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Amidst heightened crime, calls for alternative policing continue



While crime rates dropped slightly in 2022 from 2021, violent crime is still dramatically more common in the Twin Cities than it was before the pandemic. Whether more police officers are the answer to the problem is the subject of heated debate. 


Minneapolis Mayor Frey has attempted to make progress towards a better policing system by signing a 1.8 billion dollar 2024 budget that will prioritize public safety. The City Council's Budget Committee says the money will be used to hire more police officers that will ‘change the culture,’ as well as build on police reform and public safety measures. But many local activists say it’s not possible to reform a system that was never made to work for all people. They hold tight to the vision of a public safety system that values peace more than power. 


“I think it’s really important to broaden our imaginations to not just demand 'police be a little nicer,' and instead reframe the whole concept of public safety," said Kyle Tran Myhre, a former member of the community-based initiative MPD150 Project. "An alternative system would fully fund education, housing, mental health services, arts programs, employment programs, and beyond, reducing the need for police in the first place.”


MPD150 conducted “Enough Is Enough: A 150-Year Performance Review of the Minneapolis Police Department.” The report contained five essential findings:

 

  1. The police were established to protect the interests of the wealthy, and racialized violence has always been a part of that mission. 

  2. The police cannot be reformed away from their core function.

  3.  The police criminalize dark skin and poverty, channeling millions of people into the prison system, depriving them of voting and employment rights, and thereby preserving privileged access to housing, jobs, land, credit, and education for whites. 

  4. The police militarize and escalate situations that call for social service intervention. 

  5. There are viable existing and potential alternatives to policing for every area in which police engage.


According to the NAACP, the MPD150’s findings are reflective of the police system’s origins. In the US, the policing system we know today has its roots in colonial slave patrols. The patrols used intimidation, excessive force, captivity, and even death, as a means to manage slaves. The tactics police use today still echo those early patrols, making it difficult for communities of color - particularly those who are descended from the enslaved - to believe that the police system exists to “protect and serve” everyone. 


“I define our current policing system as a local military extension of white supremacy and institutional racism that causes terror to Black families and Black communities,” said activist Trahern Crews. “Policing in the Black community at its foundation should be reparatory–because over the last 170 years, police in the United States have caused horrific harm to Black communities. We need peace officers who can keep the peace, not just carry a ‘piece.’” 


The alternative policing conversation is fueled by tragedies like the murder of George Floyd - incidents of police brutality that are caught on camera. 


Currently every state in the US has an incarceration rate of Black residents that is significantly higher than that of their white counterparts. Black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts. 


Many in favor of alternative policing believe these circumstances faced by communities of color would not occur at disproportionate rates if it wasn’t intentional.


“Cops today kill first and ask questions later, especially when the ‘suspect’ is Black or Indigenous, and that is the opposite of what we will need for alternative policing in the future,” said artist and activist Brandyn Lee Tulloch.


Many community members believe the police should not respond to all public issues. Currently, 1 in 5 victims who are shot by the police display signs of mental health issues. Tran Myhre, Crews, and Tulloch all agree mental health crises need to be delegated to mental health professionals. 


“Our police system is not designed to help individuals. It will only evict them, jail them, push them away, or kill them,” said Tulloch. “When people say ‘defund the police’ we mean take money out of the police budget to evict tent encampments, and use that money to house people. Take money out of the budget to arrest/jail drug users, and use that money to offer treatment. Take money out of the budget to arrest/jail people having a mental health crisis, and use that money to offer mental health resources.” 


Tulloch says solutions to this broken system are possible. He says he doesn’t understand who would be against the reinvention of a system that makes skin and social status a crime, and that acts as though parts of the community are unworthy and disposable.


“Houselessness cannot be fixed with the police. It can be fixed with housing. Drug abuse/addiction cannot be fixed with police. It can be cured with healthcare. Mental health issues cannot be fixed by policing. It can be helped by mental health care,” said Tulloch. “Alternative policing can only begin with the decriminalization of public issues.”

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