Marques Armstrong had just stepped out of the shower one morning this fall when he heard gunshots in his Minneapolis backyard. He ran upstairs to check on his wife and daughter after ducking, then looked out to see a car speed away.
It was a depressingly common occurrence on the city’s predominantly Black north side, reinforcing Armstrong’s vehement opposition to a proposal on Tuesday’s ballot to replace the city’s police department — and a required minimum number of officers — with a new Department of Public Safety.
“Everyone says they want the police to be held accountable and that they want fair policing.” “No one has said we need to get rid of the cops,” said Armstrong, a Black activist who owns a mental health practice as well as a clothing store.
The ballot proposal on the November ballot is rooted in the anti-police movement that erupted after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year. It has received strong backing from younger Black activists galvanized by Floyd’s death, as well as from some Black and white residents throughout this liberal city.
Many people of color who live in the city’s high-crime areas say they are concerned that a significant reduction in the number of police officers will make them more vulnerable in the midst of a dramatic increase in violent crime. The national debate over racial justice in policing that erupted in the aftermath of Floyd’s death has drawn national attention to Tuesday’s vote, as has a flood of out-of-state money attempting to influence an outcome that could shape change elsewhere.
The campaign has been acrimonious. Opponents have criticized the ballot question as ambiguous, with no clear plan for what happens if it passes. Opponents, supporters say, are exaggerating concerns about a drop in police presence — and the possibility that the city’s popular Black police chief, Medaria Arradondo, will resign if the initiative passes. Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposes the ballot question, is up for reelection, and his two main opponents are urging their supporters to vote for someone else in the city’s ranked-choice voting system.
Raeisha Williams, an activist with Guns Down Love Up, believes the plan’s supporters are mostly white residents who haven’t witnessed police misconduct or the violence that Black residents on the north side have. Tyrone, her brother, was killed in a shooting there in 2018.
JaNaé Bates, one of the young Black activists spearheading the ballot initiative, said her group worked hard to ensure that all voices were heard. Bates stated that more than 1,400 of the approximately 20,000 signatures on petitions to place the measure on the ballot came from north side residents.
Bates said they knocked on the doors of north Minneapolis homes to hear the voices of those most affected by public safety issues in order to inform people about what the initiative would do.
The ballot question proposes establishing a new Department of Public Safety to take “a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions” as determined by the mayor and City Council. Fletcher and other supporters argue that it is an opportunity to reimagine what public safety can be and how money should be spent. Supporters frequently cite funding programs that do not dispatch armed officers to assist people in crisis.
The proposed change comes as violent crime in the city is on the rise. According to online police department crime data, there have been approximately 80 homicides in Minneapolis this year, with 35 occurring on the north side. Three of those killed were children, one of whom was shot while jumping on a trampoline at a birthday party. The city could surpass the 97 homicides set in 1995, earning it the moniker “Murderapolis.”
Jerome Rankine, a Black resident of the city’s more affluent southwest side, strongly supports the amendment. Rankine, who also serves on the board of his neighborhood association, believes that removing the city’s requirement for a minimum number of officers would allow for more creative approaches to policing.
Bishop Divar Kemp of New Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, located on the city’s north side, said the ballot question is discussed at his church on a daily basis. He believes that the police department needs to be changed, but that the current proposal is risky.