City council members in Minneapolis said Sunday that they would commit to disbanding the city’s police department, which has a long history of accusations of racism and police brutality, and would redirect the funds to a new public safety system.
At a park less than a mile from where George Floyd was killed in police custody, touching off protests nationwide, nine city council members — a veto-proof majority — said they would “begin the process of ending” the Minneapolis Police Department.
The announcement marks an unprecedented victory for activists that could prove a turning point in criminal justice reform. Piecemeal efforts to “reform” police, the city council pointed out Sunday, had so far proven ineffective in stemming police brutality.
Calls to defund police departments have been taken up by protesters in dozens of cities nationwide, from New York to Los Angeles to Washington, DC, who took to the streets following Floyd’s killing.
“Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, to end policing as we know it, and to re-create systems of public safety that actually keep us safe,” Lisa Bender, the Minneapolis city council president, said to a crowd gathered on Sunday.
Bender said the city’s efforts at incremental reform within the Minneapolis Police Department have failed to keep every member of the community safe.
“We’re here because we hear you. We are here today because George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police. We are here because here in Minneapolis and in cities across the United States it is clear that our existing system of policing and public safety is not keeping our communities safe,” Bender said.
Like Minneapolis, many urban areas are controlled by progressive politicians who have the power to transform policing in their cities. But most mainstream Democrats have so far not taken up calls to defund police departments, even as they embraced protests in their cities, and police unions have often historically stood in the way of such efforts.
Minneapolis’s mayor, Jacob Frey, a progressive Democrat, was booed and shouted away from a demonstration calling for the defunding and abolishment of the police department yesterday by protesters when he would not commit to defunding measures. He wore an “I Can’t Breathe” mask.
In a shared statement they made onstage before the crowd, city council members said they would be taking intermediate steps toward ending the Minneapolis Police Department through the budget process and enacting other policies over the coming months.
City schools, parks, and other Minneapolis institutions have also said they would end their contracts with the city’s police force.
The question of what, exactly, would replace the police department in Minneapolis remained open, and the city council said they would be seeking community input. The crowd that had gathered in the park Sunday broke into groups to discuss what they wanted to see new public safety members look like.