PAC column: “Defund the Police” big loss begs the question: What’s next for police reform?

Over the past few weeks, the political climate in Minnesota has been nothing short of electric due to the heated mayoral election and proposed charter amendments for the city of Minneapolis. Ballot Question 2 in the Minneapolis Municipal Election last Tuesday once again elicited discussions surrounding police reformation. The proposed response to systemic police brutality would be to enact a Department of Public Safety that the police department would report to. The Department would be directing relevant response workers to specific situations: a police officer to an armed robbery or a social worker to a mental health crisis. The goal: to ensure that the proper officials respond to the situation they are best fit to resolve. Additionally, the reformation would include divesting funds from MPD to pay for the new office and increase civilian oversight.

PAC asked the St. Olaf community on Thursday how they felt about the topic and results. 51 individuals provided their responses to Ballot Question 2 and a majority were disappointed by the results. Those in favor felt that it was a step towards more significant change within the police system. Those who were hesitant or conflicted on the issue thought that the proposition was ‘not a bad idea’ but needed more clarity on the amendment itself. Opponents of the amendment have qualms with higher authority acting above the police department. An unnamed respondent opposed the amendment, saying that “there should be no force acting above the Police Force in reacting to crime-related situations.” Supporters of the amendment were not surprised about the electoral results, believing that change was unlikely due to the vast hesitancy surrounding police reform in the United States. That being said, the consensus on campus seems clear. As Hassel Morrison, Vice President of Student Life, told us, “People want to feel physically safe but also want to feel safe from the standpoint of not being targeted or profiled.”  He continued to say, “It’s a no-brainer; there should be a partnership between public safety and social services-I mean, why wouldn’t we do that?”

So what do we make of all of this? In summer 2020, Minneapolis, ground zero for the new wave of social unrest following the murder of George Floyd, was inundated with media coverage outlining the myriad of cries from community members demanding change. Why then, in this epicenter of outrage, did Minneapolis fail to implement a new system of public safety?  One possible answer comes from the recent spike in violent crime.  Minneapolis experienced a 17% increase in violent crime in 2020 according to the Associated Press, which evoked many concerns about how a newly structured system would address this issue.

The Black community in Minneapolis was deeply divided on the issue. There were activists in favor of defunding who saw the proposition as an important first step but also those concerned about rising crime in their communities, areas predominantly occupied by people of color.  Minnesotan politicians were also split on the topic, with progressives Ilhan Omar and Keith Ellingson coming out in support and moderates Amy Klobuchar and Tim Walz against. Ultimately this failed proposition shows just how much the “Defund the Police” slogan conveys the wrong message for progressives trying to pass this kind of legislation.  Perhaps the idea needs to be reframed to represent the goal of expanding the scope of public safety rather than simply defunding the police. The movement here is not dead. Rather, it simply awaits the right answer to the complex dilemma that is policing in America.

 

falvey1@stolaf.edu

potek2@stolaf.edu

goff4@stolaf.edu

 

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