I’d like to keep issues related to “reform” of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) on the radar. The term “reform” is in quotes because we need to move well beyond reform, training, and blind oversight committee reports. I’m not so much talking about police reform as replacement by a public service system that does not respond to every situation with armed paramilitary personnel on a hair trigger and no time for questions. While I understand that such a fundamental change will take time, I take that as an impetus to get started as soon as possible.
The idea of alternatives to police began to percolate into the New Hughes thread during the 2017 municipal elections. Devin Hogan, candidate for Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board Commissioner at Large, talked about replacing the Minneapolis Park Police with Urban Park Rangers. It made so much sense! Every other park has rangers, but Minneapolis parks have police. Establishing the Minneapolis Park Rangers would be a fantastic opportunity to explore new models for public safety. When I hear people like Ricardo Levins Morales talk about the need for social workers and mental health professionals to respond to emergencies in our neighborhoods, I imagine them mobilizing from the nearest city park. The Minneapolis Park system occupies a large swathe of land in the city and maintains many underused buildings in need of repair and upgrade. Building an Urban Park Service could represent a new lease on life for that infrastucture. Because rangers are not police, they will see people that need help, rather than a criminal that needs to be arrested – or shot. That change in perspective, alone, would save lives and cut the school-to-prison pipeline.
Levins-Morales spoke at the Forum on Policing and Equity in the Parks, organized by Russ Henry as part of his 2017 campaign for MPRB Commissioner at Large, and drew a sharp line between Park Rangers and police. He insisted that Rangers be recruited from different applicant pools to fully separate the parks from the counter insurgency model of policing. The research and data published by MPD 150 and summarized here by Ricardo, suggests that instead of transitioning from Park Police, the Park Rangers should be established, staffed, and developed independently. The Minneapolis Park Rangers would be based in the parks. Not only is it logical to find Rangers in the park, it will physically separate them from the Park Police and underscore their independence. Because there are many neighborhood parks spread across the city, the Minneapolis Urban Park Service (MUPS) would have ready, local, access to most residents. Because resources have not been equitably distributed for decades, really forever, the MPRB infrastructure in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods are in disrepair and due for upgrade. Reworking space in the MPRB recreation centers and other buildings to house the MUPS would be an opportunity to rebuild and renew some of our most neglected parks. The neighborhoods served by those parks are often where community-based police alternatives are most needed. Designing a Park Service for Minneapolis would be an opportunity to move our city beyond police and onto a path toward restorative justice and healing. Instead of resting on the laurels of our world class #1 park system, let’s continue to set the national standard for progressive, restorative public projects by creating an Urban Park Service in Minneapolis.
The healing begins right from the outset if we establish MUPS with an acknowledgement that it exists on stolen land, and in partnership with Native people. I understand that the history of the Parks Service, national, state, and on down every governmental scale, with cultures and communities not respected by the ruling Whites has been punctuated by repression, enslavement, and genocide. What better place to begin reinvigorating our culture than in the soil of the local city park? I do not make this proposal lightly, or without acknowledging the racist history – very recent history, even – of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board. Yes, we made some progress in the last election, but it is up to the people to keep those elected moving in the direction of justice and reconciliation. The progressive wave that took Minneapolis in the 2017 election began to build in response to the MPRB. Focusing on the parks as the first step in greater social, political, and cultural change has been a fruitful path in the recent past. We can build on that and remake our #1 parks into a model for other government entities. Am I wrong?
If we can change the Parks, we can change the City, and if can change Minneapolis, we will have made our mark. In his own way, Chief of MPD Arradondo Medaria already understands the value of a robust Minneapolis Urban Park Service. He did not have the words to express it because his decades-long career with the Minneapolis Police Department has narrowed his vision. But when I listen carefully to Rondo respond to a question about why it is necessary to expand the MPD by 100 officers, I hear a Police Chief telling us that his officers have been tasked with responding to every kind of emergency as governments have cut social services to the bone. His full statement has been discussed previously,. Here I want to emphasize his call for co-responders and cultural navigators to work along side MPD. The Mayor’s position on the issue has been… evolving. On March 28, 2018 Frey gave strong support, hedging only on the price tag affixed by the Star Tribune. By April 10, Jacob was insisting that adding officers was “not a thing”. It is just a few small steps to support for the Minneapolis Urban Park Service. I have no doubt that Mayor Frey will get on board – as soon as the people lead him there. Mayor, why not put those dollars where so many have not gone before and establish the Minneapolis Park Rangers in the most underserved parks and neighborhoods? I ask the newly progressive MPRB, instead of spending more where money has always flowed, why re-rennovate around Lake Bde Maka Ska? Is it to assuage the Lilly White Butt Hurt brought on by correcting the name? Whatever. Better to put the cash where is will have more impact – over North and initiating the MUPS. Chief Arradondo, instead of expanding the MPD, why not work with the MPRB to develop an effective staff of Rangers and their team members to lead the response in situations for which the police are ill- trained and over-armed? Its a win/win/win solution.
Instead of sinking even more money into MPD in the vain hope that it will disavow its 150 year legacy and become a positive force in the city, let’s redirect the funds to establish a new public safety system connecting with community-led initiatives to solve the problems most important to the people in the neighborhoods. Moving away from the militarized, for-profit, policing model will free up more money in the city budget by reducing the amount needed to pay the long line of victims of police brutality. Those funds would be shifted to building the MUPS, hiring Park Rangers, and forming working relationships with community organizations near the neighborhood parks where the Rangers will be headquartered. The connection of MUPS to community-based organizations will be a fundamental change in how a municipal institution interacts with the people it serves. This is important because the demands a Park Service can potentially answer came directly from the people participating in the Public Safety Community Forums organized by the Public Safety and Emergency Management (PSEM) Committee of the Minneapolis City Council. While you listen to the people tell the Mayor, City Council, and Police Chief their ideas for how the city and MPD could work to regain their trust and make the city a safer place for everyone, remember that we can make the Park Service embody the ideas expressed. Pay extra attention to the demand that MPD remove officers with a history of violent behavior on the job because it can be another way to shift funds from the out-dated MPD model of public safety to a new paradigm based on helping and healing. If we follow Ricardo’s advice and separate the MUPS from police and police culture at every turn, it may be possible to create a municipal public safety institution, controlled by the people it serves and staffed by their neighbors, that is tasked to mobilize community wisdom and resources to solve local problems, settle disputes, and respond to emergencies.
The relentlessness of time and the unfolding of dire situations anointed the words and passion of the young man demanding that violent cops be removed from the MPD when Tyrone Williams was murdered days after the Public Safety Forum. I did not know Tyrone. I introduced myself after the forum and thanked him for his speech. I remember looking more closely at him when I heard his name and thinking, “yeah, he could be Raeisha Williams’ brother,. Next time I see her I should ask about him”. A few days later I was putting the final touches on a clip featuring Al Flowers talking about gun violence in the community, Part 5: Violence & Police/Top Issue, when I took a break and checked into FB. That’s when I saw Raeisha’s post about Ty. I truly hope that she and her family can find solace in the wake of their tragic loss. It was devastating. Stay strong. I hope too, that you will appreciate my work that includes Tyrone. His was one of the most eloquent and truthful statements I had the honor of recording that day. Getting officers that have repeatedly been cited for violent behavior off of the MPD seems a no-brainer. In fact, color me White and buy me a Starbucks, because I figured that a public safety institution in a midwestern city that likes to be seen as progressive AF was already doing that kind of thing, but I was very wrong. That does not mean I was surprised to find out how blind I had been. It means that I had failed to connect the dots I know very well. Failed because our society has been designed to keep people like me from feeling the need to connect certain dots. Luckily, the people in my videos are very adept at shattering that bubble and giving me a chance to be fully human. Believe me when I say that editing these videos has been like going to school. Thank all of you for giving me your words. I hope my work honors them as much as I do.
I was churning out the 11 part video series documenting the March 28 Community Forum because I wanted to use it to promote the second Public Safety Forum on April 10. My theory was that if I could get a few people who were likely to go to the April 10 Forum to listen to what the people at the April 28 Forum had to say, one or two might amplify the ideas they also supported. I intended to make more videos from the April 10 forum and tie the common ideas from North (March 28) and South (April 10) Minneapolis together and amplify the points of agreement. My goal, as always, was to provide my community with a set of videos that they might use to spread the word and remind city leaders of the solutions people across the city agree should be implemented. Tyrone’s simple, direct, and indisputably just demand to remove violent cops from the MPD was clearly one of those issues. If not for morality, then for fiscal responsibility. Who, other than Bob Kroll, will defend chronically violent cops? Time is up on that noise.
To get a sense of what might be possible, watch the Build or Change video again. Listen closely to the ideas about how to improve the MPD and realize that every one of them could be built into MUPS. The new Park Service would be tasked with responding to local emergencies along with, or instead of, MPD. The Minneapolis Park Service would be chartered to partner with local, community-led, organizations and interest groups and provide culturally relevant first response to neighborhood incidents. Borrowing from Sam Martinez, Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, the MUPS would include local residents empowered by influence over budgets and employment decisions through an elected Civilian Review Board. The Park Rangers would meet residency requirements and cultural competency standards by prioritizing hiring people from the neighborhood served by the parks where MUPS will be based. Realize that if neighborhood MUPS Rangers and staff were walking or riding a bicycle to and from the park at every shift change, it would fundamentally change “an armed stranger walking a beat” into “a friendly neighbor walking home from work”. More Open Door than Broken Windows.
We can no longer pretend that the culture will be shifted simply by establishing a new government institution. That’s why it is so important to match the MUPS with a re-emergence of community patrols in Minneapolis. Community-based groups like Soul Force, Black Force, and AIM Patrol were important parts of North and South Minneapolis in the 1970s. We need to bring that idea of community solidarity back to our city. We can accomplish this through MUPS. Imagine how many communities in 21st century MPLS would contribute effective police alternatives for their neighborhoods. Then realize that we can push our progressive, equitable city government to support, organize, and fund community-led solutions to problems that impact almost every part of our nation. I stand by my previous description of Whiny Don Drumpf as a Fully Automatic Trickster (FAT). The trick of Tricksters is that they unconsciously clear the way for those that oppose them. Right now is the best time to take advantage of the chaos created by the self-absorbed FAT tripping his way through a job he was given by the absurdity we Americans call “democracy” and manifest a more humane culture. There is a moral vacuum in America. Help us fill it with justice and love.