Election 2021

Fight for police reform will continue despite fall of ballot measure

Activists say there are still other avenues to bring about police accountability

A woman in a mask speaks into a microphone.
Yes 4 Mineapolis communications director JaNae' Bates speaks at the Yes 4 Minneapolis election night party in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Minneapolis voters may have rejected a ballot initiative to restructure public safety in the city, but longtime advocates for police accountability — some of whom opposed the amendment — say their fight isn’t over yet. 

Question two on Minneapolis voters’ ballot would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety. Advocates argued that it would have taken a more public health approach to public safety. 

Minneapolis voted against the ballot change Tuesday by a 12-point margin. That left some supporters despondent. But another group is already working to get signatures for a different referendum around policing that they hope will make it onto the ballot as early as next year.  

Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar sprang out of the 2015 killing of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police. The group has come up with a plan different from the one city residents just voted on. Organizer Jae Yates says they want voters to approve the creation of a new elected body in Minneapolis, which would oversee police policies and discipline.   

“What we want to do is make sure that the police are following the law, and that when they don’t, they are held accountable for that, and that there is a process for them to be removed from the police force.” 

Yates said they have already gathered about 4,000 notarized signatures but are hoping to have about 14,000 on their ballot petition by next March to get on the 2022 ballot.  

Michelle Gross, head of Communities United Against Police Brutality, hopes that people who worked for ballot question two on public safety will now channel their energy in directions where concrete changes can be made. 

A woman wearing sunglasses speaks through a mic.
Michelle Gross with Communities United Against Police Brutality speaks at an event.
Matt Sepic | MPR News file

“People, I think, understood that you don’t have a magic wand that will solve this problem,” Gross said. “There are many little things, and big things, that can be done to address police accountability.”

Gross said her group is providing information for a Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, as well as a federal Department of Justice “pattern or practice” investigation. Probes like these conducted in other cities have led to consent decrees, which require police departments to make changes enforceable by the courts. If departments fail to follow the agreements, they can even be taken into federal receivership. 

Kandace Montgomery, a co-founder of Black Visions Collective, which helped organize the public safety ballot initiative, expects that many supporters of the referendum will stay in the fight, as long as the actions they take lead to real change and not just more paperwork. 

Michael McDowell and Kandace Montgomery
Organizers Michael McDowell and Kandace Montgomery at a march in 2016.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News 2016

But Montgomery said her group will continue to hold the police department and elected officials accountable, including incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposed the ballot initiative on public safety. 

“There are multiple touchpoints in which we are able to connect and really find alignment across the city and encourage the mayor to really listen to half the city that was really calling for transformational change,” Montgomery said. “As our mayor, I’d say he needs to be more about collaboration than maintaining his political power.”

Frey told supporters that there’s consensus among most residents that the Minneapolis Police Department does need to change. 

“Getting to that transformational change is not simplistic,” he said. “It’s about setting forth on concrete changes, specific plans of action and then figuring out how we all chart a course forward.”

Frey pointed to policies he’d pursue, like integrating mental health responders and social workers with police as they do their jobs and hiring more officers with roots in the communities where they serve, as well as a broader change in policing in the region. 

Jason Sole is former head of the Minneapolis NAACP and an adjunct professor at Hamline University. He identifies as a police abolitionist and said he doesn’t despair about the failure of the ballot initiative. 

“I know a lot of people are devastated because you didn’t bring the whole thing down. But, man, I've had a lot of losses, and what has come out of those losses has been beautiful,” Sole said. “I see it as a building block. I see it as a strong building block — that energy is going to carry on.” 

The new Minneapolis City Council, including seven new council members, will be seated in 2022.