Voters in the city rejected a ballot measure to overhaul policing that was drafted amid national outrage over the death of George Floyd by a police officer but went to voters as rising concerns about gun violence sapped energy from the protest movement that had launched it.
On Tuesday, Minneapolis Question 2 was defeated, effectively putting an end to a campaign to give the city council oversight of a new Department of Public Safety and repealing a requirement to employ a minimum number of police officers based on the city’s population.
The result, which confirms the status quo, is a setback to both local and national efforts to fundamentally reduce or eliminate the role of police in America. Opponents of “defund the police” calls will point to the vote as new evidence that the backlash to police abuse that fueled last year’s protests, which followed the death of Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, is still alive and well. Talk of reining in police departments by cutting or limiting their resources has run up against a countervailing wall of public safety concerns and waning support from early allies, including leading Democrats who see it as political poison.
Phillipe Cunningham, a Minneapolis City Councilmember who spearheaded a similar ballot initiative, called the results “really unfortunate.”
“In our city, we’ve just seen a clear backlash to progress,” Cunningham said. The vote represented a turn of events for activists dedicated to breaking the grip of a police department that had faced accusations of racism and excessive force for years.
But it was Floyd’s murder on Memorial Day in 2020, which was captured on video by a bystander and went viral on social media, that lit the fuse. In response to national attention-grabbing protests, Minneapolis city councilors gathered in a city park and pledged to dismantle the police department.
Mayor Jacob Frey was confronted outside his home in June 2020, shortly after Floyd’s murder, and jeered when he refused to commit to abolishing the police department – a far more ambitious step than the ballot initiative proposed on Tuesday. A day after Frey’s altercation with protesters, nine city council members announced plans to begin “the process of dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department.”
“We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and rebuilding with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe,” said Council President Lisa Bender at the time.
After a few weeks, the council voted unanimously to start the process of dismantling the police department and replacing it with a “department of community safety and violence prevention.”
Activists welcomed the move, seeing it as an opportunity to realize reforms that had previously been viewed as impossible as surges of anger pulsed through cities (and even some suburbs).
“While the amendment that passed today wasn’t perfect,” Miski Noor of the grassroots group Black Visions said at the time, “we are closer than at any time in history, and anywhere else in the country, to a safe, thriving city without police.” The question on Tuesday’s ballot, whether to abolish the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety, arose from a petition drive in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder.
More people voted early this year in Minneapolis than in any other election in the city’s 45-year history. Early voting increased by 143 percent over the 2017 municipal election and by 488 percent over the 2013 municipal election. By about five hours into Election Day, roughly 30% of registered voters had voted early, by mail, or in person.