public safety is handled in the city. They're part of a coalition called Yes 4 Minneapolis that aims to establish a new department of public safety with a focus on mental health treatment.

“And in order to do that we need to amend the city charter of Minneapolis. If we're successful... we'll be able to put it on the ballot and vote as a community in November,” Leslie Alvarez said. "If we're able to amend that city charter that will allow for a mental health official to also be present (on calls) along with a police officer.”

Antonio Williams (right) trains volunteer canvassers
Antonio Williams (right) trains volunteer canvassers to ask for signatures for the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign around George Floyd Square during the People's Power Love Fest on Sunday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

For their plan to happen, voters would need to approve an amendment to the city charter to create a new department of public safety in place of the existing police department. The Yes 4 Minneapolis effort is just one of several movements toward reforming public safety in the city in the wake of last year's killing of George Floyd — and others may also end up on the November ballot.

The Yes 4 Minneapolis petition drive started earlier this year. On Sunday at George Floyd Square at the corner of 38th and Chicago, Alvarez noted a higher-than-usual turnout of volunteers. Sunday’s effort was part of an event called the People’s Power Love Fest that also included music and dance performances on the unseasonably warm, sunny spring afternoon.

Antonio Williams, the canvass director at the event, led a training before sending canvassers out to knock on doors in different zones in the Powderhorn, Bryant and Central neighborhoods.

People gather petition signatures near George Floyd Square
Volunteer canvassers Leslie (right) and Amy Alvarez hang signs supporting the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign aimed at replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a Public Safety Department, during the People's Power Love Fest at George Floyd Square on Sunday.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

Williams led a mock scenario for a group of about 20 volunteers. “We want people to really have a good grasp on the language as well as the knowledge of what it is we’re actually doing," he said later.

The Alvarez sisters, along with Diego Gaumán, headed north along Chicago Avenue knocking on doors to ask people if they wanted to sign the petition. Leslie had little luck while her sister, Amy, was able to talk to one person. On the next street over, Gaumán hailed down a resident as she was waiting for a car to pick her up. 

They conversed in Spanish and he took down her contact information, but she didn’t sign the petition. Gaumán said that not everyone is able to sign due to their residency status in the United States — but that doesn’t mean their voices aren’t important. 

“We don’t want no one excluded out of it. We want to get everyone involved,” he said, even if they can't sign. He noted that immigrants and people without the legal authorization to work and live in the United States are deeply affected by issues of policing. 

People without legal permission to live and work in the United States are vulnerable to exploitation and sometimes afraid to call the police for help when they need it. Having a conversation with this community about changing the way public safety works is complicated.

Leslie Alvarez identifies as an immigrant from Mexico and recounted that growing up, “you’re told ‘hey, the police is bad, we don’t want any encounters,’ because a lot of us are undocumented. That’s always a tricky one."

She noted that “when I’m speaking to those Latin communities, I share with them, ‘I understand the fear, I understand everything that you’re feeling, but at the end of the day we need that public safety — whether that’s the police, or we can open up those options. We want people that are going to help us.”

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