Almost a year and a half after Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure calling to dismantle the city’s police department.
The referendum on Tuesday’s ballot, known as Question 2, sought to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a department of public safety focused more on a comprehensive public-health approach to policing. The measure was favored by activists and groups such as Yes4Minneapolis, a Black-led multiracial campaign working to implement public safety throughout the city.
The referendum was a critical test of the politics of police reform, in the city where, last summer, the largest civil movement against police abuses in U.S. history began.
The failure of Question 2 was a stinging defeat for reformers, not only because of the potential symbolism of reforming Chauvin’s former police department but also because it suggests large hurdles remain in convincing voters to reimagine the role and nature of law enforcement.
Residents’ views on the city’s police department, and the extent to which it should be changed, were nuanced. A Minneapolis Star Tribune poll from September found that 53% of Minneapolis voters held an unfavorable view of the city’s police department, with 58% of those people being Black and 51% of them white.
Fifty-five percent of voters in the poll said the city should not reduce the size of its police force ― but 49% of voters favored replacing the city’s police department with a new department of public safety.
That department would have been led by a commissioner nominated by the mayor and appointed by the City Council. The minimum funding requirement for police would have been removed, although the department might still have included police officers, and armed officers would have still responded to situations considered violent.
JaNae Bates, communications director with Yes4Minneapolis, says it has been “over 60 years” since the people of Minneapolis could have a say in public safety, and that reforms would alleviate the problem of police being asked to handle situations they’re not trained for.
“The biggest issue we found is that they [police] are too stretched,” Bates said. “The only response we have in Minneapolis is an armed police response.”
Giving the City Council more power to determine law enforcement policy would also have been a huge benefit, she said. “Minneapolis is the only city in the state where the mayor has complete control over policy. That allows policy to happen in the dark.”
Police violence is an ongoing issue in Minneapolis. In September, police released body camera footage of Jaleel Stallings being beaten by Minneapolis SWAT officers as he lay on the ground. Stallings was involved in protests following Floyd’s murder, and was acquitted by a jury of charges that he fired shots at police.
Some activists who supported Question 2 said it was about much more than a slogan, like “Defund the police,” that could easily be distorted by its opponents. “This is really pushing the nation to have a generous conversation rather than just ‘defund’ slogans,” Bates said. “To actually talk about what people need to live in a thriving community.”
Speaking to HuffPost on Tuesday before the polls closed, Miski Noor, an organizer with Black Visions, a grassroots organization based in Minneapolis, said radical action is still needed.
“Abolishing a system that murders Black people indiscriminately is what is eventually necessary and what we are hopefully moving towards,” Noor said. “The steps we are getting now is what it means to respond to violence. These are the interventions we need to support people. Folks hear ‘abolish,’ but they think it is about destruction. But it really is about building up.”