As community and political leaders with decades of experience driving change throughout the state, we’ve learned a few truths about the Black community. First, Black people are powerful. Despite hundreds of years of deliberate systemic oppression and being just 12-13% of the U.S. population, we have found ways to break barriers, make history, and influence every significant cultural and political conversation in the country.
Black people have political power, too. Historically, Black voters have been at the forefront of fights for justice, equity and civil rights. There are few places, nationally or locally, in which Black voters and Black opinions are not decisive.
Now, during our modern iteration of the civil rights movement, it’s more important than ever to convert the power of our protest into policy that has a tangible impact on our lives. As a community, we must once again reject the politics of fear, the sword of the status quo, and walk hand in hand towards a brighter and safer future for those we hold dear. We must stop settling for small promises from politicians and demand big change.
In Minneapolis, the long-overdue first step towards real change begins with voting yes on Question 2 to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a comprehensive Department of Public Safety. A vote for public safety flips power dynamics in favor of the people. Throughout U.S. history, laws and other tactics have been weaponized against citizens to silence their voices and restrict their right to vote.
Following George Floyd’s murder, young Black, brown, and indigenous people led the movement that demanded city leaders move away from violent policing to create a department that addresses community safety holistically and with a public health approach, but an unelected body of bureaucrats pushed back and blocked us from the 2020 ballot.
Still, we persisted and went door-to-door in the dead of winter during a pandemic to democratically and lawfully place the question on the ballot. The political establishment, corporate developers, and a handful of people with money and power pushed back again in an attempted coup of democracy by manipulating the legal system to stop residents, regardless of their viewpoint, from even voting on the amendment. This election is a chance for people to have a say in their future, heal racial divides, and send a clear signal that Black lives do matter.
Current leaders have been thinking small when it comes to safety. A vote for public safety will provide a range of options to address our growing public health and safety needs. Question 2 allows qualified professionals like social workers, mental health providers, substance abuse experts, and crisis de-escalation experts to proactively respond to situations that match their expertise and even coordinate with police when necessary.
In the past year, the city has witnessed a rise in community-based solutions such as community cooperatives, clean-ups, and community/neighborhood patrols, providing a sense of autonomy and self-determination. Black people know how to take care of each other when given the space and resources. Ultimately, an expanded department of public safety will help communities receive a right-sized response in times of need.
Current leaders have been living in the past when it comes to protecting Black and brown lives. A vote for public safety will modernize our city’s safety infrastructure and resources. The current city charter was written in 1961, setting minimum staffing requirements, resourcing, and other policies – equivalent to a Police Federation contract – in the city’s constitution.
The department currently reports exclusively to the mayor and runs independently of other agencies. The police will report to the mayor and city council in the new formation, like every other agency. This arrangement forces more accountability and transparency than previously before.
But the status quo does not want to talk about this. They want Black residents and other communities experiencing high incidents of violent crime paralyzed by the fear that police will not exist at all. According to a recent analysis by Reuters, police stops dropped 70%. They would rather abandon the community than be held accountable for their actions and learn more effective ways to do their jobs.
Should Question 2 pass, the mayor and city council would work together to develop the new department’s appropriate ordinances, policies, and staffing framework. Black voters have a chance to secure the resources their community needs rather than rely on the fragmented approach that the city has taken for the last 60 years.
Black people have always seen possibility when society has shown us pain and problems. It’s time to not only reimagine public safety but harness our political power to create the future we need.
Corenia Smith is a community organizer, Licensed Practical Nurse, and campaign manager for Yes 4 Minneapolis. Miski Noor [they/them] is an organizer and writer based in Minneapolis, MN where they are Co-Director with Black Visions