Minneapolis leaders promised big changes in policing after George Floyd’s death. Keeping them is taking longer than some hoped.

MINNEAPOLIS — Two weeks after George Floyd, a Black man, died under the knee of white police officer Derek Chauvin, City Council members stood in Powderhorn Park and made a promise: In response to protesters’ calls, they would dismantle the city’s police department and create a new public safety system.

That would have made Minneapolis the nation’s largest experiment in replacing traditional policing with social services and public safety measures — an attempt to address root causes of crime and build a bridge between cops and a wary Black community.

That hasn’t happened. Now, rivals in city government are blaming one another for not going far enough to reform policing, even as attorneys for Floyd’s family recently praised some steps taken so far. 

Alondra Cano, a Minneapolis City Council member, speaks during "The Path Forward" meeting at Powderhorn Park on Sunday, June 7, 2020. The focus of the meeting was the defunding of the Minneapolis Police Department. (Photo: Jerry Holt/AP)

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the council “made a pledge in front of the entire nation to abolish and defund the police department and now seems to be scapegoating others for their failure to do so.”

Council members say Frey blocked them from changing police culture and practices in Minneapolis. 

There are fewer cops on the street now, but that’s mostly due to the pandemic and officers who quit, retired or took leave after the protests and violence that followed Floyd’s death.

Now, with crime rates up, Frey has asked for more money for the police department.

Some of the council members who stood above activists’ banner declaring, “DEFUND POLICE” have distanced themselves from the slogan, saying they don’t want to eliminate the police department.

They talk about a radically different approach to public safety in the city: less money for armed officers dealing with social problems, more money for mental health and social services.

But the police chief answers to the mayor, not the council. And critics say Frey has only signed on to incremental changes.

Minneapolis Council Member Phillipe Cunningham (Photo: Rich Ryan (courtesy Phillipe Cunningham))

“We as a council are pursuing a transformation,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham. “And we have a mayor who is seeking reform” of the traditional policing system.

At the state and city level, chokeholds have been banned. The city has outlawed “no-knock” warrants in most situations. The city and state have overhauled guidelines on use of force.

But activists say those laws were defanged. “Toothless,” Julia Decker, policy director for ACLU of Minnesota, said. “There have been a few almost aspirational goals, but there’s no teeth behind them.”

She pointed to the state ban on chokeholds, hog-tying and transporting people face-down unless deadly force is authorized. That law “doesn’t really mean a lot because it doesn’t truly ban chokeholds,” Decker said. “It just makes explicit that chokeholds and similar restraints constitute ‘deadly force,’ which officers can be authorized to use in circumstances that we still feel are too broad.” 

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