MINNEAPOLIS – George Floyd’s death was the breaking point for some Minneapolis civic leaders, who now say the only way to fix the city’s embattled police department is to take it apart. But it’s not clear how they would do that, and groups that have spent years shining a light on police brutality aren’t even sure it's the answer.
“We're dismantling our police department,” City Council member Jeremiah Ellison tweeted on Sunday, the same day he and a majority of the council proclaimed support to disband the force to cheering protesters at a Minneapolis park. "And we won’t be silent. We’ll be loud. We’ll fight. We’ll win.”
But dismantling an entire department is exceedingly rare. It was done in Camden, New Jersey, and was talked about — though ultimately discarded — in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown. Such a move comes with legal issues, including a city charter that stipulates a police force, plus a union-protected workforce.
“Saying that they’re going to defund the police or that they’re going to ban the police or whatever they’re talking about, that was optics, guys," said Michelle Gross, president of the Minneapolis chapter of Communities United Against Police Brutality. "Just plain optics.”
Sam Martinez, an activist with Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar, a group formed after the 2015 death of Jamar Clark in a confrontation with police, said just getting rid of a police department doesn't solve the problem.
“If they attempted to defund the police or reduce the police force, we know they can’t do it, and what comes after that? Will they turn over the power to the (Hennepin County) sheriff ... who has had no accountability either?” Martinez said.
Community activists have criticized the Minneapolis department for years for what they say is a racist and brutal culture that resists change. The state of Minnesota launched a civil rights investigation of the department last week, and the first concrete changes came Friday in a stipulated agreement in which the city agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints.
Steve Cramer, a former City Council member who now serves as president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, called rhetoric about ending policing as the city knows it “exhilarating to some but terrifying to others.”