Over the last 6 years, I have learned a lot from the people in the movement. Particularly those featured in the hundreds of videos I have made and released. I very much appreciate their grace, kindness, raw passion, and thoughtful words. Editing that series of videos was like going to school. A top-notch school filled with love, the power that comes from understanding transformative pain, and a deep sense of solidarity. The policy and organizational proposals summarized in this article have been gathered from the people in our community. These are no more my ideas, than the weather is my whim.
The issue of police accountability for misconduct, brutality, and murder has been a major theme within the community of activists and organizers around the Twin Cities and towns all across the nation for years. It was the solidarity marches for Mike Brown in St. Paul and Minneapolis in the Fall of 2014 where I first began to focus my video camera on the people protesting for police accountability. That journey continues. The slow-motion murder of George Floyd set sparks flying into the deadwood and unacknowledged underbrush that have been collecting in our culture for centuries. Of course it took to flames. That is the nature of powder kegs; and this one so well-tended and crammed full of ignored histories, hatred, and denial. But fires burn out quickly, embers go cold, and turn to ash. Meanwhile the people are still speaking out, our boots are still on the ground, and still we calculate our moves.
Third Precinct and the Future of Police in Minneapolis
The ultimate fate of the former Third Precinct, the building and the concept, is an immediate concern, as is the fate of Floyd Square, and Lt. Bob Kroll’s tenure with MPD. Whatever configuration the 3rd Precinct has when it returns, or is replaced, it should not be centered on the corner of Lake and Minnehaha. I propose that space be turned over to a Public Land Trust that would determine how it would be used to memorialize the Minneapolis Uprising of 2020. The proposed People’s Land Trust would also manage George Floyd Square at 38th and Chicago, as well as other damaged or vacated spaces across the city. Long story made short, Land Trusts establish community control of land use, zoning, and development. Parallel to CPAC and the other elected Councils through which the people can claw back control of our city.
The bottom line is that replacing, rebuilding, or reimagining the 3rd Precinct is a central concern for MPD, as well. An active City Council or Mayor’s Office would be taking the initiative and work within the “spirit” of their pledge to “abolish the police” by developing a bold proposal to couple the reworking of MPD with the replacement of the 3rd Precinct with a smaller, more dispersed, civilian-controlled, community-led, form of policing. At the same time, it should be made clear that nothing will be done to rebuild the precinct as long as Bob Kroll remains in MPD. Bob Kroll must go, then we can even begin to talk about the future of the 3rd precinct, MPD, and policing in Minneapolis.
Civilian and Community Control of Police
Most of the “police reform” proposals, including the #abolishpolice #defundpolice stunt trumpeted by the Minneapolis City Council, are minor, redundant, or superficial. Few address substantive redesign how police are controlled, that is who decides who is hired, fired, promoted, or disciplined in MPD. Even so, many of the partial reforms are good ideas. Community policing, transparent and extensive rules of police engagement, personal liability insurance for officers, ending qualified immunity, creating and maintaining databases of officer performance and discipline that are easily accessible by the residents, demilitarization, and more. All these are necessary to rein in violent police in MPD, but they are not sufficient. Whatever our police department looks like or is renamed, no matter what size, mission, or rules of engagement, civilians from the communities in which MPD operates must control it. The days of scrim committees, panels, and boards that have no real power to do much more than help incumbent progressives get re-elected by providing the appearance of accountability for their Liberal-leaning voters, while filling it with ex-police, prosecutors, and family of police, to pacify the conservative, back the blue, law and order, centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans, are over.
I propose that Minneapolis (and Hennepin County) establish a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). An elected Council, a bit like the Parks and Recreation Board, narrowly focused on establishing community control of police. Establishing civilian control of police is a priority because it is critical for holding cops accountable no matter whether any other of the proposed changes in scope and mission of the MPD are accomplished. The CPAC would have power to hire, fire, promote, reprimand, and reward, officers, commanders, and operational units. The Council would be comprised of members elected from subdivisions of Minneapolis. Former police and other law enforcement officials, including prosecutors and correctional facility officers, and their family members, would be ineligible for a seat on the Council. It is expected that successful candidates would have a good reputation within their district and a record of advocating for police accountability, an understanding of the law, and familiarity with the community they would represent.
Minneapolis Urban Park Service
The MPD is only one of many law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction in Minneapolis. Another is Minneapolis Park Patrol. In 2018, New Hughes – Old Shoes formalized a number of different versions of a plan culled from politicians and activists to transform the Park Patrol into the Minneapolis Urban Park Service. The Minneapolis Park system is uniquely poised to set the standard for fully utilizing urban park land and infrastucture to the benefit of residents. Our #1 Park System manages approximately 11% of the land on which Minneapolis was built. It has extensive reach into the neighborhoods of Minneapolis. With a budget in excess of a hundred million per year, it has connections and resources. The power vested in the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB), like the City Council, Mayor’s office, and MPD, would be broken up into smaller, more narrowly defined and community-controlled, municipal boards and councils.
Urban Park Rangers would be unarmed and without handcuffs or zip-ties. The Park Service would likely foster a different culture than the Park Police. Rangers and staff would most likely be recruited from a different pool of applicants, and the job requirements and duties implies that a different set of people will be moved to apply, relative to the Park Police. This, and careful hiring practices – perhaps monitored by CPAC – would establish a healthy culture in MUPS that emphasizes service, education, guidance, and stewardship. Recognizing that the Park Service controls land that was stolen from Native people, Native people should take a lead role in shaping the mission of the Minneapolis Park Service, hiring requirements, design and building of infrastructure, and land use.
Imagine if your neighborhood park was also your connection to community- and city-run social and health services – even MPD and the justice/detention system, in whatever form they have in the new Minneapolis. Imagine if your neighborhood park were a shelter from whatever the world throws at us. Pandemics, eviction, poverty, tornadoes, floods, or blizzards, the Park should be a place of refuge and safety. We will have to imagine it because when unhoused residents turned to the parks for safety, city officials, with the exception of a Park Commissioner or 2, reacted by pushing people out, instead of inviting them in. The city met them with bulldozers and pepper spray, instead of a meal and a plan. We must do better by our most vulnerable residents. It takes preparation, planning, and the trust of the constituencies in the city. The MPLS initiative will renew trust with the residents by empowering and supporting their on-going work in the communities and neighborhoods.
Imagine that Minneapolis already had a viable, flourishing Urban Park Service in the Spring of 2020. It would have been managing bunk-houses, cabins, amphitheaters, meeting spaces, and other brick and mortar infrastructure to fulfill its primary missions of education, stewardship, and carbon sequestration into healthy, organic soil. When emergencies and longer term crises arose, the “dual -use” resources would be mobilized to feed, clothe, shelter, and protect the most vulnerable residents. Because MUPS would have already been partnering with councils on health, wellness, and healing, the emergency shelters would be coordinated with housing options, navigators to an array of city resources, and seamless connection to municipal programs and services. Imagine.
I propose building the Minneapolis Urban Park Service MUPS) as a parallel to MPD. This transformation, in conjunction with other fundamental reworks of city governance and funding, i.e. CPAC, would work to downsize MPD. Officers would be relieved of responsibility for one after another of the societal problems that have fallen to police since the 1980s, when St. Ronny began to divest from our people and turn social ills into private profit making investment strategies. We need to renew the municipal connection to, and support for, our residents. In a healthy, safe, and energetic city, the private sector will grow to meet the markets created by the residents, workers, and visitors.
It may be years before the long-term goals are realized. Residents of Minneapolis also need immediate action. The initial phase of the establishment of an Urban Park Service will be like a Civilian Conservation Corps at city scale and for the digital age. In the immediate term, open up unused and under-used Park buildings as cold weather shelters for the unhoused people in our communities. Coordinate services by non-profits, city resources, and community groups – or get out of the way. Near term, put people to work building the infrastructure of a new, more robust and prepared city. Part of that infrastructure is to make neighborhood parks the portal to city services, programs, and information. Instead of calling 911, call the Park Service – or go to your neighborhood park. Minneapolis should build an Urban Park Service that looks more like National and State Park Services, than like MPD. In conjunction with other municipal councils and boards, MUPS will bring forward the healing, regenerative power of the natural world, while connecting residents to the work other community-led programs for health, wellness, legal aide, housing, and other city services.