What does it actually mean to defund the Minneapolis Police Department?
We ask MPD 150, a Minnesota-based collective who have been lobbying for its abolition since 2015.
Two months after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police and the protests that followed, we visit the city of Minneapolis to speak to the individuals and collectives calling for action, lobbying for change and rebuilding the city brick by brick with the goal of a positive and inclusive future. Dive into a day of stories that look at the activism, music and culture bursting forth from the city.
On 7th June, Minneapolis city council members unanimously voted to disband its police department and replace it with a new system of public safety. The decision, made after loudening calls from activists to defund the police following George Floyd’s death at the hands of a city police officer, will see the $189 million police budget re-diverted into community projects that prioritise housing, employment, education and other vital programmes.
While abolishing the police may to some seem – at first – a radical notion, many community groups have for years been advocating for law enforcement abolishment. They argue that the system is beyond reform, as evidenced by the continual and disproportionate brutal killings of Black people across America by police, which is currently at a rate six times higher than their white counterparts.
MPD 150 is one such collective. Set up in 2015 following the shooting of 24-year-old unarmed Black man Jamar Clark by police officers after he allegedly interfered with paramedics, the network of local organisers, researchers, artists and activists have been working to shift the discussion of police violence in Minneapolis from procedural reforms to one of meaningful structural change.
“At the time, folks we were talking about wanting to abolish the police but it seemed like such a far fetched idea for them,” says Arianna Nason, one of the founding members of MPD 150. “So we were, like: ‘OK, so we need to take control over the narrative’, and make it seem something realistic – because it is.
“Less than five years later and here we are – we are abolishing the police.”
The group initiated that narrative change by launching a community report into the Minneapolis Police Department in 2017, the 150th anniversary of its founding. The document reviewed the MPD’s performance since its exception. They advised, as a community, that its contract should not be extended and, instead, provided a practical pathway for dismantling the organisation.
“What we try to do is provide a lot of backbone,” continues Nason, “[and] structural language support to folks that are meeting with city council members directly – and, most importantly, answer any questions people have, in a really honest and open way.
“I’ve found even my more conservative family members can be pulled onboard real quick when having these kinds of open discussions.”
Such conversations usually centre around one important question: “Who’s going to keep us safe?” To which Nason is quick to answer: “But the cops don’t keep us safe.”
“Look at the crimes that are making you feel unsafe,” she notes. “For the most part it’s a crime of survival: crimes that are rooted in a lack of resources, whether that be a financial resource, or lack of mental health resources.
“We don’t need to live in fear. We need to work out of that and into abundance. When we are pouring resources into each other and our community, we’re going to see a very rapid drop in crimes.”
For Nasan, this is basic thinking that’s been publicly painted as radical because of the “norms” of capitalism. “It’s the idea of: what if the cops aren’t there to protect my property? Well, it’s like your property ain’t shit compared to my life.”
Nonetheless, five years later the groundwork that MPD 150 put in is laying solid foundations for Minneapolis’s police-free future. Still, there are certain obstacles that block the movement from reaching its ultimate goals.
“The first major hurdle is to change the city charter. [It] currently states that for the city of Minneapolis to exist, there must be a police department and there must be this number of officers for this number of individuals,” explains Nassan.
“I think a lot of citizens think this [council vote] means there’s going to be no police overnight. In reality, it just means we are getting rid of the legal requirement [to have a police department]. Only then can the real work begin. With abolishing the police, it is just one step towards a lot of other changes that need to happen.”