After nearly two weeks of historic protests, the Minneapolis City Council has announced it will move to dismantle the city’s police department in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. “We’ve got to create a system of public safety that works for everybody,” says Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison.
AMY GOODMAN: The City Council of Minneapolis announced Saturday it would disband and abolish the police department responsible for the killing of African American man George Floyd, following nearly two weeks of mass protest and growing calls to defund the police.
In a statement, nine of the city’s 12 councilmembers said, quote, “Decades of police reform efforts have proved that the Minneapolis Police Department cannot be reformed, and will never be accountable for its action. … We recognize that we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does,” they said.
The historic announcement comes after years of organizing on the ground by groups like Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective and MPD150.
This is Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender speaking Sunday.
LISA BENDER: Our commitment is to do what’s necessary to keep every single member of our community safe and to tell the truth, that the Minneapolis police are not doing that. Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, to end policing as we know it and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.
AMY GOODMAN: A supermajority of Minneapolis city councilmembers support disbanding the police department, meaning Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposes abolishing the police, can’t override their efforts. Organizers with Black Visions Collective and other activists convinced the mayor to step outside his home Saturday to speak with them. This is organizer Kandace Montgomery.
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Jacob Frey, we have a yes-or-no question for you: Yes or no, will you commit to defunding Minneapolis Police Department?
MAYOR JACOB FREY: Abolition of it?
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: What did I say?
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: We don’t want no more police.
PROTESTER: No more!
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: It’s that clear. We don’t want people with guns toting around in our community, shooting us down. Do you have an answer? It is a yes or a no. It is a yes or a no.
PROTESTER: Yes or no!
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Will you defund the Minneapolis Police Department?
MAYOR JACOB FREY: I do not support the full abolition of the police department.
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: All right, fine! You’re wasting our time! Get the [bleep] out of here! Get the [bleep] out!
PROTESTERS: Go home, Jacob! Go home! Go home, Jacob! Go home! Go home, Jacob! Go home!
AMY GOODMAN: This rally was in downtown Minneapolis. Kandace Montgomery reminded demonstrators that Mayor Frey is up for reelection next year.
Well, we go now to Minneapolis, where we’re joined by City Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison.
Councilmember Ellison, welcome back to Democracy Now! This is a historic announcement that the majority of you on the City Council made at a big community rally last night, that you’re going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. Explain what that means.
JEREMIAH ELLISON: For me, it means that we’ve got to create a system of public safety that works for everybody. You know, I think the Minneapolis Police Department, even before the murder of George Floyd, has had a whole host of issues, a handful I can just rattle off the top of my head. You know, we dealt with an issue of the Minneapolis Police Department being involved in the illegal injection of ketamine of people who did not need it. We’ve had a history of not taking sexual assault cases seriously, investigations seriously, and actually recently lied about how many untested rape kits we had. And the list goes on and on.
And so, I think that there has been an acknowledgment that, you know, we have done everything we can on the reform side. We have a chief who is probably one of the most pro-reform chiefs and has instituted every reform we legally can. And so, where do we go from here?
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, he himself had sued the Minneapolis Police Department for racism, isn’t that true, years ago?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: Yeah, that is true. That is true. And so, I think that when we’re looking at having an amazing chief and we’re looking at having a council who has pushed for reform — and it’s not just that the relationship is bad; the relationship is untenable — where do we go from here? I think that that means we have to ask ourselves: What is the best way to keep people safe, if not the Minneapolis Police Department?
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain exactly what this would mean. You made the announcement. You haven’t had a vote in the City Council. So what happens today?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: Right. So, per the commitment that we made yesterday, we’re going to take the next year to engage the people of Minneapolis. You know, obviously, councilmembers have ideas, but I think that if the nine of us sat in a room for a couple days and cooked up a plan without any public engagement, I think that the community would reject that. And so, I think we’re going to commit to a year’s worth of conversations. I think in some ways it’s going to require every single resident in Minneapolis to give their input. But the groundwork is there. Some of the groundwork has been laid for what we can do to keep communities safe, other than have a police force.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, what exactly do you mean, though, you’re going to wait a year? So there will not be a vote taken in the City Council?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: No, we’re not going to wait a — sorry — we’re not going to wait a year. We’re going to engage the community for a year to develop a new system of public safety. You’ve got to understand, the police department has been around for 150 years. At least the Minneapolis — sorry — the Minneapolis Police Department has been around for over 150 years. And police departments all around the country have been around a lot longer than that. I think that we owe it to the city of Minneapolis, to our residents, to develop a plan that moves forward intelligently, that moves forward in a way that works. You know, we’re not going to hit the eject button on the police department today, for instance, because we do not have that new system in place. But we have to start the conversation somewhere. Yesterday was the start of that conversation.
AMY GOODMAN: So, will there be a vote? And what will that vote be on in the City Council now?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: At some point there will have to be a vote about what our new system of public safety looks like. You know, just to give you an example, one of the most effective programs that we’ve been able to fund, really on a shoestring budget, is our group violence prevention program. It’s a program that helps young men get out of gang activity and remove themselves from gang life. It’s a program that’s been more successful in getting gang members to choose a different path forward for themselves than sending them to jail or anything else that we’ve tried in the past. That’s just one program, for example, that I think that we need to actually put our investment in to get fully operational so that we can keep our city safe.
You know, we’re going to have to figure out how to address things like active shooter situations. And we’re aware of the fact that some situations are extremely difficult to deescalate. But most of what police do — you know, we did a study last year of 911 calls, and we realized that one of the top calls that police make are for what we call emotionally disturbed persons or mental health calls. Do we need use of force — someone with a use-of-force background to answer that call? Do we need a gun present at a call like that? Do we need a gun present at a call for a forged $20 bill? I think that the answer to that is no. And we’ve got to — but we’ve never, as a country, leaned into figuring out how do we address issues like this without force. And I think that my colleagues and I are committed to figuring that out.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the Minneapolis police union president Bob Kroll. Activists are demanding he resign, after he called George Floyd a “violent criminal,” described protesters as terrorists and called on police to expand their use of force. In April, Kroll told a radio podcaster he “wasn’t bothered” by shootings he’s been involved in.
LT. BOB KROLL: I’ve been involved in three shootings myself, and not a one of them has bothered me. You know, maybe I’m different.
AMY GOODMAN: Minnesota’s AFL-CIO coalition of labor unions has joined calls demanding that Minneapolis police union president Bob Kroll resign. Jeremiah Ellison, if you can talk about the role of the police union? And are you also calling for Kroll to be out?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: I would love for Kroll to be out, but I don’t think this is the first time people have called for Kroll to resign. Kroll has a long history in the department of incompetence and of rage. And, you know, I think that he, very much so, follows in this traditional model of policing. When you look at sort of the groundwork that’s been laid for modern-day policing, it’s to enforce vagrancy laws. It’s to bust the heads of union organizers. And Kroll, very much so, is proud of that tradition and, I think, leans into that tradition.
I think that Kroll, knowing that he is protected by the base, our department, that democratically elected him to represent them, he knows that there’s really no grounds for him to have to resign. There’s no pressure for him to have to resign, even if people are calling for it. I’m sure he finds the whole endeavor amusing, quite frankly. And Kroll doesn’t just represent himself. Kroll represents — he’s democratically elected by our department to represent them.
And so, I think that for a long time we’ve underestimated what it means to have a department that elects somebody continually who advocates for extreme use of force, who recently advocated for the use of lethal rounds on demonstrators here in Minneapolis, who is the member of a biker gang with ties to white supremacist organizations. I think that we’ve often regarded him as an annoyance. And I think that the truth is that for a long time he’s been a lot more dangerous than that.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremiah Ellison, your father, Keith Ellison, of course, is the attorney general of Minnesota, the first African American attorney general of Minnesota. He is in charge of the prosecution of the four officers, just increased the charges against Chauvin and charged the other three officers. Have you discussed with him this whole issue of dismantling the police department?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: You know, I think he’s aware of the concept of dismantling the police department. I can’t speak for him, obviously, but I think that this is a concept that has to be explored.
You know, as I said, I think someone asked the question, of me, “Well, what are we going to do about sexual assault cases?” And I had to remind them that our current department does not solve sexual assault cases and has a track record of not taking them seriously, lied about the number of rape kits that we had untested.
I think that — I also had a constituent call yesterday, upset, saying, you know, “Jeremiah, the police don’t answer when we call now. What will we expect now?” And I said, “Well, look, what I’m hearing from you is that the police don’t come when you call. And so, we’ve got to figure out a system that keeps you safe, that keeps our neighbors safe.” This current one is not it.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the role of community groups, of which you were a part before you were elected — the famous photograph of a Minneapolis police officer with a gun to your head when you were protesting the police killing of Jamar Clark a few years ago. The significance of the community groups that have been pushing for this?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I think that the community is the most important part of this. You know, other cities have, call it what you want, disbanded, fired their entire police departments, only to slowly glue them back together again over time. And I think that with community support, with community vision and leadership, this is the only way that we’re going to get to a point where we’re learning how to keep communities safe without using the police as our singular tool.
I think that, you know, we’ve heard from police over the years, when we’ve asked them to use less force in certain situations, “Well, look, I’m not a social worker.” And that’s made a lot of community members say, “OK, well, maybe we need social workers, maybe we need mental health professionals, maybe we need people who specialize in childhood development, to be addressing these issues.” And so, I think that the City Council’s position in Minneapolis is 100% owed to the fight, the creativity and the vision of the broader community.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jeremiah Ellison, we want to thank you so much for being with us, a member of the Minneapolis City Council, which just announced this historic decision to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.
When we come back, we’re going to look at the growing movement to defund the police with activist Linda Sarsour, professor Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, and author Mychal Denzel Smith. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.