Lawmakers in Minneapolis are planning to vote on the first slate of changes to police forces following the death of George Floyd, with some local leaders saying they want to “dismantle” the department amid nationwide protests calling for systemic change.
The Minneapolis City Council will vote on a temporary restraining order Friday to institute immediate changes to the police department that may include increased accountability and shifts in use of force policies. But the body’s president, Lisa Bender, and councilmember Jeremiah Ellison wrote Thursday they hoped to ultimately replace law enforcement with a “transformative new model of public safety,” calling such changes long “past due.”
Bender said late Thursday the changes, if approved, would be an immediate response to the violent treatment that led to Floyd’s death. But she noted they were just one step “toward very deep systemic change.”
“We’re serious, and frankly I think the police department has started the process of dismantling itself,” Bender told HuffPost. “We really have no choice but to step back and say: ‘What are the transformational changes we can make.’”
Those changes, Bender said, could include increased funding to community-based safety programs that would serve as an alternative to a formal police force and create opportunities that wouldn’t necessitate having armed officers respond to some calls. In an interview with The Minneapolis Star Tribune, she hypothesized that in some instances, social workers or medics could respond instead.
The temporary restraining order — if passed on Friday — would still need to be approved by a judge, likely sometime next week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
“I feel a deep sense of determination to make sure that we don’t just keep going back to some comfortable normal.”
Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, died last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Four officers have been charged in his death, including Derek Chauvin, who now faces a more severe charge of second-degree murder.
Floyd’s death has sparked nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism, and largely peaceful demonstrations have led to clashes with heavily armed officers. Images have spread like wildfire of protesters fleeing from gas canisters outside the White House, of journalists hit with batons and nonviolent crowds being arrested en masse for violating curfews.
During a memorial for Floyd in Minneapolis on Thursday, the family’s attorney, Ben Crump, said the man had died from the “pandemic of racism” and called for a “more just system of policing.”
“I want to make it clear, on the record. It was that other pandemic that we’re far too familiar with in America — the pandemic of racism and discrimination — that killed George Floyd,” Crump said. “George Floyd deserved better than that, we all deserve better than that.”
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights said this week it would investigate the police department after filing a civil rights charge over Floyd’s killing. The probe, announced this week by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, will look at officers’ actions over the past decade to uncover any pattern of discrimination.
“With the assistance of the State Human Rights Commission, we can take an honest examination at systemic barriers that have prevented us from reaching our greatest potential for those we serve,” Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement obtained by the Star Tribune.
A spokesperson for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told the outlet the lawmaker supported “structural reforms that address systemic racism in our laws and in policing,” but said he was not in favor of abolishing the police department.
Bender conceded Thursday that the police department wouldn’t be eliminated overnight while noting Arradondo and his team were “committed to reform.” But she said the ongoing demonstrations had shown an “enormous political will” for change she hoped lawmakers could follow up with real action.
“We have enormous political support, and we just have no choice,” she said. “This is not the first time that the police have killed a member of our community. For me, I feel a deep sense of determination to make sure that we don’t just keep going back to some comfortable normal.”